Tech Talk: The FinTech Start-up Revolutionizing Financial Planning

Shannon Cullum, CMO at BetterTradeOff, talks about BetterTradeOff’s latest successes, their big plans, and their revolutionary financial planning solution Up

Listen to the podcast here.

Announcer 
Welcome to the tech talks daily Podcast, where you can learn and be inspired by real world examples of how technology is transforming businesses and reshaping industries in a language everyone can understand is your host, Neil C. Hughes.

Neil C Hughes 
Welcome back to the tech talks daily podcast. Now, as you all know, by now, I love busting myths and misconceptions on this podcast. And if you think that financial planning is clunky, traditional and outdated, then I’m going to try and convince you otherwise today in just 25 minutes and learn how technology is changing all those tired old stereotypes, because better trade off is a Singapore headquartered FinTech startup that is aiming to revolutionize financial planning with a holistic life planning solution that simplifies and demystifies the financial planning process.

And their direct to consumer solution called Up is providing people with a do it yourself tool for exploring and understanding the different financial choices and outcomes that they have at their disposal, ultimately, allowing people to make better financial decisions. And they’ve also won the global FinTech Hackcelerator which was organized by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. So we can speak with Shannon Cullum from better trade off.

So a massive warm welcome to the show. Shannon, can you tell the listeners a little about who you are and what you do?

Shannon Cullum
Yeah, hi. I’m Shannon Cullum from BetterTradeOff or BTO as we call it, Singapore headquartered FinTech. I wear two hats at BTO, I’m the Chief Marketing Officer, the CMO, across the entire business, and I have a broader role as the end and business leader for the direct-to-consumer side of our business and our consumer brand Up. I’m relatively new to FinTech having spent just under a year at BTO, but prior to BTO I spent a year and a half working in MarTech, and before that many, many, many, many years and very unsexy world of advertising, working for big traditional ad agencies like Saatchi and Saatchi and places like China, Indonesia, Thailand, Russia. I started my career in Canada, where I’m from, and I did a stint in the US as well. Along the way, I’ve gotten involved with numerous tech startups as both an investor and an advisor. So I’ve always had kind of a special relationship with tech. And so that’s a bit about me, and again, Neil thanks for having me today.

Neil C Hughes
Thanks for joining me, I thought I was spending a lot of plates are wearing a few hats, but it sounds like an incredibly hectic life that you’ve got there. But it’s something that you’re really passionate about, like it just seems to come across.

Shannon Cullum 
It’s been fun, for sure.

Neil C Hughes  
And for people that are tuning in and hearing about better trade off or BTO for the very first time, can you just set the scene and tell me a little bit more about the kind of problems that you set out to solve.

Shannon Cullum
Yeah, so we in a nutshell, we use technology to help people make better decisions or better trade offs if you like. More specifically, we develop software solutions that simplify the financial planning process, the goal of making it possible for anyone, regardless of financial acumen to make better financial decisions. The founder started the company in the belief that complexity and a lack of transparency and traditional financial planning, meant that a lot of people, in fact most people, weren’t getting sound advice or even engaging in the financial planning process. You’d be shocked at how few people have actually ever met with a financial planner in a place like Singapore. So our solution is designed to simplify and demystify financial planning and in doing sell, make it accessible to more people. And we deploy the solution acquire across sort of three unique offerings. As a white label enterprise solution for financial institutions, so helping big banks and insurance companies accelerate their digitization and giving them a new innovative sales channel and a platform for deeper customer engagement, which is the top priority for most traditional financial institutions these days. We also have a SaaS solution for financial advisors, providing them with an interactive platform that helps clients better see and understand the value of their advice, and helps them build trust through transparency. And then finally, we have a free Do It Yourself financial planning platform for consumers, which is Up.

Neil C Hughes
I think one of the things I’d love to talk with you about today is the somewhat misconception of financial planning is often perceived as clunky, traditional and outdated. So maybe we could shatter that today-can you tell me a little bit more about how BetterTradeOff is actually using technology to transform that exact experience I’ve just mentioned?

Shannon Cullum 
Yeah, I think financial planning works. The issue is, there’s not a lot of conviction and trust in the process. So in a way, what we do is, we give people a platform that lets them see for themselves the power of financial planning. So whether they’re using it with an institution or Relationship Manager at a bank or a financial advisor or doing it on their own – we allow people to really see the power of which is a big step toward people using it and taking action and ultimately making better financial decisions. So it’s less about financial planning, being broken, it’s more about how it how it’s basically brought to the user in the traditional sense. So our solution is highly interactive, and it’s very, very visual. So its greatest pieces is that it allows people to really, truly see and understand the impact of different decisions and outcomes in a way that’s incredibly transparent and very intuitive. So even things like the effect of compound interest or the impact of inflation on their long term wealth, which are, you know, financial planning basics, which most people really under appreciate and don’t understand. With our tool, it’s very demonstrative and very easy to see that impact. One of the things that the tool does is it allows people to simulate different financial scenario so something like buying a new home or building a retirement plan or hazards like what would happen if they were to lose their job or if the core breadwinner in the family was to die, what would be the state of their financial situation? And it’s, it’s very easy to do it’s drag and drop, they can drag in an investment, or purchase a property and add it to their timeline and see the immediate impact on their long term cash flow, their savings, their net worth. So in that sense it helps them set financial goals on their own, and in a very simple way, explore different strategies or actions for reaching them. We like to say it’s the future at your fingertips. And this gamification of the process is really critical because it, it has a strong educational aspects to it without being preachy or being professorial, people learn by doing. And that really makes a big difference. And that transparency that comes through from exploring different scenarios and seeing the outcome for themselves is what ultimately builds conviction and trust in the process. So the other thing is, well, the process is simple behind the scenes. There’s a tool that’s taking care of the complicated stuff like incorporating local market data runnings, when we run simulations, taking into account things like citizenship, and other factors that affect local tax laws, etc. So the process is simple, but the plan itself is highly detailed and robust.

Neil C Hughes 
And there is so much talk nowadays in the tech world about hyper personalization. I did see that mentioned alongside BetterTradeOff. So again, for people listening hearing about you, for the first time, what is the role of hyper personalization in what BetterTradeOff is doing it? Why do you think it’s so important?

Shannon Cullum 
Yeah, I mean, I think traditional financial planning at its worst is a one size fits all approach, based on rules of thumb and traditional assumptions about retirement. But the reality is one size doesn’t fit all of us and traditional rules of thumb generally aren’t adequate. Especially today, when we live in a world where people live longer, and Aspire not just to be alive longer, but to truly live life to its fullest in their latest years. So, in this new reality, I think we know what does retirement really mean – are you going to be sitting on a porch sipping lemonade when you’re 70? Are you going to be learning how to scuba dive or you’re going to be starting your own scuba dive school. So, you know, people don’t see the later years in their life the same. So these rules of thumb don’t really apply. And the truth is, it’s really not about financial planning at all. It’s about life planning. And life planning means moving beyond traditional financial calculators to a more nuanced approach that takes into account not just how long you’re going to live, but how you’re going to live. And that requires a platform that can accommodate essentially endless variables and possibilities. So for this reason, we’ve started to build a solution that, whille simple, is incredibly comprehensive. I mean, it encompasses all aspects of a person’s life, and not just their financial life, but things like their travel plans, for example. The user can build highly detailed profiles including detialed living expenses right down to the dollar. And it includes options for users to customize their plan with what we call exceptional expenses. So they can include things like weddings or home renovations and other life plans, whether they’re big or small. So I think in many respects, our solution is the answer to the challenge of bringing hyper personalization to financial planning at scale.

Neil C Hughes
I love that, it’s so true what you’re saying that how we all see our later lives completely different to previous generations. And of course, there’s a lot of talk and especially hype as well around the power of digital experiences that delight now but can you tell me more about why you believe that that can actually genuinely improve lives?

Shannon Cullum 
Yeah, I mean, I think first of all, I think a digital experience that delights someone even if that’s all it does, is already you know, improving lives and I think something like Tick Tock but obviously we see all around as technology that’s doing a lot more than that, and I think in most cases, it comes down to one of two things, which is technology that saves us time with things we don’t want to do. Like searching for a taxi or schlepping it into the store to buy groceries or even if we’re buying something online, having to spend more than a few seconds paying for it. I mean, I for one, hate shopping so I’m all for frictionless commerce and being able to pay for something by holding my phone up to my face, you know, I mean, that’s my kind of tech but. Or it’s, it’s about technology that enables us to do something that previously we couldn’t like becoming an online shop owner ourselves with something like Shopify, or not being afraid to start a small business because platforms like QuickBooks, make it easy for us to do our own accounting. Or in the case of Up, you know, not being afraid to leave your current job, to start that small business because platforms like ours allow you to build a personal financial plan that makes that transition possible. And even more important, perhaps that shows you it’s possible and in doing so, gives you the confidence to take that leap. So we like to talk about unleashing possible when we talk about Up, this idea that with Up you can build a plan and when you do so, you in effect that that time unleashing the possibility, like being able to buy a home you didn’t think you can afford or leaving a job you hate to do something you love, for example.

Neil C Hughes 
So what’s your grand vision, it better trade off and what’s next for the company and how and your technology in order to make everything that we’re talking about today happen?

Shannon Cullum 
Yes, so as I mentioned, you know, we have three distinctive lines of business. The first is the enterprise solution. And here you know, we’ve now completed several successful pilots with major global institutions and are working on long term licensing deals and this is going to allow us to bring the solution to new countries and a vast number of new customers through these partnerships and white labeling our solutions. So that’s a huge step. We’ve also recently launched our solution for financial advisors in Singapore with six major firms on board. This is the B2B side of our business. And we’re now looking to expand this offering in Singapore and soon into new markets. And then we have Up, our direct to consumer solution, which we launched in Singapore November. This is a free Do It Yourself life planning platform, which already has over 10,000 users. I think one of the big keys is going to be the development of our partner API portal that will allow us to better integrate new product partners and other fintechs into the platform. This is critical in order to enhance the user experience and also to allow people to not just build plans, but but action the plan on our platform. So imagine building a plan and then seamlessly having the product offering there that you need to execute that plan. What that also does, of course, is, is create a unique one of a kind marketplace for, for those partners. And so that’s a big part of the long term vision for Up. And then with COVID-19. Obviously, that’s accelerated things a little bit for us. it’s made what we’re doing very, very relevant. And obviously, without impacting so many people and especially the poorest people. We’re also exploring partnerships that allow us to take our solution to countries like the Philippines and Indonesia and how we may do that and what that offering might look like and places like that, where we feel we can have an even greater impact on people’s lives and probably society as a whole. And then finally, because we operate across all sectors of the business, enterprise, B2B and direct to consumer I feel this gives us a unique insight into the industry as a whole. And that, you know, gives us an opportunity to accelerate the development of the platform in general, I just think, seeing financial planning on the institutional level, the adviser level on the direct to consumer level is going to allow us to take things to another level. And we’re quite unique in that way. There aren’t as I’m aware, any competitors that play in all three of the spaces.

Neil C Hughes
Incredible. I love what you’re doing here. Finally, putting your CMO hat on just for a moment I how does building attack brand differ from building a brand for a traditional product and a traditional service? Because you’re someone that’s been in both worlds? So I’m curious what’s differently?

Shannon Cullum
Yeah, that’s really interesting. I mean, you know, when we talk about traditional marketing, we talk about the five P’s. People place price, promotion and product. So when you’re selling shampoo, for example, product is a subset of marketing. Because product innovation in the world of shampoo is generally 100% marketing driven which is why the shampoo is the most supermarket is 50 meters long. But when you when you’re selling tech, generally speaking, marketing is a subset of product. Because in the tech world, the product experience is generally so much more immersive, that it’s really impossible to separate the product experience from the brand experience. So that product experience is generally what you take to market. So rather than that traditional model of driving awareness, it’s about driving brand experience and marketing becomes about either getting that experience in people’s hands or removing the barriers to trial all of that experience. And the classic example is the Apple Store, which is, you know, one giant brand experience Expo for Apple, you know, designed to suck you in and bewitch you with Apple magic. And they know that if they get that device in your hand, it’s game over. So I think that kind of way of marketing where you’re bringing your brand experience to the forefront is the focus in the tech world a much different way than it is in the traditional world. The other difference, which you really feel is that in the tech world, we tend to compare one user experience to another, even if it’s for a completely unrelated category, because I think on some level, we see them all as tech. So we expect the digital experience we have at our bank, to be as frictionless and user friendly as booking a car with Uber is whether that’s fair or not. We don’t generally compare the experience we have with head and shoulders shampoo, to the experience we have with Coke. So when you’re building a solution like ours, even though it’s a deeply complex process and a do it yourself financial planning platform, you are on a certain level being compared to Uber or Amazon or Revolute. So in many respects, it’s far more daunting and that product experience, and you mentioned the word delight, is so fundamental and core and you need to always go beyond utility and that’s such a big part of of marketing I think in the tech world.

Neil C Hughes
Absolutely. And I’ve loved chatting with you today but before I do let you go could just ask that you remind everyone listening of where they can find BTO online and also contact your team if they are left with any questions after listening to this interview today.

Shannon Cullum
Yeah, great so they can learn about better trade off at bettertradeoff.com or contact us at contact@bettertradeoff.com. And best of all, they can try our direct to consumer solution for themselves. absolutely free Neil, at upplan.sg. And I hope they will. And thanks again Neil for having me.

Neil C Hughes 
Fantastic thanks for joining me today I’d like to very early on in our conversation. Financial Planning shouldn’t be perceived as being clunky, traditional outdated and it’s it’s actually something that’s incredibly important to probably everybody listening and therefore needs to have the most beautiful and seamless user experience. So I just loved chatting with you today about how user experience should not be limited to one sector alone. I think you’ve done a beautiful job of stating that case today. But thanks for joining me today, Shannon. I appreciate it.

Shannon Cullum 
Thanks again, Neil

Neil C Hughes 
Interactive and highly visual. I just loved hearing more about how up is easy and fun to use, but allowing you to build a financial plan in just 15 minutes, and that the white label B2B solution has already been deployed across multiple markets, including Singapore and Philippines, UAE and Switzerland, providing some of the world’s leading financial institutions with this collaborative tool that allows advisors to work together with clients on a plan to finance and protect their dreams. And upon listening to Shannon speak there today. Maybe financial planning should no longer be perceived as clunky, traditional and outdated because there are other options out there. And if you’ve encountered any different options, or you’ve got any insights or expertise you’d like to share with me, email me techblogwriter@outlook.com. My website is techblogwriter.co.uk, because it’s your feedback, your opinions and comments that matter just as much as mine or the guests today. So please keep sending those messages in. And while I’m waiting, I’m going to prepare for tomorrow’s guest who’s already lined up and ready to go. So hopefully you’ll join me again tomorrow. But until next time, don’t waste stranger.

Announcer 
Thank you for listening to the tech talks daily podcast with Neil C. Hughes. Remember, technology works best when it brings people together.

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