Michael "Miko" Bantique

When Miko Bantigue returned to the Philippines after 2 decades abroad, he discovered significant barriers to buying US stocks. Initially promising trading platforms ultimately revealed themselves to be exclusive only to those with USD bank accounts— a rarity in a country where the majority of the population is unbanked.

Initially promising trading platforms ultimately revealed themselves to be exclusive only to those with USD bank accounts— a rarity in a country where the majority of the population is unbanked. Despite strides in the Philippines’ fintech industry in the realms of payments, e-wallets, and remittances in recent years, wealth management remains stagnant, controlled by legacy banks and brokers. Recognizing the need for change, Miko set out to transform the investing and wealth accumulation experience in the Philippines through Ztock: a trading app offering fractional shares of both US and Philippine stocks for as little as $1, tailored especially to the digitally savvy Gen Z consumer.

Miko’s Journey Home

Miko attended the University of Pennsylvania where he studied PPE and Marketing before embarking on a career in advertising and branding in New York and later Hong Kong. Covid struck while he was working in the S.A.R. Amidst the upheaval, GameStop and Robinhood took off, igniting in Miko an interest in retail investment, and quickly sweeping him into the dynamic world of stocks and day trading. As a hobby, he explored various investment platforms like Robinhood, Webull, and Interactive Brokers, trying to study how they differentiated from one another. The pandemic eventually led Miko and his wife Marsha to move back to the Philippines to be closer to family. It was when he returned that he reconnected with childhood friend and classmate Paulo Campos, Kaya Founders’ Managing Partner.Upon returning home, Miko was impressed by the remarkable strides in growth the Philippines had undergone since he left, particularly within the startup and VC ecosystem which was just beginning to take off. Inspired after meeting some of Kaya’s earliest founders at various events and mixers, Miko cemented his decision to team up with Paulo with aspirations of creating a Robinhood-like platform tailored for the Philippine market.

Ztock’s Early Days

Transitioning from the structured corporate world he was in for over a decade to the dynamic, fast-paced nature of startups proved to be challenging at first for Miko. Ztock's initial launch was a tumultuous period marked by bitter work and relentless perseverance, juggling 18 hour days and calls across different time zones that Miko admits now was unsustainable. However, this turbulent phase helped foster their close-knit and battle tested core team.  This sprintCentral to Miko’s steadfast resolve was the unwavering support of Paulo and the rest of the Kaya Founders team. Through their partnership, Miko secured crucial capital, sought counsel, explored ideas, and alleviated stressors even prior to engaging with other investors and partners. Within the Kaya network, Miko was able to cross paths with Walter Boo, a Singapore native who was one Kaya’s earliest interns and now Ztock’s COO. Together, they geeked out over stocks; their shared passion for investing laid the foundation for a fruitful partnership over the ensuing years. For Miko, creating a simple fuss-free platform that rejects this professional expert trader experience has been deeply fulfilling. He takes pride in his journey from hobbyist investor to the architect of an app designed for individuals like himself— those who view investing as a passion rather than a profession.

Looking Ahead

Miko envisions a future where Filipino investors can catch up to their regional counterparts. The Philippines currently lags behind its neighbors, with only 1% of its population engaged in retail investing compared to 3% of Indonesia’s. Although there is immense potential for growth, both in terms of investor participation and new investment opportunities, obstacles such as high costs and a lack of innovation hinder participation in the local and global stock market. By developing Ztock, Miko aims to also address the country's glaring financial literacy gap and help to exponentially increase asset ownership in the Philippines. Miko notes that many Filipinos have gravitated towards cryptocurrencies due to their potential for high gains, but often fail to realize the steep monetary risks from holding a full crypto portfolio. He argues that there is a pressing need for education on general asset classes like stocks, fixed income, funds, and precious metals that other Asian markets have adopted more successfully. Over the next three years, Ztock aspires to transition from serving a young demographic to anyone who would like to build wealth. While initially focused on self-directed stock trading, Miko hopes that the platform will evolve to encompass asset classes that outperform certain hurdle rates, guided by a core vision to create something that does not merely facilitate stock trading but also empowers holistic wealth management and financial literacy.