August Mentor: Navigating with Akhil Doegar

Before the advent of integrated investment platforms like Navigator, consumers typically invested in stocks, bonds, and other securities through a traditional financial advisor or brokerage firm. It was often a time-consuming process, requiring appointments with your financial advisor (imagine having to meet them more than once a year), requiring significant amounts of paperwork and high fees with limited access to information to make informed decisions.

Today, a new breed of robo-advisors (automated platforms using algorithms to manage portfolios based on an investor’s goals and risk tolerance) and digital wealth management platforms offering a combination of human and algorithms, are all part of a new push to help consumers “beat the market”, with each product bringing its own advantages and disadvantages. That said, even big institutional investors like Temasek Holdings can fall short in due diligence and research; and if the big boys fail, what hope is there for investors like you and I?

Offered by Singlife, the Navigator platform makes it simple for you and your financial adviser (FA) to structure a suitable investment portfolio with over 1,000 unit trusts from various fund partners with the flexibility to make changes to your portfolio any time. Anyone who has watched HBO’s Billions, would understand that the reality is that no one really has a “market beating” formula, that said, with enough information and insight, you can work together with your FA can manage your risk and eke out some inflation beating returns. We spoke with Akhil Doegar, CEO of Singlife’s investment platform Navigator, trying to unlock strategies on how we can better manage our wealth.

Unit trusts are a great way to mitigate risk with a portfolio of stocks, bonds, or other securities but you have little control over specific investments made on your behalf, how does Navigator work around some of these shortcomings?  

The allure of unit trusts is that your investments are managed by industry practitioners. Investors who don’t have the time and expertise to manage their portfolios can benefit from unit trusts as it gives them a peace of mind because they outsource the investing and monitoring of market conditions to professionals. This potential education and information gap for investors is where Navigator plays an important role. Investors will be able to assess the quality of a unit trust by reviewing its product sheet to see if they are comfortable with the asset classes invested by the fund managers. They can also review and assess the track record of the unit trust performance or its fund managers to make an informed decision before investing.

Beyond a functional platform, The Navigator also functions as an enabler by providing the right tools for financial advisors, helping them manage and take charge of their client’s investment portfolios effortlessly through a comprehensive platform and progressive product suite. This is exactly why we launched our advisor enablement ecosystem, Elevate. In its first phase, Elevate curates a wide range of insights, programmes and events for advisers to better serve investors across a holistic wealth journey, tapping into Singlife’s network of resources, from thought leaders in its Investment Office to industry partners to better support our advisors. 

High management fees to cover the costs of running the fund which can eat into your investment returns. How competitive is Navigator compared to competing products?

Rather than compete with other products in the market, what we focus on is exploring ways to add value and enable FAs to offer sound investment advice for holistic wealth advisory. It is tempting to simplify the system by adopting a kitchen-sink approach where all products are placed on one platform. However, my preference is to curate a variety of investment products managed by strong fund managers with a proven track record and potential on our platform. Our parent company Singlife has a robust Chief Investment Office run by Kim Rosenkilde and his team – they assist us with curating value-adding products to offer on Navigator.

From the product collaterals, one assumes Navigator is a platform for those with little investment know-how/knowledge, how can one make the most of the platform?

Our customers are FAs with varying levels of knowledge and experience, ranging from ‘beginner’ to ‘expert’. I was hired to reimagine Navigator in keeping with its heart as a fintech platform: Navigator is designed to be easy to use in its functions and value-adding in its features for FAs – this includes providing nudges, next best conversations, and analyses of their clients’ portfolios at a micro and macro level. We are designing this in a calibrated and data-based manner – by constantly engaging our advisors to test run our proposed designs with constant feedback loops for improvement. Our Elevate ecosystem provides the “software” comprising insights, curated programs, and experiential events, engagements and curated programs. 

When we first started reimagining Navigator, one of the first departments we transformed was our call centre; strict standards that followed the best in the financial industry were applied. We see Navigator as more than just an efficient and value-adding platform – we see our organisation as a tech firm that values both efficiencies as well as high service standards. This is the pathway towards a sustainable business. 

What should they study or read up on? 

The past few years of crypto heydays appear to support shortcuts of investing on speculation and Reddit posts, as recent events have shown, there’s no shortcut to investing. Shortcuts are not sustainable without fundamentals. I would hesitate to provide a playbook for what end-investors should read or study on and instead suggest cultivating curiosity and reflection. Be curious about what is going on in the world and what areas you see that would become increasingly important to all. What is important to you? Investments can go beyond increasing your wealth but also give you a sense of purpose in supporting an endeavour that is close to your heart or reflects your values. Furthermore, by laying a financial roadmap before making any investment decisions, investors will be better to understand their financial goals, and then talk about these aims with their FAs.

Are there plans for a “Navigator” like-app for more advanced investors?

Navigator is a business-to-business investment platform for FAs as such, there are currently no plans to make an app specifically for investors.

You have a background in comp sci and fintech, what are your perspectives of AI powered investing intelligence tools? 

Technology has fundamentally changed the way we live, work, and invest. In this digital age, overwhelming volumes of information about nearly anything can make it challenging for inexperienced investors to make sound investment choices. This is where AI-powered investing intelligence tools come into play to provide quality investment tracking, consolidated reporting and portfolio rebalancing that would have taken investors a considerable amount of time to compile in the past without technology. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to revolutionise the field of investing by providing new ways to analyse data and make investment decisions. AI can be used to analyse large amounts of data, identify patterns, and make predictions about future market trends, which can help investors make more informed decisions and potentially achieve better returns. However, it is important to note that AI isn’t without its limitations and investors should be cautious when incorporating AI into their investment strategies.

Explainable AI, also known as XAI, is a subset of AI that aims to make the decision-making process of the AI system transparent and interpretable for human users.  This can be achieved by using techniques such as feature importance, global and local explanations, and model distillation. This can be especially important in fields such as finance, where the ability to understand and interpret the decisions made by an AI system is crucial for ensuring compliance with regulations and making informed decisions.

Some specific technologies that can be used in AI-powered investing include:

  • Machine learning algorithms: These algorithms can be used to analyse data and make predictions about future market trends. Some common types of machine learning algorithms include random forests, gradient boosting machines, and deep neural networks. 
  • Natural language processing (NLP): This technology can be used to analyse unstructured data such as news articles and social media posts to extract sentiment and identify market trends. 
  • Computer vision: This technology can be used to analyse images and video, such as satellite imagery or stock market trading floor footage. 
  • Reinforcement learning: This type of algorithm can be used to help agents learn how to make decisions in an environment with uncertain outcomes, such as stock market trading. 

That said, FAs remain vital to investors even with the rise of technology-driven investments like crypto because they are able to tailor a custom approach to help investors achieve financial freedom with invaluable investment knowledge and expertise. With robust recommendations powered by analytics, FAs can curate investment portfolios uniquely aligned to every client’s needs. 

We have seen that even massive institutions with resources like some sovereign wealth funds can make massive mistakes. Can a consumer-investor or even his assigned advisor ever be knowledgeable enough to make wise investment decisions? 

When it comes to investments, no one has a crystal ball. As with any investment approach, it is imperative to diversify the portfolio and keep a clear view of the investment goal in the long run. Having said that, there is room to support investment decisions with digital tools and insights, growing knowledge and familiarity on each asset class with support from advised wealth management to make sound investment decisions. As our group Chief Investment Office will share with you – it is hard work to invest and manage any investment portfolio and part of the work is to stay knowledgeable, cut out the noise in the short term, and stay focused on your long-term investment goals.

Can a typical consumer-investor or pattern copying-trader outperform a unit trust with these tools? 

Copy trading typically involves mimicking trades of a more seasoned trader and success depends on the portfolio traded or copied, as opposed to a specific unit trust. Perhaps as an oversimplification, copy trading is akin to placing your bets on a selected horse at a race – the investor still has to be responsible for analysing the success rates and performance of his bet. 

Buffet and Munger believe that crypto assets aren’t “assets”. What are your perspectives on crypto? 

Crypto market cap has risen in January to over USD800 billion with total daily market volume trading at levels exceeding USD30 billion thus I don’t think it wise to dismiss crypto as an asset which has the potential to become mainstream in the future. However, I would mirror the views shared by the Monetary Association of Singpore (MAS) that cryptocurrencies, which can also be referred to as digital payment tokens or DPTs, are “highly risky and not suitable for the general public” 

Extreme price volatility has ruled out cryptocurrencies as a medium of exchange for transactions in the digital asset ecosystem, stablecoins hold such potential if they are well-regulated and securely backed. 

Having said that, there are still innovations taking place in this space with greater regulatory oversight.

With the recent crypto-crash, speculators are beginning to understand that scarcity alone is not a good definition of “value”, what are some of the good determining factors of value?

Apart from scarcity, there are other determining factors to take into consideration when analysing the value stocks. These are securities trading at a lower price than what the company’s performance may otherwise indicate. Common characteristics of value stocks include high dividend yield, low price-to-book ratio (P/B ratio), and a low price-to-earnings ratio (P/E ratio). In contrast to value stocks, growth stocks are equities of companies with strong anticipated growth potential. A balanced, diversified portfolio will hold both value stock and growth stocks. 

Price-to-earnings ratio (P/E ratio) is a commonly used valuation metric that compares a company’s current stock price to its earnings per share. Then a Zuckerberg can arbitrarily decide to go into Meta and crash it or do a Musk and affect a Tesla… were these foreseeable or are we witnessing a market correction to proper valuation of these stock without the hype?

In the financial space, there is no way to predict trends with 100% accuracy as the market is constantly adjusting and responding to various events. P/E ratio is a common valuation metric used to determine the value of a stock, but it shouldn’t be the only metric taken into consideration.

In our weekly CIO insight, we highlighted that the IMF expects “one-third of the world economy to be in recession”. With China opening up, and differing speeds in growth patterns, 2023 will be a tough year. What this means is that global financial markets have taken a risk-on tone to these macroeconomics factors.

As China opens up, we’ll also see renewed demand for energy and other commodities, as China is a key consumer in these areas. These factors can correspondingly influence inflation which has an impact on interest rate and valuation of asset classes, thereby influencing movements in the stock market. 

What do you do to cultivate the instincts necessary to cut through the noise around value creation?

For us, our mission is to equip advisors with the right tools to better serve investors through a holistic wealth journey. I’m keen to see Navigator as the platform to uplift and progress the financial advisory industry. To that end, we focus on 3 critical areas that are critical for our advisors: a progressive product suite, a reliable platform and meaningful engagements that shares knowledge and inspires advisors towards holistic wealth advisory.

I don’t think there’s any secret sauce towards value creation – it really boils down to having a curated product suite, a reliable and intuitive platform and supporting knowledge-sharing activities that inspire and motivate advisors to provide holistic wealth advisory for end investors.

After Hours with Akhil Doegar

What do you do to relax?

As someone who loves being outdoors and capturing the beauty of the world around me, photography has always been my passion. I first got a chance to experiment with cameras when I was around 10 years old, and it was my father who introduced me to this wonderful hobby. I still have that camera he used – it may be old but it still functions and takes beautiful pictures.

To me, photography is more than just a hobby, it’s a powerful visual language that allows me to tell stories that words alone could never do justice. With my camera, I can see and appreciate the small details in life that I might otherwise miss in my fast-paced life. And the beauty of it is that these moments are captured forever, making everything seem timeless.

I have a couple of favourite subjects that I like to photograph – including birds, candid street scenes and portraits or action shots of my family. These subjects allow me to express my creativity in different ways and tell a different story every time.

Photography may seem easy with all the technology and smart gadgets available today, but mastering the skill is a challenging and rewarding experience. The satisfaction of creating a beautiful, meaningful image is truly priceless. And through photography, I’ve come to appreciate the world in a new way – it has allowed me to see everyday things from a unique and extraordinary perspective.

 Apart from photography, I’m also a keen golfer. Golf is one of the few sports where you play against yourself. The ball isn’t moving, there’s no opponent blocking and there’s no one charging at you. Your destiny, your success and your failures are in your hands – it’s very intriguing. I have found that the principles that I use in golf can also be used in life and at work. It allows me to disconnect from the fast pace of life and take a step back, enjoy the scenery and appreciate the present moment. The words of the great Walter Hagen encapsulate my feelings well: “You’re only here for a short visit. Don’t hurry, don’t worry. And be sure to smell the flowers along the way.”

Both photography and golf can teach valuable lessons that can be applied in business and in life. 

Photography teaches us the importance of paying attention to detail and the value of perseverance. In order to take a great photograph, you have to see new perspectives, be patient and take the time to get the perfect shot. In business, paying attention to detail and persevering can lead to unimaginable breakthroughs. 

Golf teaches us about strategy, the importance of staying focused and the value of disconnecting from the fast-paced life. In golf, you have to plan your shots and stay focused in order to achieve your goal. In life and in business, having a strategy, keeping your targets in sight and taking the time to appreciate the present moment can help you achieving your goals.

Is there a tendency to think about how news will affect the financial performance of your investments? Does this make life a little more difficult (if you have this mindset)?

Every financial investment can be affected by anything around us because of how volatile markets are. For larger companies that have operations in different parts of the world, changes in market regulations of one country could affect the overall company earnings in unimaginable ways. This might cause the stock price of the company to fall. While there might not be a need to react immediately to every piece of breaking news, it still is important to be updated so you can stay ahead of the investment game. 

What are your perspectives on leadership? Is it necessary to be the smartest guy in the room?

We all like intelligent people, but I don’t believe it is necessary for a leader to be the smartest person in the room because that would mean that person has no more room for learning. In my opinion, leadership is a dynamic and ever-evolving process that requires a balance of being aware of opportunities, taking calculated risks and being open to serendipity. As a leader, one must be ready to adapt to new situations, be open-minded, and be willing to take calculated risks in order to stay ahead of the curve and achieve success.

I prefer living out of the box – this means taking charge of your own actions and thoughts, and providing direction and ideas, rather than just following the actions and instructions of others. This approach allows for a more fulfilling and contented life and career. Furthermore, I believe that passion must follow purpose and not the other way around. Without a clear purpose, passion can lack longevity and ultimately, we will drift aimlessly. I see a lot of young people pursuing their passions without a clear purpose. This isn’t inherently bad, but it can lead to a lack of longevity and fulfilment in the long run. As a leader, it’s important to guide and inspire young people to align their passions with their purpose, so they can achieve true success and contentment in their lives.

Sometimes, I think leadership is like a game of chess – it is highly strategic. Every team member, like every chess piece, plays a vital role to keep the business running. And with chess, knowing which move to make requires insight and knowledge of every chess piece and the environment to win the game. Yet, unlike chess pieces, every person in your team is capable of feeling various emotions. So when it comes to leadership, listening is key. There is always an opportunity to lead, but only if you pay attention to the people that need your guidance.


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