James Vuong, the founder and CEO of Infina, has lofty ambitions for the digital investment service aimed at Vietnam’s rapidly-growing retail investor market. “We want to be the Robinhood of Vietnam – and the Coinbase too,” says Vuong of Infina, which is today announcing the closure of a successful $6m funding round.
Launched last year, Infina is targeting the same demographic that Robinhood and Coinbase have tapped into so successfully in other markets when it comes to, respectively, share dealing and cryptocurrency trading. Young investors – primarily millennials and from Generation Z – are increasingly enthusiastic about trading, using community platforms to share ideas and digital services to execute them. But they are eschewing the incumbent brokers that have previously dominated this market, in favour of new entrants.
Vietnam is largely virgin territory for such services, despite the youthful profile of its 97 million-strong population – and the growing interest in investment. Last year saw 1.3 million new stock market trading accounts opened in the country, compared to only 400,000 in 2020, and it is estimated that as many as 6 million people are investing in cryptocurrency in one way or another.
What this audience needs, argues Vuong, is a one-stop shop for their investment needs – a platform through which they can trade the assets of their choice cost-effectively and with a frictionless user experience. “We think there is a really exciting opportunity to focus on these young – often first-time – investors,” he says.
In practice, that focus requires a number of different strands. First, Vuong points out, Infina needs to offer access to multiple asset classes. Some investors are focused on the Vietnamese stock market – helped by the fact that the market rose 28% to record highs in 2021 – but others are focused on cryptocurrency or other assets, including fixed-income securities and real estate.
In addition, platforms such as Infina need to make investment affordable. That means competitive dealing charges but also, Vuong points out, a way into asset classes that often require very large minimum investments. Infina is already offering a fractional investment facility, so that traders can buy a chunk of such assets, reducing the minimum investment required.
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Ubiquity is important too. Infina’s investment service is available as a standalone app, but the company is also pursuing partnerships with “super app” developers looking to incorporate financial services in their platforms. Already, for example, the service is available on the popular e-commerce app Tiki.
The final piece in the jigsaw is community, Vuong believes. “We have to be more engaging than the incumbent providers,” he says. “Younger investors are looking for a more social experience – the opportunity to engage with others in the investing community.”
It is a model that entrepreneurs are piloting across much of Asia. In Indonesia, for example, Ajaib makes a very similar case for its retail investment app. Groww in India and Tiger in China are built along similar lines.
The attraction is very rapid growth if you can hit the right tone. In Infina’s case, the company last year delivered compound monthly growth rate of 64% in the number of funded accounts it manages.
Looking forward, Vuong believes the model is both scalable and marketable. “We certainly want to take this model and apply it to other markets,” he says. “That might be elsewhere in Asia, but it could also be in the developing markets of Latin America or the Middle East,” he says. Indeed, Vuong is conscious that his peers in Indonesia, Malaysia and India, for example, are plotting similar strategies – that will inevitably affect Infina’s international expansion strategy.
Still, there is plenty of growth in Vietnam to go at in the meantime. And today’s investment round will give Infina more firepower as it continues to expand – Vuong envisages using the resources to further build out the team.
He is also anxious to point to the calibre of the company’s investors. The seed round has won support from investors such as Sequoia Capital India’s Surge and Y Combinator, which will resonate widely. But it has also been backed by angel investors with a track record of working with Robinhood and Coinbase, underlining the company’s credentials.
Gustof Alstromer, group partner at Y Combinator, certainly believes the potential of the company is to go well beyond success in its domestic market. “The need for a new generation of retail investing apps like Infina is clear, not just for Vietnam but globally,” he argues.