Blue Whale Team Interview #1
With Wong Kook Fei, Director of Shareable Asset
Dear Blue Whale Fan-mily,
We are thrilled to welcome our new Director to our Shareable Asset team and introduce him to our community!
Blue Whale sits down with him to find out more about his experiences.
Wong Kook Fei has over 34 years of experience in the banking industry. Starting his career in corporate banking, he rose through the ranks in global banking institutions. After five years as Head of Corporate Banking at Bank Austria, he made the switch to loan syndication where he held directorial positions in major banks and financial services companies. His last appointment was Head of Treasury & Markets Asia at HSH Nordbank, one of the leading financiers in maritime, real estate and infrastructure assets in Europe.
Wong’s Past Key Achievements
- Secured a USD 600 million loan underwritten to a special purpose vehicle (SPV) which owns a commercial building in Shanghai— Loan was structured with junior and senior tranches and successfully sold down to investors and funds
- Secured a USD 500 million loan underwritten to finance a residential project in Singapore — Loan was successfully sold down to a final hold of USD 200 million in the syndication market
1. What will your new role at Shareable Asset entail?
Wong: As a director of Shareable Asset, my new role will entail formulating an optimal structure for deals and transactions and finding investors for each project on the platform. And when both the business and deal flow grow, I envisage my key responsibilities to also include deal sourcing and origination, as well as assisting in operational management.
I am also currently assisting in handling queries from Singapore’s central bank and financial regulatory authority, Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), as we are in the midst of obtaining capital market licensing. When a deal is running, I will also step in to assist in the compliance aspect as well. In a startup, you may not have the largest headcount but our team is very flexible to adapt and assimilate.
2. What was your motivation in deciding to join a startup after 34 years of working in major banking institutions?
Wong: New technologies are inciting a major shift in the finance industry now. This transformation will begin to replace a large percentage of the headcount in the financial sector and market forecasts by consultants and researchers predict that about forty per cent of the current workforce will be displaced in the next ten years. There is no escaping this digital revolution and banking institutions have already begun preparing for this change, especially the banks in developed economies.
I have probably another eight to ten years of my working life — the last leg of my career, so to speak. Had I remained in the brick and mortar financial industry, it would be a rather monotonous way to end my career. Ideally, if I am able to witness and play a small role in this digital transformation, that would be great.
The entire financial world is rapidly developing in the digital front and the banking industry now will not remain unchanged in the next twenty to thirty years. I believe that I am mentally ready to make the switch and I also met a team in Shareable Asset whose ambition and goals resonated with me. That was my motivation.
3. How do you think your wealth of experience will assist you in your new position?
Wong: I was rather fortunate to have garnered extensive experience in three different business lines throughout the course of my career. While I may not know everything there is to know, I would say that I am considerably knowledgeable about a lot of products in a bank. And if we are looking at the deal flow aspect, I am also quite lucky to have had exposure in the whole process from deal origination to loan disbursement. One of the key take-aways in my banking career was to always know your facts well in order to be able to convincingly communicate and handle financial regulatory bodies, auditors, lawyers and internal stakeholders.
I think the experience and exposure I amassed are very applicable in my new capacity as a director of Shareable Asset. It is important to structure a deal that is not only efficient in terms of tax, accounting, and more, but it must be also acceptable and sellable to investors. The latter comprises of many different elements, such as the yield, terms and conditions, risk levels and so forth. You need to know all of these parameters so that you can really hone in on your target more efficiently. This is the value that I can bring to the table and share with the team.
4. What is the most important achievement you hope to accomplish in your new position?
Wong: In terms of short-term goals, the priority is to get our first deal completed in the first six months. It is always difficult to close the first deal but thereafter, the second, the third and the rest will follow suit easily.
If we are talking about long-term objectives, I hope to establish a suitable financing model to process future deals after the first deal is completed. This will help the business to scale and establish a good standing in the market. It is important for us to build a strong footing and fully utilise the first-mover advantage before other competitors enter the market. This will allow us to get Shareable Asset off the ground, establish its reputation with an investor base and eventually, source for long-term funding to ramp up the business.
5. Asset tokenization is gaining traction as a relatively new venture in Singapore. Do you think it will shake up and potentially transform the traditional methods of real estate investments?
Wong: If you look at the real estate sector in Asia, particularly Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, real estate as an asset class is very costly and is out of reach for the masses. For example, owning a residential property can be an enormous financial commitment and it seems that the younger generations are taking that into consideration. They are more open towards the idea of the sharing economy and its application on the real estate sector in the form of co-living spaces.
If we are able to instil a similar mindset in the financial aspect of it, where real estate investments can be flexible and do not require huge commitments, I do think there will be great potential for growth, even though it may not completely replace traditional methods. It will take some time for it to gather momentum but as we move into an increasingly digitised world, we will see some definite change in mindsets towards asset owning.
6. What do you think are some of the challenges for members of the public to start participating in asset tokenization?
Wong: I think it comes down to the key question of whether one is open to these new technologies and opportunities. The younger generations do embrace the concept and technologies of the sharing economy but the older generation may not be completely receptive. And the reason why there is hesitation or resistance is because there is little to no understanding. It could be because these concepts were not simplified into layman terms that the older generation can easily understand. When banks begin to venture into or acquire these businesses and technologies, it will be a game changer as such concepts, products and technologies will be introduced to the mass market.
7. Do you think there is any potential for asset tokenization to truly take off in Southeast Asia and Asia?
Wong: I think that it is a matter of time for countries in these regions to embrace and adopt these new concepts and technologies. In order to catch up with the more tech-savvy countries, such as Singapore, South Korea, China and Hong Kong, everyone will look at ways to do things differently, streamline operations, and maximise financial output. In the next ten or twenty years, we will definitely see countries progressively incorporating technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain in their industries and retraining their workforce to adapt to a new digital era.