Edward Lee is the founder and chair of COL Financial, the pioneering force behind online stock trading in the Philippines. COL commands the industry with an impressive clientele exceeding half a million and net investments surpassing P100 billion. A ‘Master Innovator’ recipient at the 3rd Mansmith Innovation Awards, he graciously imparts his insights on transformative innovations within the financial market.
Question: Can you tell us about the motivation behind launching an online stock market platform in 1999, something very much ahead of its time?
A: COL Financial was built on the foundation that “every Filipino deserves to be rich.” We are driven by the vision of empowering individuals to build wealth and achieve their financial goals.
Our commitment to democratizing wealth and fostering financial inclusivity forms the core of our mission. The motivation behind launching an online stock market platform was driven by my vision of helping to build the capital market and making it more accessible to the everyday Filipino investor. At that time, the traditional brokerage model was dominated by large institutional investors, leaving retail investors with limited options for investing in the stock market.
We recognized the power of technology to break down barriers and level the playing field for retail investors and saw an opportunity to leverage the internet to create a platform that would enable ordinary Filipinos to invest in stocks online and access market research and insights at their fingertips.
Launching an online stock market platform back then was indeed ahead of its time, but it allowed us to establish ourselves as the leading online stockbroker in the Philippines and build a loyal customer base that has grown to over half a million clients today.
The motivation behind our launch remains the same today as it was in 1999: to empower individual investors with the tools and resources they need to make informed investment decisions and achieve their financial goals. We remain committed to innovating and delivering exceptional value to our clients as we continue to grow and evolve with the industry.
Q: Besides offering do-it-yourself trading and democratizing stock market research, what other benefits does COL provide its clients?
A: In addition to our core services of online trading and market research, we also provide a range of value-added benefits to our clients:
• Investor education and training programs to help clients enhance their financial literacy and develop their investment skills. Those regular webinars and seminars educate our clients and keep them up-to-date on market trends and investment strategies.
• Regular market updates and insights to keep clients informed and up-to-date on market trends and developments. COL leverages multiple online platforms to effectively communicate and disseminate information to both clients and the general public. Through educational videos, articles and announcements, we ensure widespread access to these valuable resources. An example is the COL Conversations series, where attendees can hear about how different businesses are performing and what their strategies and outlook are. They can ask questions directly to senior management officials of the Philippines’ largest companies and the country’s top mutual fund houses.
• As an online broker, COL acknowledges the importance of physical locations to offer direct client support and localized assistance. In addition to our head office Business Center in Pasig, we have Investor Centers in the cities of Cebu and Davao. These facilities provide a conducive environment for personal and face-to-face interaction with both existing and potential clients.
• A dedicated customer support team that provides valued assistance and guidance to our clients. COL prioritizes customer accessibility by offering multiple channels for customer support, including email, customer portals and messaging platforms. Whether it’s inquiry about the stock market or technical and account concern, our dedicated customer support teams are available to assist. These efforts enhance and expedite customer support response times. Additionally, COL has optimized its customer support portal, social media and email communications to ensure the timely delivery of announcements to clients.
• We are constantly striving to innovate and improve our services to better serve our clients. Through teamwork and collaboration, we work together to achieve our common goals, placing the collective success above individual interests.
Q: How did you differentiate the design of your value chain from that of traditional stockbrokerage?
A: At COL Financial, we have always been focused on creating a value chain that is efficient, transparent and customer-centric. Unlike traditional stockbrokerage firms that often have high fees and cumbersome processes, we have designed our value chain to be streamlined and user-friendly, with a focus on delivering exceptional value to our clients. Some of the key ways include:
• Offering a low-cost fee structure that makes investing more affordable and accessible for everyone
• COL benefits from the leadership and strategic direction of experienced management, comprising seasoned stock market veterans with extensive industry expertise. Their wealth of knowledge and experience ensures effective management and guides the company toward success.
• Providing a user-friendly online platform that allows clients to easily manage their investments and make informed decisions.
Q: With an increasing number of stockbrokerages providing online capabilities, how has COL maintained its position as the top provider in the industry?
A: Having garnered the trust of nearly 520,000 clients by the end of 2022, COL stands as a testament to its credibility and reputation in the market.
COL prioritizes client education by investing in valuable resources, research and expert advice, which are readily accessible through our website and other online channels. This unwavering commitment to client education empowers individuals, both clients and the general public, by equipping them with the necessary knowledge and guidance to make informed decisions on their investment journey.
With a robust online presence and strategically located investor centers in key cities, COL ensures extensive touch points with its clients, delivering excellent service and support. Moreover, our financial literacy advocacy initiatives have a wide reach, introducing the concept of investing to a broader audience of Filipinos, thereby promoting financial education and empowerment.
COL’s fund distribution platform also provides a diverse range of preselected global and local mutual funds and UITFs (unit investment trust funds) from the country’s leading fund providers.
Equipped with experienced management, a customer-centric approach, trusted client relationships, a strong commitment to client education, wide market reach and a robust fund distribution platform, COL possesses the necessary tools to effectively compete and sustain its leadership position in the market.
Q: Could you share some examples of other industry-first initiatives that COL has launched?
A: We launched the COL Easy Investment Program, which allows clients to invest in a diversified portfolio of stocks and mutual funds with just a few clicks, making investing more accessible and convenient for everyone.
We were also the first in the industry to offer a true online account opening process, which allows clients to open and fund their accounts without having to physically visit our offices.
Our funding and withdrawal system provided a lot of options to our clients and facilitated their trading and investing experience. We were the first to set initial funding at P1,000, making it accessible to a lot of Filipinos.
Through a variety of educational resources, including videos, articles and seminars, customers gain a better understanding of investing concepts and strategies.
COL is dedicated to providing its customers with a convenient, affordable and hassle-free investing experience. To achieve this, we streamline processes, improve back-end support and enhance infrastructure. Our customer-centric initiatives prioritize delivering the best possible experience to each customer. Additionally, we maintain strict operating discipline, continuously seeking ways to enhance processes, back-end support and infrastructure to drive operational efficiency and maximize long-term shareholder value.
Q: How do you stay innovative and ensure that COL continues to provide value to its clients in a rapidly evolving industry?
A: At COL Financial, we recognize that the financial industry is constantly evolving and we are committed to staying at the forefront of these changes to ensure that we continue to provide exceptional value to our clients. Here are some of the ways we stay innovative:
• Listening to our clients: We have a strong culture of customer feedback and actively solicit input from our clients to ensure that our platform and services meet their needs. We are actively seeking out feedback from our clients to better understand their pain points and areas where we can improve our services.
• Encouraging collaboration and experimentation across different teams and departments within the company: to foster a culture of innovation and creativity.
• Encouraging new ideas and initiatives among our team to enhance our offerings: Our commitment to continue seeking ways to optimize efficiency, strong operating discipline and a focus on long-term growth further contribute to our ability to deliver ongoing value to our clients in this dynamic industry.
By combining these approaches, we are able to stay at the forefront of the industry and provide our clients with the best possible investment experience. We believe that innovation is not just a goal, but an ongoing process, as we consistently deliver value to our clients in an ever-changing industry.
Josiah Go is the chair and chief innovation strategist at Mansmith and Fielders Inc. Join us at the 3rd Mansmith Innovation Awards ceremony in the afternoon of Nov. 17 at the Podium Hall. Kindly register at www.mansmithinnovation.com.