Having spent most of his education-pursuing years in England, Robin Lee, above all other things, considers himself fortunate. The opportunities and experiences he obtained throughout his time abroad illustrated to him more than merely a disparate perspective. It subconsciously brought him to the harsh realisation that others have it far from simple in terms of their limited access to education, financial opportunities as well as the fundamental means of improving their standard of living. In this interview, Robin Lee shares with FLY: Malaysia Journalist, Melanie Fernandez, his venture in the gold trading business that led him to co-found HelloGold.
Post graduating from Oxford University with an MA with honours, Robin Lee pursued his accounting qualification with KPMG, London. Being a previously Chartered Accountant at ICAEW, he comprehends the workings of the financial spectrum distinctively. Before university, Robin recalls how his father made him work rather mundane jobs, at 7-Eleven and even at a farm, which entailed him staying at a village during the time. This was far from necessary for someone from his background, yet, the work was aimed at showing him how hard others had it.
“I saw how fortunate I was in comparison to other people. The desire to try to enable everyone to have the same kind of opportunities that I did is something that grew from those experiences.”
Robin acknowledges how there are instances of inevitability, whereby individuals are forced to drop out of school for the sole purpose of supporting their families. He sees that not every Malaysian is enabled to pursue their education, as such, the desire to present everyone with an opportunity to be more is something he has always believed in.
Co-founding HelloGold was an effort aimed at fulfilling Robin’s intention to create accessibility. HelloGold was established in 2015, a joint venture Robin embarked on with Ridwan Abdullah. Radical in nature, HelloGold sets itself apart in the gold trading industry.
There is a multitude of banks that offer investment-based products, however, the minimum investment amount is relatively high, and is most certainly not something everyone possesses.
“HelloGold’s edge lies in their operating principle, whereby a mere RM1 is sufficient to make a purchase. As long as you have enough money to buy a cup of tea, you can invest in gold.”
An issue Robin has noticed concerning financial services is that your access to it is highly dependent on how much money you possess to begin with. The well-off have funds, perks and in turn, greater access to financial opportunities. However, this does not seem to be the case for individuals from disparate financial-backgrounds.
HelloGold was founded with the primary purpose of creating an even playing field when it comes to investment ventures. Choices are scarce when one does not have the means to sustain investment. In this context, HelloGold understands the need to price their products to cater for all. The minimum price they charge is undoubtedly lower than banks or other forms of gold-investing.
“If you walk into a store, you may have to pay over RM200 for a gram of gold, and it’s not because they’re trying to make a huge profit off you. When you think of a gram of gold, the raw materials itself cost RM200, before including labour costs, utilities and relevant expenses. By the time it gets to you, you pay over RM240, which is a bad investment.”
Robin points out how the more gold a person buys, the lower the cost gets. This supports the theory whereby the richer bracket of society can earn more efficiently. HelloGold aims to ensure individuals do not overpay simply because they can only afford to purchase gold in minute amounts.
The concept of accessibility can, in a supplementary manner, be linked to the company’s mobile application. Through the app, one can purchase gold from just about anywhere. Such means of purchasing has proven to be more attractive as one could be on their way to work or even in a classroom when using the app to invest. This is most certainly preferable over going to an actual store during operating hours.
The application features a system whereby an individual can choose to invest RM100 a month. This money will be utilised by HelloGold to buy gold for that client at the lowest price of the day, on every working day of the month.
The first Shariah-Compliant Gold Trading Company in the World
Robin has observed how different kinds of people are denied accessibility to diverse products. The idea of creating fair accessibility is a priority at HelloGold. To be truly financially-inclusive, the company acknowledged the need to create a product that conforms to distinctive individual beliefs. Excluding even the smallest bracket of society has never been an option for HelloGold. Being Shariah-compliant represents more than merely appealing to individuals who seek it. Economic research regarding how important Shariah compliance is has shown that only a relatively small number of people will be affected if their belief prevents them from buying an investment product. As such, HelloGold would not suffer much of a financial loss had they chosen to not attempt to be Shariah-complaint. In reality, the company’s effort to be Shariah-compliant symbolises how they are genuine in their assurance to cater for all.
The general nature of start-ups is simple, most of them are bound to fail. Bearing this in mind, Robin believes that the government is justified in the minimal role they play when it comes to aiding start-up companies.
“Public money should not be used for inherently risky ventures when it can instead be used for more promising causes such as education.”
On the other hand, a start-up can only raise a limited amount from traditional means of pooling investors. Doing so would be of little help in enabling a company to compete on a regional or even global scale. This is why HelloGold opted for the Initial Coin Offering, or ICO to raise funds. An ICO is essentially the cryptocurrency equivalent of an Initial Public Offering.
Talent is abundant in Malaysia, however, not everyone possesses the means to realise their ambitions. Robin recalls how, for most of 2017, people were approaching him regarding how they should seek capital for their projects.
“The concept of an Initial Coin Offering is like crowdfunding on steroids.”
ICO raises capital on a global level. Robin is a strong believer in implementing the system, even on a micro-level. Seeking money from banks is challenging, they often turn you down. According to Robin, the ICO phenomenon can be a source of good for many in the emerging market.
“It’s a way to take charge of your destiny, independent of conventional funding.”
Robin acknowledges how there are hints of controversy regarding the ICO, but urges people to remove the emotional aspect of it and instead, look at the mechanism. It is a channel through which people can lift themselves out of whatever situation they are in. That is something, he finds, has to be good.
Leadership at The World Gold Council
When asked in what manner has been the Chief Financial Officer of a global authority on the gold market influenced the decision to create HelloGold, Robin primarily expresses his gratitude. Having held a position of such regard for five years, he is thankful to have been able to work on projects he found to be incredibly exciting. Tying back to the impact that position had on his venture in co-founding HelloGold, Robin believes the circumstances he witnessed played an immense role in it all. Post his time at the World Gold Council, Robin sensed a need for the gold-backed token to be accessible.
“I realised that what we were doing for the more fortunate, or two per cent bracket could instead be applied in aiding the 98 per cent margin who did not have similar access to such services.”
Closing with Robin Lee
It is a fact universally acknowledged that start-ups are under constant pressure due to their rather fluctuating nature. HelloGold is no exception to this reality. Creating a sense of sustainability in the context of corporate growth remains a priority. The company is constantly fundraising, yet Robin firmly believes that maintaining viable operations will ensure the company thrives.
Having met and conversed with Robin Lee on the idea of creating financial accessibility, it is no surprise that HelloGold has grown into the secure position it is in today. Gauging how the essence of equal opportunity resonates with him, he truly embodies what it means to meaningfully contribute towards fair financial practices. FLY: Malaysia extends our gratitude towards Robin Lee for sharing his experiences and time with us.
Journalist: Melanie Fernandez