Being promoted to CEO felt like a natural progression as she had been part of senior management decision making for two years
The maturing of the crypto sector and the opportunity to expand the asset and product base
The regulatory environment locally, regionally, and globally and its potential harmonization
The decline in the returns of public investments
Building trust over the past two years led to more diverse partnerships
ADDX Advantage and working with StashAway and CGS-CIMB
Fractional access to private market products
Diversifying ADDX’s investor base
Expanding into other markets outside of Singapore and outside the region
The audio on this episode was expertly edited by Isabelle Goh.
Read the best-effort transcript below (This technology is still not as good as they say it is…):
Michael Waitze 0:30
Okay, we’re on. Hi, this is Michael Waitze. And welcome back to the Asia Tech Podcast. Today we are joined by Oi-Yee Choo, the newly announced CEO of ADDX. Thank you so much for joining us. Did I get that wrong? Thank you so much.
Oi-Yee Choo 0:43
And I wanted to say hello…
Michael Waitze 0:48
Thank you so much for doing this today. How are you? By the way?
Oi-Yee Choo 0:51
I’m very good. Michael, great to be on your show.
Michael Waitze 0:54
It’s great to have you. And it’s great to have you back. You know, normally this is the place where we say let’s get some of your background. But you’ve already been on the show. Darius has already been on the show. I think people know you really well. And I went back and looked right. The last time you were here was May 2021. Why do I always feel like? Yeah, no, it feels like dog years ago. It’s just feels like so long ago? No.
Oi-Yee Choo 1:15
Yeah. Wow, really? Yeah. I just feel like a few weeks ago, a few months ago that we had this conversation so much would have changed.
Michael Waitze 1:27
A lot has changed. And by the way, congratulations on the announcement of becoming the CEO. Do you it feels really significant to me, right? And I’m an outsider looking in. And I’m an outsider, even regionally, right. I’ve been in Asia for 30 years. But I’m not Asian, per se. But I feel like, you know, if I put all these little components together a female CEO, it’s like a benchmark setting company. It’s digital. First, its blockchain based. It’s a financial institution in Asia. Just do you feel a little bit like this is a significant thing separate from the company itself, but just the overall environment? You know what I mean?
Oi-Yee Choo 2:00
Yeah, that’s a good question. I’ve never thought about it that way until you mentioned it. I think it’s partly because I’ve been with the company for two years, right? Two years in startup Lana’s really long time. But also, because, you know, it was always part of the senior management decision making anyway. And so in seeing the company grow and the complexity of how our business has grown into, I think it was a very natural transition, and a very natural sort of reflection of how both areas and Danny needed to focus at a holding company level and to reconsolidate the operations because, you know, it’s not, as I said, it’s not just the technology built out. There’s also the legal compliance team that’s working very hard, the commercial team, the marketing team, and this is all warehouse within edX, which is the licensed company. And it gives Danny and Darius the room to really think about non Singapore affair. So for example, what we do in China and Japan, they then free up from the day to day business to be able to think where the international aspirations might be.
Michael Waitze 3:22
Can you talk about that a little bit? Maybe maybe even just in general terms of what the parent company? I think it’s ich X tech. Right. So dyers was promoted to be the chief strategy officer, if I have this, correct. Yes, that’s right. So what is what is the strategy look like to them at a high level? And how are they looking at moving into China or operating bigger in China and in Japan, as well, with posts sound very exciting to me, let’s just
Oi-Yee Choo 3:45
say the Singapore reflection of that. And because we are very international, and we’re working with Tokai in Japan, we’re working with our China partners and Thai partners. But there’s so much more that could be done. And they are opening up accounts with us. They are structuring deals for distribution into their own client base. And of course, this came with a lot of regulatory work ahead of that, right. So we already see that momentum and the advancement in our international approach. But I think longer term over time, for example, in China, we have quite a long way to go because we have the quota. But we also need to build the infrastructure to be able to manage that quarter because it’s onshore voter that is allowed to invest in offshore products. But that requires a banking and as well as some of our products need to be licensed separately in China before that can be done. So there’s still a lot of work there. Japan I think is a continual get the regulator’s comfortable with the different product sets. Thailand is the same. So all that is sort of happening. And then of course, there’s constant or do we build locally? Do we just keep Singapore’s core? And that’s a constant question we have with our partners, because Do we have a local version for language and other local product?
Michael Waitze 5:11
It’s interesting that you mentioned Thailand. As you know, I live in Bangkok. And on my ride over to my studio today, I noticed and I see this a lot. Now, there are advertisements for crypto and crypto style investing everywhere. And I’m curious from your perspective, right, we talked about the last time we spoke was in May of 2021. It’s now almost April of 2022. Do we feel like the market has matured a lot in the last year to where it actually is now moving out to the masses. And again, not just in financial centers like Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, but into other places as well, where real people are really paying attention to this in a way they might not have been a year ago.
Oi-Yee Choo 5:53
There’s so many things in that question. I would say crypto is a very interesting one. I think the world is so quite polarized as to, you know, the regulation what’s allowed what’s not allowed. In Thailand, they seem to have leapfrogged and opened up crypto investing in a very big way. Singapore has done a slightly more cautious approach. So while retail can invest in crypto, there are a little bit of few advisories around not allowing crypto to be advertised in different markets. They’re reacting in different ways, right? Either you’re sort of completely banned, like China, completely permissible in Thailand and shades of grey in between. Now, that’s on the crypto side. And what’s happening is people are not realizing the digital security side is also a place that’s starting to grow. But that’s always because crypto was always in front, right. And the blockchain technologies and technologies are enabling what’s happening today, a little bit at the backstage, it’s now I think, increasingly moving towards Franch stage, because of the potential transformational effects that blockchain has on traditional securities, and the private markets in particular. So I think that each of these regions are planning to have securities tokens law, or harmonization of those laws. And so we see that happening quite rapidly in this region.
Michael Waitze 7:21
Do you see the regulator’s working together? And I want to get back to this other question in a second, because you pointed out a little bit of a misstatement in my terminology, and I want to get back to that. So thank you for doing that, by the way, but just initially, do you see the regulator’s working together this idea of harmonizing the way the regulations work is actually kind of important? Yeah.
Oi-Yee Choo 7:41
Yes, I Well, internally, in Singapore, the synthesizing of digital securities has been quite clear for a long time. And actually, that’s why we exist. And we think we’re very much a leader in this space. Right? Not everyone is aligned yet. So for example, Thailand has gone for digital asset, but less clear about digital securities. So the big question is, is a digital security digital asset, which is like crypto, or is it a traditional security? Right? That’s an interesting debate are different regulators have different alignments? I think what’s going to be even more confusing at some point is how crypto is going to be regulated. And therefore, what are the ancillary effects on digital securities? So somebody said to me, in some parts of the world, it may be a store of value like, like a, you know, an MRT card, right? Where you have stored value. And some people are saying, well, maybe it will be regulated as securities. And some people also, some people are saying maybe it will be regulated like a commodity. So I think that’s where we really need to have a far more coordinated view across nations how crypto should be regulated, because I worry about the consequential effect on digital securities.
Michael Waitze 8:55
But this is actually a really interesting conversation. And I hadn’t thought about it in these terms until you just said that. So work with me on this a little bit. The dollar itself as just a currency is a store of value, just like the Euro is just like the Yen is just like the yuan is right. But it’s also a commodity, if you consider it as an FX pair, which is regulated completely differently than the pure currency itself is. And the dollar is also the trading currency where oil is traded, which is a commodity, and its relationship to commodities has its own regulations about how it can move around the world and stuff like that with anti money laundering. They still like when you go to a store and buy something with Singapore dollars in cash. There’s no regulatory environment around that. But if you went to buy oil, there would be and I’m wondering if you think that the answer to the question of how crypto is going to be used is really interesting, he said, is going to be all of those things. Does that make sense?
Oi-Yee Choo 9:53
Yes, yes, exactly. And it will be extremely Oh, yeah, if they’re treated differently in different countries for maybe the same Bitcoin,
Michael Waitze 10:06
right? That’s the point I was trying to make, right is that if I go into Louis Vuitton in New York, I can just use dollars, it’s the same way. And it’s the same regulatory environment as if I do it on Orchard Road. Yep. Right. So if bitcoin or some other currency or cryptocurrency is treated differently, it will feel strange, I think to people, at some level, yeah.
Oi-Yee Choo 10:27
At some level, and you know, let alone let’s not even get into the complexity of not just the coins, but what is the stable coin, right. So we, we desire, I mean, that’s just from vested interests coming from a regulated perspective, we think that there are still a lot of ways to go both digital securities and digital assets in terms of regulating and clarity of that regulation. Of course, the second level desire is to have that relatively harmonized across the countries. Even if they don’t speak to each other, they should be relatively similar. So that, you know, exchanges can eventually, for example, like ourselves, can do cross border work relatively seamlessly, because once you start having different structural regulations, how does for example, if I’m an Asian based exchange, and I want to connect to maybe a US tokenization exchange, but if a different the same token? How is it being treated? Right, you know, crypto bank, something like how is that being treated? So it’s, um, it’s something to watch. It’s really something to watch.
Michael Waitze 11:36
So can we talk about both of our histories in the financial services industry, like in traditional financial services, businesses, in the old days, right, and I think it’s really interesting for you and for people that are operating in your space, because you’re literally like standing on one wall street, in the 1900s, trading stock, and it’s not, but you understand the context, right, like trading stocks by hand writing stuff down on a piece of paper. And then once everybody else starts getting involved, the regulator’s locally hyper locally said, Wait a second, we’ve got to figure out how this market actually works so that people can be protected with their investments on both sides. But because information didn’t travel around the world instantaneously, like it did today, you know, the FSA in Japan could make different regulations, because the Tokyo Stock Exchange was completely disconnected from the New York Stock Exchange. That’s no longer true. Yes. Right. So this idea that you with your partners are literally like standing on the street, again, trying to figure out these regulations is kind of cool, but the speed is just different. Right? The accelerated speed is just different. How does that feel like to you because you’re helping build these regs? No.
Oi-Yee Choo 12:42
Well, I hope so I think I hope we have some influence. And I hope that what we do with with the blockchain, it’s not just about the tokenization, you know, people can mean Whoa, you know, if the money tokenization tap on some light, okay, what do they do, right? And hopefully what we do, and regulators should, I think, be conscious of what blockchain can deliver as business models, therefore, they have to think about how do we deal with let’s say, a fan of partners, group, funders tokenized. On an addicts exchange, we influence I mean, we obviously have our partnerships with MHS, we have partnerships with the banks. And I think we’ve been around long enough so that people understand our modus operandi, and we we get along a certain way. I mean, there are still minor tweaks, right? If we work with a bond issuer. And let’s say, you know, a bank, buys a bond and puts it on his book is a tokenized bond, the same as a bond, you know, didn’t need some level of questioning and clarity before mes, comes to some conclusion. So there is still a lot to go even at the simplest level. But I’m certainly very excited to be at the front seat of that.
Michael Waitze 13:53
It’s kind of cool, right? I’d like to talk about how in sort of the early stages of my career on Wall Street, you know, fixed income returns, listed stock returns, people would still estimate somewhere between eight to 9%. A year over time, you would just get these returns if you did not, this was the estimate. I liked it. I liked the reaction. I don’t disagree with you either. I just want to frame this for a second. But over time, the ARB disappears, right, the return disappears. As more and more people invest, the ability to find great investments kind of gets smaller and smaller. So your expected returns for public investments just get public unlisted securities just get lower and lower over time. That’s your expectation. And to the extent that expectations drive returns at some level, fair enough. But now, if you’re moving into privately listed securities that sit on exchanges like yours, the returns there, I think the expectations are that they’re going to be higher. And as we see declines in listed returns, are you seeing more people and more asset managers from your perspective, moving into the kind of things that you’re doing the digital asset space?
Oi-Yee Choo 15:00
I think that this space is, I mean, there’s so much development in the private market space that may have contributed to this compressed return and the public space, maybe, yeah, hear me out, tell me one hypothesis, that many hypothesis around the compression of return the public space, which includes there’s a reduce information asymmetry, obviously, the information gets transmitted faster, more instantaneously. You know, the algorithms and the contractors are getting in there, the cutting, you know, the cutting, obviously, the spreads by hub, whatever that might be. But also that the private capital space is growing so tremendously. And what we’re seeing is that every dollar of private capital, like super hyper grows a company, right. And so what happens is that companies become extremely comfortable staying private for a lot, lot, lot longer as well. So then the hyper returns are actually in this side of the wall, not on the public side of the wall. It is reflected also, I mean, when we look at our P portfolios, they don’t I mean, they don’t move so much. And I think that’s why private companies prefer to stay within here. Right? They’re not, they’re a little bit sheltered from what is the bloodbath that’s happening in the public space? You know, but they still get tons of capital, they still get to hyper grow. And there’s a lot of that value is being captured in this space. today.
Michael Waitze 16:35
Yeah, I mean, you make a super good point, right. And that is that if we go and we just literally talk about smaller companies, right, you get seed funding, you get post seed funding, you get pre venture funding, then you get Series A, Series B. And sometimes once you when you move into series, C, D, and E funding, that’s literally what used to be post IPO returns. And you’re right, because people are waiting so much longer. It like if you go back and look at Apple and even Google when they went public, to a very young companies, because the their funding structure was different. They weren’t on like an eight year plus a two year tail funding from venture capitalists per se. So they didn’t have to wait that long. And then all of the not all of them. But a lot of the returns that you said in hypergrowth went to the public investors. Yep. Let’s change it. It’s a it’s a great hypothesis. And a really great conversation point. Do you feel like the digitalization of assets is also broadening the type of assets? So in other words, we used to look at hedge funds, right? And also alternative assets. Right. So now I can buy stocks, but I can sell stocks that I think are gonna go down against them. And I can actually do you know, zero cost trading. For the most part, let’s simplify it a little bit. Right for people that Yeah, right. So I can sell something and I can use the proceeds to buy there are other costs involved, for sure. But their returns are also compressing. Right. And they’re looking into venture capital and stuff like that. But are we thinking that there are other assets that can be digitized that can then sit on exchanges that could not have been invested or traded before? So do you see that broadening as well?
Oi-Yee Choo 18:09
I do. Well, in the first place. Somebody said to me, tokenization is going to be the liquification of illiquidity. And what it’s quite interesting, I it’s not a big space. Yeah. They work at GIC. By the way, yeah. No, but anyway, we already see the liquification of the illiquid funds, right, private REITs private equity. And what does that serves a certain investor base, which is currently the high net worth individual, right? Because sovereign wealth funds don’t necessarily need liquidity, they just needed returns, and they can do size. Right. So we’ve already done that use case. But if you think about how that could be expanded into the alternative universe, the alternative universe already incorporates in some little way. non financial, underlying, right. Like, why
Michael Waitze 19:10
why? Why were you and I both thinking the same thing?
Oi-Yee Choo 19:14
Yeah. Because it’s a Friday, or whiskies or luxury cars, you know, these are already sort of a lot of the high net worth already see them as investments. Right? And how do you then potentially take a concept like that and expand the liquidity piece, right, because it’s about liquidity, right? It’s about liquidating a portfolio of wines, which traditionally, you cannot you have to buy if and this, you know, made sense. This completely makes sense for obviously, the higher end wines, not obviously, the $40 type that I drink, but $10,000 wise, well, you know, could five investors really sort of banded together and buy, you know, DRC Do something like that, just for the fun of the intellectual conversation or, you know, Bugatti, you know, a Saudi prince, for some reason wanted to sell his Bugatti. Could there be a tokenization exercise so that you know, 20 people on that
Michael Waitze 20:14
car? Yeah, exactly. So one of the things you mentioned earlier was partnerships, you said, You’ve created a lot of partnerships over time. And because of those partnerships, that becomes this wider acceptance. I want to talk about a couple of partnerships, specifically, that you’ve made recently. And that is with stash away. And I want to get this right with CGS CIMB. And maybe you can talk about the significance of those and sort of the movement and the maturation of the market, and what those types of opportunities, not those specifically, per se, but those types of opportunities open up, and what it means for the market growth in 2020 to 23. I can’t believe I said, 23, since I feel like it was supposed to be 40 years from now, but it’s not, it’s next year. But you know what I mean? Like, what does, what those new announcements that you’re gonna make? And those new partnerships mean, for them, but for the greater market as well?
Oi-Yee Choo 21:07
Yeah, I think where we were quite clear on our positioning is clearly we’re an exchange, we have products, we list them, where the partnerships are quite powerful to ends, the firms that see themselves as advisors, and see themselves as finances. Right? It’s very complimentary to our business. But every financial institution mean, like ourselves will take time to develop that trust and relationship, right. And what’s happened is we’ve had, fortunately now two years of working on products, we’ve shown that we can do them, we’ve consistently done them. We have clients for repeat clients. And I think once firms see that stability, and the confidence of execution, and the trust that we’re doing what we’re doing, we say that we do, and we do it, then partners, let’s say like Statuario, CGST, and be very comfortable saying, Okay, I need to solve a problem, right, I want to find private market supply. How do I do that efficiently and with a trusted platform? So I think that, I think point number one, point number two is a little bit demand driven. CGS CIMB, worked with us initially as an issuing partner, so they wanted to raise money for some three months capital. And over time, their clients started asking them for it. And so we worked on now what is a very, very good symbiotic relationship, where our investors and their investors come through our platform to invest in three months CGS CIMB, commercial paper. Now, just today, I think, you know, in this environment, this kind of product makes a lot of sense. People are a bit risk off, you know how to, but but but CGS CIMB has become that partner where they are manufacturing the product, and actually their investors have demand for that, to them to CGS CIMB, we are a convenient platform to execute that. So that’s why I think this relationship we’ve been working with CGS CIMB, for I think over a year now, I think we’re in the fourth or the fifth series of their paper. And then you know, it’s been smooth execution throughout. So it’s, it’s great.
Michael Waitze 23:34
But isn’t this like a watershed event? In a way? Because, you know, commercial paper, it’s like some of the shortest investments you can make, right? Except for having cash. Yeah, except for maybe overnight money in cash. Yeah. But in a way, it’s like the clients of institutional investors. So, like you said, suggests the NBA has already tested this with you, right? Because they wanted to issue so they had enough confidence to do it. But then their clients started demanding it, but what they didn’t demand, at least at the beginning, was these last, you know, 30 year bonds, right? So in a way for them, isn’t it like a test, like dipping their toe in the water first before they go off to the 10, the 10 meter board and try to do a backflip kind of thing? Yeah, you know what I mean? So now that they do that, and it works, and then they do it again? I interrupted you. Sorry. Go ahead. Do you know what I mean? Right?
Oi-Yee Choo 24:17
Yeah, well, it’s and it’s not just their paper now. So they’re actually working with their clients on other issues of commercial paper, right. And we will see we’ll you know, see them move up the risk of with their clients wants to get comfortable with, they understand the products that we have. So I think that’s a great concept. I think the next wave, I’d be great to work with them on corporate treasuries, because we already see them organically come onto our platform to invest in the so that’s another part of that partnership, is that we are now opening a toolkit for corporate treasuries as well, that one a, you know, liquid short term position, potentially over time looking at other things like private credit funds. So I think that’s that’s also where we’re going With a b2b like partnership,
Michael Waitze 25:03
is there a sense out there because these are two partnerships that are really important, right statuary is kind of a new type of asset manager founded by Makayla Ferrario. I don’t even know two years ago, three years ago, funded all the typical things that a startup does, right, CGS CIMB, has been around for a long time. So I won’t say there are different ends of the spectrum. But let’s say they’re not in the same. They’re on the same spectrum, but kind of not in the same end, per se. Are other companies out there must be coming to set like knocking on the door going, Hey, can we come to this party? Like, is that already happening as well?
Oi-Yee Choo 25:32
Yes, yes, we see that we have re branded this business unit called attics advantage specifically for it. Because Because of that, I think we’re seeing a lot of reverse inquiries as to how to connect and how to offer our private market products with them. We’re open to many, many conversations. And it’s not just at the moment well, tech securities houses, as well as private banks. Of course, banks take a little bit longer to onboard for regulatory reasons. And we see this trend is quite strong. In fact, you know, we’re getting reverse inquiries from overseas wealthtech, to see if we can do things together as well. So we need to cross that cross border hurdle. But we’ve done it before. So that’s not an issue.
Michael Waitze 26:21
I mean, in my mind, the entire financial services industry, and like you said, the reason why I asked you before whether the person who said this is the liquification of what you say of illiquid assets, yeah, yeah, something like that. It’s because one of my favorite phrases when I was at Goldman Sachs was talking to one of the head traders that GIC and he said to me, great traders anticipate the anticipations of others. So it sounded like this. Anyway, but I so from my perspective, right, I see the entire financial services industry getting digitized. And I don’t mean digital transformation in the same way that other industries are right, where they’re just putting stuff into technology, it’s all going to be digital assets at some level. But when that happens, will we see indices as well? In other words, like 13, and a half trillion dollars is indexed to the s&p 500. That wasn’t always true. But do we think that there’ll be indices for a whole other group of assets, whether it’s, you know, digitized real estate somewhere digitized wine somewhere, or even just some of the private assets that you’re already listing and trading? Do we see indices going up around this stuff to locally globally, that kind of thing?
Oi-Yee Choo 27:31
It has to, I think it has to if I had that vision of where private markets will be, and the size of the markets that will be digitized, doesn’t matter exchanges, banks, what have you, and how that exists in a decentralized or centralized format. There has to be indices that are built around that. If we think about the liquification, I mean, think about the liquification of the liquids, once the liquification happens, there will also be hedging. There will also be market making the opportunities to think about indices alongside of that and products, exchange traded products alongside that is huge. We’re very far away from it. But if my thesis is correct, then therefore that must happen.
Michael Waitze 28:20
Yeah, I think we both agree on that front. And I think we’ve had a killer conversation today. Unless there’s something that I missed that you want to get out there. I just want to thank you again. Please tell me you’ll come back. If we can get maybe we can get Danny back on. I mean to come on first. Like that’d be great. Anyway, Oi-Yee Choo the CEO now of ADDX. awesome to have you back on the show. I really appreciate it.
Oi-Yee Choo 28:43
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