From Trader to Fintech: 2 years in a startup vs 20 years in an IBank

TOPICS: Entrepreneurship , Fintech

by Vivek Mohindra

I have been a trader for most of my working life. It’s an exciting job and still a dream for many of the students I meet & teach in HK. But the Global Financial Crisis and technology disruption has changed the job nature significantly. Bank’s ability to take risks has diminished, clients are interested in simple structures and margins continue to decline.

On the other hand, the emergence of new technologies such as cloud computing, robotic process automation and Artificial Intelligence has meant that smaller, nimbler Fintech companies can now hope to compete on an equal footing with the large traditional banking giants. Client and Regulator confidence has also moved toward new entrants.

I see a lot of my ex-colleagues now looking at the opportunities on this side of the fence. The switch from trading to start-up is an interesting one.


  1.  Risk

    Both traders and entrepreneurs get used to taking risks. If you are afraid of uncertainty or of taking quick decisions with uncomplete information, then neither profession is for you. Also, both take wrong decisions all the time. A good trader does not make money because he’s right, but because he’s quick to admit he may be wrong and stops his losses and closes or changes his position. And for startup “PIVOTING” is the most used word for success!! Don’t be afraid to make wrong decisions, be afraid if you cannot learn and adapt from them.

    The big difference in the two professions is in Risk Management. Traders are always told to monitor risk- Size your trades, Hedge your bets, Diversify. There is no such alternative for Entrepreneurs. Risk Management doesn’t work. You are either all IN or OUT. While traders are told “Don’t fall in love with your position”, for an entrepreneur, it’s the only way to survive. You have to love what you do, to eternity and beyond.

  2.  Returns

    Gratification in trading is immediate. Prices can either go up or down. So, you know very quickly whether you have made or lost money and how much. You can close your position and leave anytime. You have many chances to stop, learn and return. And if you are having a bad day or feeling less than confident, you just take a day off (or stare at screens without doing anything).

    As an entrepreneur, you have no idea where and when you will arrive if at all. And you are in it for life! There is no walking away from it whether you are unhappy or unwell or just having a hangover. Most successful entrepreneurs never actually sell their holding, so their position remains permanently as “virtual” wealth. It’s not the payoff that drives you but the passion of succeeding and being proven right. 

  3.  Social

    Interestingly, working in an IBank in HK is considered a more desirable profession than startups. In a recent KPMG survey, only 46 percent of entrepreneurs polled agreed with this statement that entrepreneurship is a well-respected career path in Hong Kong. Additionally, only 21 percent of entrepreneurs and 16 percent of students surveyed agree that parents in Hong Kong are happy to encourage their children to start a company.

    To begin with, startup founder don’t really look at anyone else for validation before they embark on their journey. People may doubt your ideas and negate your views but it’s the belief in yourself and the “irrational confidence” that will take you forward. This is different from successful traders are quick to recognise what is happening and “Follow the Trend” while founders carve their own path.

What I learnt from entrepreneurship that I didn’t learn in 20 years of trading for IBanks

Trades can be rude and pessimistic and a bit cranky at times. Sometimes this is even considered to be a talent! For founders, your ability to carry people with you becomes more and more important to grow. You represent your business and your business represents you. Your ambition, positivity and conduct determine how other perceive the business. There are a lot of moving parts and it’s not possible for anyone to achieve anything on your own. Networking is equally important. You need others for advice, strategic partnership and the odd happy hour drink when feeling a little low. Help can come from anyone and from unexpected sources and in unexpected ways.

For me, the move has been an enlightening experience. My love for adventure and exploration is well satiated. We try new and exciting things and change and grow. At Kristal.AI, we didn’t want to take an easy path so we decided to compete directly with the huge traditional banks who have been here for decades. We provide wealth management service for retail clients and want every person in HK to be our client. That’s why kept HKD 100 as the minimum to open an account with us and we have decided to charge ZERO Fees to all entry level savers.

HK is a market where people are slow to adopt new technologies or move away from traditional banks. But yet we see a lot of unhappiness with existing products and services and disruption is eminent. For us it’s all about being a little better today than we were yesterday and keep going.

About the Author

Vivek is the Co-Founder & Responsible Officer of KRISTAL.AI. He has 20+ years of experience in banking, most of it as a fixed income trader/ specialist in Asia managing between USD 200 to 500 million of assets. He has worked for Citibank, Merrill Lynch, UBS and Natixis. He is a popular guest speaker and regularly invited by HKU, HKUST & CUHK as well as many other organisations. LinkedIn recently honoured him as the most-viewed Finance professional on their platform in HK. He is a qualified Fellow CPA and MBA.