DBS Ex-Chief Innovation Officer Neal Cross Recounts His Journey from Banker to Entrepreneur

DBS Ex-Chief Innovation Officer Neal Cross Recounts His Journey from Banker to Entrepreneur

by August 20, 2020

In just two years of commercial operation, Australian wealthtech startup PictureWealth has grown to more than AUD$2 billion in funds under advice, annualized revenues of AUD$20 million, and a client base of over 40,000 customers.

This year only, the fast-growing startup has done 15 acquisitions, and just recently closed a AUD$12 million late-seed funding round to help it to pursue its ambition to reinvent the financial advisory landscape in Australia.

“When we look at the market, there are a lot of robo-advisors, but they are not really dealing with people’s hopes and fears,” Neal Cross, co-founder and chairman of PictureWealth, told the Fintech News Network in a new episode of the Fintech Fireside Asia webinar series. “We are trying to close that gap and are building a business where we are basically the problem solvers for people’s hopes and fears.”

After five years at Singapore’s DBS Bank where he led the bank’s digital transformation and helped instill a true culture of innovation, Cross turned his side project  into a full time position. With PictureWealth, Cross said he aims to deliver financial advice and education at a fair price and in a transparent manner.

PictureWealth’s first business, Cross explained, is the tech company and customer-facing digital platform that helps people manage their money better and get financial education.

“We want people to use the platform and have a better relationship with money, not have financial stress, and hopefully be happier, and never pay us a single cent,” Cross said.

“We want to give you the platform for free, we want you to know that we have a good moral compass. We are transparent. Yes, we want to make money to grow the business but there are ways and means to do that … We want to give people true, and honest financial advice … and we charge a fair fee to do that.”

This platform, Cross said, is being offered to both consumers and corporates through the PictureWealth employee wellness program.

And then there is the licensing business where affiliate financial planners can provide financial services and/or products as authorized representative.

“We charge them a fee … and we give them access to kind of a ‘financial planning, business in a box’ [product]. It comprises tech components, processes, training, support, which enables them to be more effective at being a financial planner, at running a financial planning business. That’s the big acquisition we did [of NEO Financial Solutions earlier this year.]”

PictureWealth also has a financial advisory services business where the startup actively hires and acquiring financial planners. These planners and advisors “operate under our license and can use our technology tools,” Cross said. “We can also acquire their business. So if you are a financial planner in Australia and, you know, want a more beneficial exit for your business or a combine model with some exit now, some later, then come talk to us.”

During his conversation with the Fintech News Network, Cross recalled his work at DBS Bank that have earned him and the bank numerous accolades and rewards, ultimately turning him into a household name in the global fintech community. He also shared his experience and the main challenges he faced when committing full-time to a young fintech startup, stressing how important it is for fintech companies to have a diverse team comprising innovative, growth-oriented talents, but also more experienced, structured profiles.

Cross was also recently appointed to digibank aspirant Razer Fintech’s board of advisor, a role and company he’s very excited about. “Razor is so focused on experience, details, elegance and beauty, but also form and functions, and execution … and they’re into finance. I mean, it’s like a fintech innovator’s dream,” Cross said, sharing his excitement.

“There are some very good digital banks in Singapore and Hong Kong, but they are not really focused on [Millennials], a segment which I feel hasn’t been addressed. Using technology to address this segment is still profitable … and at the same time, creating something that is really specific, [which] adds value and really addresses who [these customers] are as a generation … it’s very exciting to be part of that journey.”

When asked whether he thought smaller fintech companies still had a chance to compete in a market that’s increasingly dominated by larger fish such as Grab and Ant Financial, Cross said that although these so-called super-apps continue to eat up the smaller players and expand across multiple verticals, their size makes it difficult for them to be good and efficient at everything they’re doing, living plenty of space and opportunities for younger, smaller startups.

“There’s a lot of fintechs solving very niche problems and it’s very difficult to build a business which solves the problem using the experience and language that appeals to a certain sub-sector. It’s very hard to do that as a ‘super platform’ and be good at addressing everyone’s problems,” Cross said.

“I’m not sold on super-apps. Unless you have a brand people love … But I’m not sure that hyper dominance will solve every problem and will be the way forward.”

The full video to the session can be view below