This reflection is written by Cheng Hao, a NUS Business School undergraduate majoring in Accounting and Finance. He is deeply passionate in his areas of specialisation and is also a student leader who heads several committees and actively participates in sports and cultural activities in his school and hall of residence.
Just like any university student, I was all excited about school life and immersed myself in school camps, hall co-curricular activities and various other student activities. It was indeed exhausting but definitely fulfilling, having achieved so much in a short year. After a busy freshman year, now what? Instead of holidays and back-to-back outings with my peers (precisely how I spent my last winter), I decided to put my second winter to great use and embark on my first internship.
Why A Fintech Startup
Being an Accounting and Finance undergraduate, I should naturally gravitate towards the bulge brackets. Yet I was deeply interested in startups and was eager to experience their dynamic culture that everyone speaks of. I owe this to my father who runs a business himself and often shares how exciting it is for him to build a career from scratch. The scarce manpower in a startup requires it to be even more efficient and every employee has to take on large or even multiple roles to realise the common company vision. This would mean greater exposure to the different functions of a company and is precisely the reason why I focused on finding a startup for my internship.
Fintech has been the buzzword for the past years and recently, more large corporations are either growing their own Fintech teams or partnering with Fintech companies to create a competitive edge. Similarly, I believed that an internship experience in this industry would be invaluable to my Finance degree. I first chanced upon Call Levels on an internship portal and as I researched further, I realised the 2.5 year old startup has been performing exceedingly well and is at the forefront of the Fintech industry with several awards and accolades under its belt.
That was how I began my journey with Call Levels.
First Touch with Call Levels
The interview with my direct superior, the VP of Growth, further convinced me that I made the right choice. Beyond the standard introductory interview questions, she took special focus on my previous work experience with performing systems testing, something I thought was completely unrelated to the role I was applying for. Also, following the interview requirement to download and try out the Call Levels app, she asked me for my opinions on how the app can be improved on.
These might seem like normal interview questions yet they illustrated two very pertinent points about the company – they are very supportive of their employees holding cross-functional responsibilities and they place large emphasis on continual feedback and improvement.
These coincided with what I was looking out for in a company – nurturing and forward-looking – and I was looking forward to my internship more.
First Day At Work
“I would report in normal office attire right?” I could still remember asking my manager who quipped “We are all quite chill! Just wear anything comfortable!”
And she was so right.
Expecting the little cubicles and partitions common in any office, I was greeted instead with a nice conducive common working space that has almost everything needed – cosy desks with printers and computers (most of the tech guys have at least 2 computer screens to deal with), a long meeting table that had some snacks on it, a visualizer for presentations, a pantry and even sofas, television game consoles and card games.
It certainly felt more like a home than an office where you could be slogging hard at your desk to meet deadlines (plenty of them in this fast-growing startup!) or you could be relaxing on the sofa to take a well-deserved break.
Take a look out of the windows and you could catch a glimpse of the estate area of Bishan. Definitely a much needed relaxing sight when work is piling.
After a quick walk through around the office and a brief introduction to everyone on the team, Cynthia and Dan, the two co-founders of Call Levels, brought my team out for a lunch treat. As I had already expected, the conversation during the meal largely revolved around Call Levels and all its exhilarating plans. Although I could barely follow their conversation since it was only my first day, I could strongly feel their excitement for their company.
Being investment professionals with very promising careers in financial institutions, Cynthia and Dan recognised the need for investments to be made simple, accessible and not just be tools for the rich or those with the complicated technical knowledge. They want to empower the masses and level the playing field to help everyone achieve their personal financial goals through Call Levels.
As someone who struggles to understand how to invest, I could fully appreciate their vision for the company and was all ready to be part of it.
Growing in the Growth Team
I interned in the Growth team of Call Levels. It functions to strengthen the company’s brand name and build awareness amongst traders, brokers, finance professionals, investors and even general laymen. My supervisors slowly explained the elaborate growth strategies that the team undertakes and the different platforms used to reach out to the public. The list of social media accounts alone took me by surprise! Albeit a startup with only two and a half years of establishment, Call Levels is well represented in the social media space and is extremely connected to journalists, news sites and agencies, both locally and internationally.
This is the mandate of the Growth team and only then did I realise the gravity of my role.
The learning curve was fairly steep. While it is true that I had to learn how to operate different online platforms quickly and even publish my first research article within the first few days of work, I received strong support and patient advice from my Growth team supervisors. Do not be afraid to ask, because a mistake made is worse than a stupid question.
Yes, my first task at hand was to write research articles to be published on the Call Levels blog and sometimes in external sites like Yahoo Finance. Scan for the most noteworthy financial event on Bloomberg, Reuters and other finance news sites, scrutinise its impact on the global economies, markets and investors’ decisions and finally present the insights in a blog post for all our readers. It was definitely a lot of work but I also slowly understood financial jargons and even became more intuitive on the financial impact of macroeconomic events.
I also embarked on extensive research on the global and regional Fintech industry, analysing the largest investment and acquisition deals, industrial trends and outlook for 2017. The data was then condensed into a Fintech all-you-need-to-know infographics that would be distributed to readers worldwide.
Another highlight of my internship was the Call Levels Hackathon. Having been through several case competitions in school, I was slightly apprehensive of the rigorous research, nerve-wrecking presentation and brutal Q&A that was coming my way. We were all split into teams of 5, even with the co-founders, to brainstorm ideas on how to grow the app’s user base and retain our users. Regardless of our Call Levels departments, we all shared our personal views of what worked and what didn’t for the company, interspersed with insights derived from our work in the Growth and Tech team. As someone who was new to the app, I also eagerly shared my viewpoint from a student’s perspective on using a stock monitoring app like Call Levels.
As expected, the discussion was very rigorous, and went into the most precise detail of individual customer segments’ user experience. Yet, contrary to my expectations, the process was nowhere near nerve-wrecking or brutal. We had an extremely engaging session with ideas building upon each other and questions directed not to shoot ideas down but to sharpen each proposal. The bonus? The ideas were immediately added to the app development sprints and every feasible suggestions were acted upon.
Call Levels is definitely not a place of all talk but no action.
Of course, my job scope (if a definite one even existed in the first place) does not stop here. Engaging with users through social media, pitching to Fintech awards presenting bodies, conducting user acceptance testings, reaching out to journalists, liaising with Cryptocurrency exchanges and the list goes on. I was exposed to and learnt different things every day and never had a routine or boring workday.
Besides the occasional meal treats, I have several takeaways from this wonderful company.
Firstly, stay true to your vision. Cynthia and Dan would always reiterate their vision for the company and illustrate how important it is for users to benefit from the app. “Think of the end-user” is what they would always say. What would make their investing process easier? This question is always at the top of the minds of the app developer team. One of them even started trading to understand the mentality of a investor better. Believe in what you set out to do and this vision would inspire many exciting plans for the company and make the work so much more bearable because you believe in its purpose.
Secondly, communication is tantamount. The small size of a startup becomes an advantage when communication is concerned. The Tech team would always start the day with a short meeting with everyone sharing what they have achieved the previous day, what are they intending to do that day and what are the possible roadblocks. Important decisions are always discussed together, even with our Business Director based in Hong Kong. The constant two-way feedback from founders to employees would always culminate in specific courses of actions. Albeit aggressive at times, it also exemplifies how passionate they are in their views.
Finally, do not expect to work just like an intern. This generally should be attitude of every student intern. I personally believe that there is a value in every task, however mundane it might seem. Even through taking minutes, you can distil the key insights from a discussion. In startups where manpower is limited, all the more would you be treated and be demanded of like a full-time employee. There were no hierarchy in Call Levels and I could even directly liaise with the co-founders and directors on certain tasking. We are all colleagues, working towards a common goal. Our views are treated with respect, regardless of our seniority in the company. Everyone is empowered to bring forth their personal opinions. So, do not be afraid to contribute!
In Call Levels, we work hard but definitely play harder. Be expected to work doubly hard because this is what has brought Call Levels to where it is today. Everyone contributes with their respective expertise and seeks to build onto one another. “There are no lull periods in a startup,” one of them told me during a meal. However in Call Levels, we would always squeeze out time from the hectic periods and reward ourselves with some fun, joy and laughter.
If you want to improve returns on your equities investments by leveraging the power of market monitoring and real-time alerts, download Call Levels: