Asia’s 60 Most Wanted

Found­ing di­rec­tor and CEO of Hand­shakes CHANGING THE WAY WE DO BUSI­NESS

Singapore Tatler - - STYLE JEWELLERY - Tank MC watch in steel by Cartier

Th­ese high-fly­ing sin­gle­tons are the most swipe right of city slick­ers, style stars and el­i­gi­ble so­cialites. The ques­tion is—can any­one pin them down?

Last year, a group of high net worth in­di­vid­u­als in Sin­ga­pore who bought rare coloured di­a­monds through an in­vest­ment firm cried foul when the com­pany’s owner went miss­ing. Us­ing Hand­shakes, a cor­po­rate in­tel­li­gence plat­form that col­lates and analy­ses data from a wide range of sources, re­porters from a news­pa­per dis­cov­ered that the owner of this di­a­mond in­vest­ment firm was linked to sev­eral other com­pa­nies both here and in Malaysia that had bad track records. “We were re­ally able to in­crease trans­parency,” says Hand­shakes co-founder Daryl Neo. This drive to lay bare the net­work of con­nec­tions be­tween and be­hind com­pa­nies is at the heart of what he hopes to ac­com­plish with this plat­form. “When the world be­comes more trans­par­ent, it is a lot eas­ier to do busi­ness. Deals tend to fall through be­cause of a lack of trust. So we are here to help build trust, by speed­ing up the process of back­ground checks and due dili­gence. With more trans­parency, there can be a lot more eco­nomic growth.” Daryl and co-founder Charles Poon used to be reg­u­la­tors at the Sin­ga­pore Ex­change, where the te­dious process of man­u­ally re­view­ing cor­po­rate data in­spired them to start Hand­shakes in 2011. The tim­ing was right as tech­nol­ogy had be­come so­phis­ti­cated enough to al­low start-ups such as theirs to ac­cess pow­er­ful servers and vi­su­al­i­sa­tion tools that could sup­port their an­a­lyt­ics al­go­rithm. Cor­po­rate struc­tures have also be­come much more com­plex in re­cent years, which cre­ates more de­mand for the ser­vice they pro­vide. “Th­ese days, you can no longer un­der­stand some­one’s busi­ness if you only look at one re­port,” Daryl ex­plains. “The world is now more in­ter­con­nected and the amount of data has in­creased ex­po­nen­tially. That pain point is the rea­son we could en­ter the mar­ket.” To­day, the bulk of Hand­shakes’ clients are from the fi­nance, au­dit­ing and reg­u­la­tory in­dus­tries, and Daryl be­lieves his com­pany has built one of the strong­est ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence (AI) teams in Sin­ga­pore. “Our strength in AI is go­ing to give us many ad­ja­cent op­por­tu­ni­ties,” he re­veals. “Right now, we are us­ing it to pick up the names of peo­ple and com­pa­nies across many data sources. We can even­tu­ally use it to look for themes, and ex­tract in­for­ma­tion on what peo­ple are talk­ing about in the news, for ex­am­ple. From there, we will be able to pre­dict trends.” That doesn’t mean that hu­man in­put will even­tu­ally cease to be im­por­tant. On the con­trary, Hand­shakes’ vi­sion of es­tab­lish­ing a strong re­gional pres­ence—it cur­rently has staff in Malaysia, Thailand, Viet­nam and China—means it has al­ways been keenly aware of the need to hire tal­ent who can help it ex­pand into other Asian mar­kets, most of which do not use English as the dom­i­nant work­ing lan­guage. All staff have to be flu­ent in at least two lan­guages, and the team in­cludes lin­guis­tic ex­perts who han­dle the trans­la­tion of data. Be­yond lin­guis­tic dif­fer­ences, Asian coun­tries also vary widely in terms of how de­vel­oped and trans­par­ent their fi­nan­cial mar­kets are. But with China seek­ing more global trad­ing part­ners via the One Belt One Road ini­tia­tive and the estab­lish­ment of the Asean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity in 2015, Daryl is con­fi­dent that the need for cross-bor­der trans­parency will grow. “We are sit­ting on the right side of his­tory. Ev­ery­one is talk­ing about do­ing trade across bor­ders. If China wants South­east Asia to do busi­ness with its com­pa­nies, it has to make their cor­po­rate in­for­ma­tion known. There’s no way for Asean economies to in­te­grate if a Sin­ga­pore busi­ness can­not un­der­stand a Viet­namese busi­ness. To get cross-bor­der trade flow­ing, in­for­ma­tion has to flow.” By ser­vic­ing this re­gional push to­wards greater eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion, Daryl’s am­bi­tion is for Hand­shakes to play a part in mak­ing Sin­ga­pore the hub for what he calls “col­lec­tive in­tel­li­gence”—where in­for­ma­tion from many dif­fer­ent repos­i­to­ries can be ac­cessed and an­a­lysed in tan­dem, to yield a clear and com­pre­hen­sive pic­ture of any given com­pany or en­tre­pre­neur. “Sin­ga­pore is look­ing for our next wave of eco­nomic growth. I hope we can help make Sin­ga­pore known as the coun­try where peo­ple can come and look for in­for­ma­tion when they want to do a deal. If we can help to make this hap­pen, that would be fan­tas­tic.”

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