From Singapore to the UK
Val grew up in Singapore, but knew she wanted to study in the UK. She spent two years working relentlessly to fund her studies. And, although her entrepreneurial spirit was bubbling beneath the surface, Val’s story actually started with studying digital media at University of Arts London.
I am very appreciative of all the opportunities that were open to me in London.
As an undergraduate, Val secured internships with top firms, gaining experience to support her degree. However, while working at a web development agency, she watched the business professionals come together to innovate and share ideas. Eager to experience this buzz, she knew this was the path she was destined to follow.
Shortly after, she secured her place at Imperial College London to study MSc Management.
Val says, “I wanted to learn from the brightest people and get a fantastic job offer.” And she did exactly that. After Imperial, Val started to work for PwC in London as a risk assurance associate. She threw herself into the role and enjoyed her graduate training. Then everything changed.
Back in Singapore, Val’s mum had been diagnosed with cancer. Val decided it was time to return home, making the hard decision to leave her life in London behind. At this point, she had no idea of the rollercoaster of events she was about to experience.
The birth of PolicyPal
Val’s mum recovered, and Val helped with her critical illness insurance claim. Despite working in the industry as a sales broker, it was Val’s first time dealing with insurance from a consumer’s perspective. Sadly, in the same year, her dad passed away from a heart attack, leaving her once again to sort out insurance policies.
Dealing with all of this was complex – and she knew it was the same around the world. Val had a vision to create an online platform to digitalise the process, but the timing wasn’t quite right for her to take action.
I kept on thinking about my idea, but I struggled to find the right people to help. The pivotal moment came after I went to Nepal where I’d been helping build shelter after the earthquake. When I returned, I quit my corporate job. I set up PolicyPal with no money and no support.
Getting off the ground
“I was naïve and thought I’d be fine,” she admits. Val travelled to Vietnam in the hope of finding co-founders, but she had no success. However, she did meet two students willing to help her build the platform and get started. Despite her efforts to keep them on board, they decided to continue with their studies.
Being a female Asian founder was difficult in the beginning. I couldn’t just sell my dream to get funding. I needed to show the numbers and prove the potential of PolicyPal.
Now she had a platform to work with, she could get PolicyPal off the ground. Finding the right tech team was challenging, but Val eventually hired a small team of engineers. One of these engineers was KC Wong, who is PolicyPal’s current CTO. KC graduated from Nanyang Technological University, which is coincidentally a partner of Imperial.
The breakthrough they were waiting for came in 2016 when PolicyPal was accepted into the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) Sandbox, a government-sponsored framework which enables FinTech startups to experiment with innovative financial products and services in a safe, live environment.
In 2016, PolicyPal were the first to graduate from the MAS Sandbox. The company also acquired a digital brokerage license and became the first digitised direct insurance broker.
Growth is the goal
PolicyPal has since grown to a team of around 30 and has over 100,000 organic downloads. They’ve also transacted over $70 million premiums and manage over $2 billion insurance coverage. Most recently, PolicyPal have been acquired by Hong Kong’s AMTD Digital.
Moving forward, Val’s goal is to grow PolicyPal’s user base exponentially and stay at the forefront of innovation, expanding their product capabilities to provide end-to-end insurance support for consumers.
A proud moment
If Val could share a proud moment with her late father, she’d tell him about her lunch with the Prime Minister of Singapore. “My dad was from Malaysia and moved to Singapore when he met my mother. He always looked up to the Government and respected how they had established themselves.”
Throughout her journey, the Government have been supportive of her business goals and recognise her determination to solve a problem for people in Singapore and beyond.
It’s about balance
What does it take to be a successful entrepreneur? Val says, “It’s about working with limited resources, as well as having the ability to balance positivity with weighing up risk. Extremes don’t work well for entrepreneurs.”
I feel that to have a clear vision for a CEO, we need to have the king personality where one is clear-headed and decisive. The warrior personality where we are never tired of fighting. The magician personality where everything is possible.
There’s so much advice out there for budding entrepreneurs, whether it’s around managing money or expanding into new markets. If Val could give one bit of advice it would be, “You need to ask yourself why you’re building the business and the problem you’re trying to solve. For me, PolicyPal was a result of a personal pain point and I remind myself when I face challenges that I’ll be helping people like me.”
Accolades to date
- Forbes 30 Under 30 in Finance
- Fortune 40 Under 40
- Top 10 FinTech Leaders from Monetary Authority of Singapore and the Singapore FinTech Association
- Visa Everywhere Initiative – People’s Choice Award
- Top 100 FinTech by IBM, ranked 4th globally
- The Peak Power List
- Prestige 40 under 40
- LinkedIn Power Profile for year 2017, 2018, 2019
- Women's Weekly Great Women Of Our Time - Finance & Commerce
- Singapore Edge 35 Under 35
- Tatler Asia Top 30 Leader
Publishing ‘Balls Inc’
At the end of 2019, Val published Balls Inc. Her book documents her journey and explains how her time in London shaped her career. “Everyone has their own approach for overcoming challenges,” she says. “Mine might not be the best, but I want to share my story in the hope that it will help other female entrepreneurs.”
The title of the book nods towards Val's experience in an industry dominated by men. “It also highlights that you need to have courage in the tech world,” she shares.
In her book, Val says, “One of the main takeaways is that I want people to know that they’re not alone. There is always a community out there, as long as people are willing to voice their problems and look up to whoever else is available to lend a hand.”
Supporting others' success
Val is a strong believer in staying grounded within the community. She volunteers her time at the Singapore Fintech Association, ACE (Action Community for Entrepreneurship) and PAP (People's Action Party).
My involvement with grassroot activities has allowed me to better understand people’s needs on the ground and find out how I could alleviate their problems. After all, PolicyPal was created in the spirit of solving current problems as well.
In addition to this, Val works with the FinTech and startup community to build amazing products that continue to push the industry forward. Val is also a guest lecturer at Singapore universities, including Singapore Management University, Singapore University of Technology and Design and Singapore University of Social Sciences.
Shaped by Imperial
Val shares, “Getting into Imperial was a proud moment for me, so receiving this award is really overwhelming. I hope that I will inspire others to apply and see what they can achieve with the support network they’ll build here.”
Imperial saw my potential. My experience changed the way I see the world, how I think about business and how I interact with the global community.
Looking back, Val can see how far she’s come and laughs as she admits she used to be “a shy Asian girl who didn’t want to speak up”. She shares, “When we did group projects, I would always beg not to present. One day, a lecturer picked me to speak, and I was trembling the whole time.” Today she’s doing endless public speaking to promote PolicyPal.
“Being at Imperial accelerated my growth on a personal and professional level. I don’t think I’d be the same person I am today if it wasn’t for my time there.”
Final words of wisdom
Val wants to tell students, “Keep an open mind in terms of what you want to do. I was fixated on the idea that I needed a certain graduate job. It felt imperative to my success. However, I would encourage you to take the chance while you’re young to learn from different people and find what you’re passionate about. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t know what that is just yet.”
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