‘Big Models’ & FinTech

Wireframe Human Heads Face Faces with Binary Code digital data talking

 

Data is power in our world today.

Data-driven decision making helps online businesses achieve better results in marketing and operational efficiency.

Financial services has long used data from markets, companies and credit history, fintech innovators today are harnessing ubiquitous but less conventional personal data to shift the power from large institutions into the hands of individuals.

Applying the ‘big model’ approach that considers multiple aspects of each person, a new generation of fintech analytics empower individuals to make better investment and spending decisions, gain access to credit and take control of their personal data.

Invest Smarter with Wealth Analytics

totum

Totum Wealth applies holistic analytics to change how wealth managers assess risk and recommend investments for clients.

 

This recently-launched wealth analytics platform offers advisors institutional-quality analytics to deliver fully-customized portfolios and to differentiate from the automated investment services (or ‘robo advisors’).

Unlike typical financial planning software, Totum goes beyond age and income to measure the impact of human capital factors, including geographical exposure, industry concentration, career growth potential, health, family responsibilities, real estate and balance sheet.

totum sample.pngBy examining these risk factors, Totum helps advisors accurately target the specific risks in each client’s life and create a portfolio tailored for the client with open architecture.

The multidimensional risk engine can derive intelligent insights by combining data from advisor’s existing CRM and custodian, additional data from the government and companies, as well as those sourced from the investor’s other investment accounts, social media and wearable devices.

As it minimizes time-consuming data entry and spreadsheets, advisors can focus on how to better serve today’s clients, who have cheaper options for investment advice. The platform also involves clients in the investment process with interactive visualization of performance and risk to make informed decisions.

Gain Control on Monetizing Data

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Datacoup is another company that sees the value of holistic personal data, enabling consumers to build and sell their own online profiles.

Individuals can bring together transaction, browser history, social media, fitness and mobile location data onto Datacoup, which facilitates transactions between individuals and data buyers for a transaction fee.

Insurance companies, retail merchants and mobile carriers, for instance, can place requests to customers to share particular bits of information about themselves in return for discounts or other special offers at point-of-sale or after sale.

Datacoup gives brands access to a valuable, difficult to obtain combination of personal data attributes with customer consent vs. the current model of third-party collection.

Access Credit without FICO

Expanded data analytics is also shifting how consumers access and maintain credit, as illustrated by the initiatives of Float.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 9.19.49 PMDifferent from traditional lending methods, Float considers multiple factors beyond a credit check when lending, allowing consumers to access, build and maintain credit from their smartphones.

By looking at a borrower’s income and spending habits, rather than just credit history and FICO score, Float can quickly onboard members with customized terms based on their financial capacity and provide the user with their personalized line of credit in three minutes.

Consumers can access on demand credit that can be spent online, in stores or transferred to a bank account. Float is among the fintech companies that build alternative risk assessment models to provide credit to those who do not have a credit history or cannot get credit otherwise.

Build Better Spending Habits

wallet.AI logoIn the personal financial management space, wallet.ai attempts to helps people make better spending decisions by providing feedback on behaviors that affect their finances.

Its artificial intelligence engine analyzes income and spending data to discover patterns, predict future transactions, and detect anomalies.

Wallet.ai was founded in response to existing financial tools requiring too much work to be useful for most on a daily basis. The founders – inventors and scientists – envision a future where AI can help optimize a person’s cash flow awareness and financial health.

“Big Model” Impact

The initiatives of these fintech companies are indicators of how “big model” analytics are changing the financial services industry.

The prevalence of data and digital technologies has unleashed an array of insights into consumer needs and behaviors, resulting in valuable opportunities for individuals to get access to better financial service.

As consumer expectations evolve with technology, financial institutions and professionals can leverage these intelligent analytics to better understand their clients and enhance their service.

This post was written by Min Zhang, CEO and co-founder of Totum Wealth.

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2016 Predictions

2016


Hello. It’s me. As we kick off 2016, look for consolidation as private companies are forced into the arms of larger players, along lines of last week’s purchase of Jemstep by Investco, or the acquisition of Yodlee by Envestnet, BillGuard’s purchase by Prosper or BlackRock’s acquisition of FutureAdvisor.

It’s incredible how much is written – still – on Robo’s being “on fire” when the facts are so different. Look for capitulation in 2016, among startups in the robo advisor category and continued dominance by a handful in the lending space.

Robo advisors are private, so it’s hard to know how much case they are going through but the themes of recent news (e.g. lowering investment limits) suggest we may see one of the bigger players disappear in 2016, if not 2017.

This development is not specific to digital wealth management, so consolidation and capitulation is my prediction for all areas of FinTech.

pac manIn 2016, look for consolidation within the most crowded areas (e.g. alternative lending, robo advisors) with too many ‘me too’ companies. Look also for some acceleration of Product innovation at bigger firms, as they try to respond to the to FinTech startups who’s captures headlines over the last few years.

 

Advisors: Where the Action Is

The real story is slow demise of the big name firms like Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, as they lose top advisors and clients to RIA’s (not robo advisors).

Less covered by tech media, look for RIA’s to continue to take share from brokerage firms, even as firms like Morgan Stanley explore automated investment services.

What’s behind Morgan Stanley reportedly planning to introduce its own ‘robo advisor’ service is not competing with Betterment, but trying to stay relevant and nimble as it loses share to RIA’s that offer better services, products and technology.

FinTech industry followers are better served to listen to Michael Kitces and Bill Winterberg rather than read press releases from robo advisors.

Financial Data Comes to the Cloud

Is Market Data as exciting as marketplace lending or mobile payments? Maybe not, but it deserves attention, especially as one innovator, Xignite, behind Wealthfront, Betterment, Personal Capital, Motif and StockTwits –is looking to shake up an industry.

xignite

I recently sat down with the Founder & CEO of Xignite, Stephane Dubois, in San Mateo. He noted how robo advisors were among early clients of xIgnite, but that his target market now includes larger financial institutions.

I asked him whether xIgnite was like Stripe for the market data world? My rationale was Stripe has been successful in payments in part due to its focus on developer community.

Stephane_Dubois

Dubois saw the parallel, noting that xIgnite is focused on API’s, innovation and targets developers, while financial data incumbents (e.g. Thomson Reuters, Bloomberg, S&P) often seek to sell products, not delivering the actual data clients want.

 

But he emphasized Xignite targets both developers and businesses (both startup and larger companies at this point in the growth trajectory). As Dubois expressed it, xIgnite’s goal includes growing its business through enabling more responsive front-end tools for financial institutions, and helping it slash back-end costs.

Is Xignite the Stripe of the market data world?

From my experience at Morgan Stanley, I think there’s opportunity. Although there is a lot of focus on controlling market data expense, in light of reduced profits in many trading areas, executives such as Morgan Stanley’s Ken Brady are smart and strategic, looking to control expenditure but also enable the business.

Focus on the Apps, Not the Integration

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This illustration from xIgnite captures the essence of its value proposition and also highlights one issue for large financial institutions.

Banks do a good job managing their third-party expenditures and risk; teams focused on partners on Wall St. (ranging from Operations, Market Data, Tech Risk, Vendor Risk, Corporate Services, COO Teams). What big banks can learn from startups is to focus on the apps, not the integration (and using xIgnite can help with that approach).

Morgan Stanley legend Merritt Lutz jokes that in a post Dodd-Frank world, you can find a risk officer hiding under every desk on Wall Street. But the red tape on risk and expense  management, has slowed down execution. Clients using Morgan Stanley Online can’t see basic portfolio performance reporting online, in contrast to most of its competitors.

As a result, wealth management units of banks suffer from too long development cycles. Instead of navigating bureaucracies, expense approval and risk teams, developers should be able to focus on apps and the data they need to serve clients.

Bigger banks should be more API-centric approach and embrace Agile in order to enable faster time-to-market on Wall St. and compete with FinTech firms.

2016 

Final thoughts on 2016? I’m looking forward to incumbents moving faster, adopting API solutions like Xignite, during consolidation since as one executive from J.P. Morgan Chase said, ‘Do we really need 1,000 mobile wallet startups?’

I also don’t foresee any big IPO’s in the FinTech space, given the state of the markets, although SoFi and Stripe have all the right pieces in place. For now, I can see Financial Technology Partners being busy with lots of deals focused on the middle market.

2016 should offer a few surprises. I look forward to telling you about them.

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Wells Fargo’s Head of Innovation, Steve Ellis

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The following is an edited transcript of a conversation between Steve Ellis, Head of Innovation for Wells Fargo and Michael Halloran of The FinTech Blog.

MH: Your have a new role as Head of Innovation for Wells Fargo. Given its record as an innovator, in areas like online and mobile banking, why do you think the bank is not as well known as it should be for innovation?

“Creating the Innovation Group puts an even larger focus on creating the products, services, and technologies that will allow us to stay competitive and allow our customers to do their banking when, where, and how they would like.”  – John Stumpf, CEO of Wells Fargo

SE: I’ve seen different waves within the bank and across the broader industry. Right now there’s tremendous interest in innovation.

Innovation has always been there: It’s just sometimes the case that other messages stand out. Take the financial crisis of 2008. During that time, a lot of the energy was put into risk and controls. Or the integration of Wells Fargo and Wachovia. It took a lot of effort. But the innovation story is real.

We have been innovating for a long time. There is remarkable creativity in our organization. There is no lack of ideas. I see our role as to give a voice to ideas, which come from all areas across the bank – as well as outside the bank; it’s so easy to focus on what’s internal and miss what’s going on outside that’s interesting.

MH: How do you see Wells Fargo’s Innovation Group compared with other models? e.g. CitiVentures has a mission, beyond its venture investing, to bring innovation to Citi. Capital One Labs’ mission is to deliver products with big impact, but gets involved in acquisitions (e.g. LevelMoney).

SE: Our team is 150 team members strong. Our initial focus is on 5 areas: R&D; innovation strategies; payment strategies; design & delivery; and analytics.

We want to bring focus to the great ideas within Wells Fargo and serve as a catalyst to foster innovation in areas ranging from business models to user experience. We want to innovate across the entire organization — at a time of increased risk and regulatory focus.

We also want to encourage our team members to sit up and look outside the organization for innovation and ideas.

wfc startup accelerator

An example of this is the new Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator.

Our Startup Accelerator expands our vision of the future of financial services beyond the boundaries of Wells Fargo and banking, and introduces us to innovators who want to shape how our customers handle their financial needs in the future.

MH: When Morgan Stanley’s Technology Business Development Group put on its CTO Summit, our focus was on innovation, as well as team building and business development. Is that true for Wells Fargo?

SE: Yes. There’s an advantage for us to have early interactions with the startups in the space. The accelerator gives us an opportunity to get involved and connect with the brightest startups from around the world.

MH: What innovation areas are critical to you now? Given Wells Fargo’s current focus on growth in credit cards and wealth management, investments and retirement (WIR), is it in areas like analytics?

I can see us going in a direction of offering identity as a service…

SE: Analytics is a great example of an area rich in innovation opportunities. Others are security and identity management. We’re good at security; as a bank, you have to be strong there. It’s fundamental to our business. The Innovation Group also owns initiatives like mobile wallet services to propel innovation in this important area for Wells Fargo.

We have a lot of good ideas. We literally have received hundreds of good ideas from team members across the company since forming this group. I see it as part of our mission to drive focus and execution on a reasonable number of focus areas, so we’re working on five big ideas vs. five hundred.

MH: I know the innovation group at Bank of America struggled with issue of mission creep by expanding its mission from ‘innovation’ to execution in areas, e.g. social media and mobile, that put it in conflict with areas of the bank that owned those efforts. Is that a risk?

SE: We are a small group by design, and we have to clearly understand our mission and purpose for the company. I was invited to speak at Wells Fargo’s companywide Town Hall with our CEO last week. We talked live with team members across the country about the mission of the Innovation Group.

Internal communications is important, and we want to clearly articulate how we will give a voice to innovation and ideas across the wider organization. Our group will stay focused on our customers – and I’m confident the ideas and solutions will follow with rapid execution.

 

wells fargo 3d

MH: You mention the Innovation Group is a small organization. Do you think you will bring in individuals from outside to help the team?

SE: We have a lot of interest from Wells Fargo team members in joining the group, and we’ll grow. Would we hire some talented technologists or those with other skills who don’t know banking and teach them about banking? Yes.

MH: As someone who’s worked at a startup and a bank, it frustrates me to hear VC’s say ‘Banks haven’t done anything innovative in the last ten years’ and have people believe them. How do you feel about that?

SE: I’ve been around long enough to recognize that a lot of people who are driving the conversation are pushing an agenda. I’m accustomed to it. We maintain a good relationship with the venture world along with startups.

We think we can innovate with the best. For instance: biometrics. There’s a lot of seriously cool stuff that’s happening in that area.

If you think about it the area of identity management and authentication is one in which the banks are really exceptional. I can see us going in a direction of offering identity as a service, for example.

I think the predictions about what is going to happen in 3-5 years are not as interesting as what’s going to happen in 20 years.

MH: Despite the success of Bloomberg ‒launched with Merrill Lynch as a minority owner – there hasn’t been a lot of consortium offerings from  banks. Why is that?

SE: To drive a program through a large institution, you quickly need to get a lot of specific people in meetings who have decision-making power. A consortium, to me, makes the whole process much more difficult. With the right idea, of course, anything is possible.

MH: What do you see when you look ahead?

SE: I think the predictions about what is going to happen in 3-5 years are not as interesting as what’s going to happen in 20 years. There are things we can do using APIs, however, that will be interesting to watch unfold.

In terms of the big picture, I think change happens slowly and steadily. It’s easy to miss, including changes that can have tremendous impact on the industry. I’m not a big believer in Bitcoin or the related technologies. They seem more like solutions looking for a problem.

MH: Wells Fargo has been a leader in online and mobile banking on both the retail side, as well as wholesale banking side. Wells Fargo’s Virtual Channels Group has done great things, yet many startup pundits seem to say that big banks ‘don’t get it.’ How are you proving them wrong?

SE: We do not want to become an Innovation Group that publishes white papers and just does R&D. We are about being a catalyst for rapid execution.

One example is a California-based corporate client that asked if we could build a new technology solution for its customers. They were considering working with a startup. Wells Fargo built a custom solution within the timeline and exceeded their expectations. That’s what it’s all about: delivering benefits for your customers.

 

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Insurance: The Next Frontier

insurance chalckboard

 

While the golden age of Fintech is upon us, insurance has been relatively untouched – one of the largest industries yet to embrace the digital age.

Yet insurance presents an enormous opportunity for entrepreneurs. In fact, the fact that Prudential recently formed Gibraltar Ventures – following the model of Citi with its Citi Ventures unit – shows the that incumbents are recognizing the potential for startups in the insurance sector.

Last year, the U.S. insurance industry’s net premiums written totaled to $1.1 trillion, a 25% increase from 2009 (net premiums written are defined as premiums that will be collected over the life of a contract less cost of reinsurance).

Insurance carriers and their related activities in the United States accounts for nearly 2.5% of the US GDP and employs 2.5 million people.

Premiums

Despite being such a large industry, insurance remains one of the highest cost areas of financial services.

According to CoreVC, a VC firm focused on FinTech, $.60-$.65 of each dollar is paid in claims, with the rest covering costs of admin, marketing and reinsurance.

This presents a significant opportunity for disruption. With improvements in technology, we should see reduction in each of these cost items.

Examples include automating policy administration, improving distribution via marketplaces, reducing underwriting risk using big data and machine learning.

Recently, more and more entrepreneurs have launched startups to disrupt this massive and antiquated industry. Here are a few startups going after interesting consumer problems.


Ovid

ovid

Ovid is a life insurance exchange. Ovid offers consumers the option to sell their life insurance for an upfront cash payout if they no longer need or can no longer afford their policy.

A policyholder with a $1,000,000 policy could sell the policy for up to $300,000 and would no longer be responsible for paying annual premiums.

Ovid was founded because over 80% of U.S. life insurance policies never mature into a claim1 – the insured generally lapses or surrenders their policy. This results in high profit for insurance companies at the expense of consumers – turning years of paid premiums into a sunken and irretrievable cost.

Ovid attacks $100 billion of annual household financial waste by building a liquid secondary market where institutional investors can bid on consumers’ policies.

 

Guevara

guevaraNormal car insurance works like this: you pay an annual premium which your insurance carrier pools with all their other auto insurance premiums in order to diversify their risk of a single accident. However, this means that safe drivers are essentially subsidizing risky drivers.

Guevara is piloting a new approach: instead of lumping your premium with all drivers, your premiums are pooled with roughly 30 drivers who have similar driving habits and records to you. Your pool is then used to pay for the group’s claims.

If there is money left in the pool at the end of the year, the leftover money is returned to the insured. This way safe drivers will have significantly lower insurance costs and are not subsidizing reckless individuals.

Guevara says after an average year with five claims, everyone in your group still saves 30% each over your competitive insurance premium. Furthermore, even if you’re in a group where everyone gets into accidents, there’s a cap on premiums – so all else equal, you never pay more than you did in the first year.

 

Oscar

Oscaroscar was founded after Josh Kushner received an explanation of his health benefits that he was unable to understand. Oscar is a new health insurance company that sells simple-to-understand health insurance plans to consumers both directly and through health exchanges.

Unlike traditional health insurance where consumers typically have no idea how much they will be paying, Oscar attempts to bring transparency to its customers using technology.

A user can visit the Oscar website or mobile app, enter in his or her conditions and symptoms, and receive a list of primary care physicians or specialists along with estimated costs. Furthermore, customers can even call in for unlimited free consultations with physicians who can prescribe medications.

While Oscar is still not profitable, it will be interesting to see if its business model can disrupt the traditional players and reform one of the largest and most complicated industries in the U.S.

TheZebra

thezebraFounded out of Austin, TheZebra is an auto insurance comparison engine, which compares estimated quotes from different car insurers for users – kind of like Kayak.com for car insurance.

Users are served estimated quotes with as little as two pieces of information and can try different combinations of inputs to see what factors most affect their rates. All results are anonymous and instant – making it easy for consumers to get real quotes.

The company now compares over 200 insurance carrier’s rates and is a licensed insurance agent in almost all U.S. states. With big names like Mark Cuban and Floodgate as investors, there are high hopes TheZebra will change how people buy car insurance.

This guest post was written by Lingke Wang, currently an MBA student at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, and co-founder of Ovid. 

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Talking vs. Doing

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CEO of Nerdwallet, Tim Chen, Speaking to VC in San Francisco

Even though Home Depot moved on from its slogan of “Less Talking, More Doing” I’ve been thinking about that statement in the context of FinTech. There are so many conferences and places to network, it’s easy to spend too much time listening to experts versus doing the hard work of growing a business.

Reinforcing this, Level 39’s Head of Ecosystem Development, made this point at SIBOS last week in Singapore (see tweet).

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It’s not that events are a waste of time – it’s just critical to focus on what you do at them, i.e. focus on learning and giving back to partners and others.

As CoreVC‘s Kathleen Utech said, events like Money 20/20 are valuable in part for one-on-one conversations you set up, so make sure you plan them.

Buzz vs. Buzzkill

While there’s still a lot of buzz associated with financial services tech startups, with the latest news being the planned IPO for Square, a successful Los Angeles-based private investor in FinTech told me, “I’m sure a good percentage of startups with huge private valuations will never seen a liquidity event.”

We agreed that well-known startups are suspect, especially in some categories, e.g. robo advisors and online lenders. I’m bullish on the big names in the startup space, such as Prosper, but wonder about the second and third tier.

prosper

I recently sat down with Ron Suber of Prosper the other day and talked about innovation. I think the BillGuard deal was a very smart move. Prior to meeting him, I’d read the Stanford GSB Case Study on Prosper. It’s striking to see the similarities between today’s fascination with FinTech and the earlier euphoria  over E-Loan in the period during the last dot-com boom.

I recommend the case study to see the difference between a good idea and execution, and the key role of regulators. Another important lesson is that VC’s are not the final answer: It’s up to you as the entrepreneur to make smart decisions.

Being Smart: Investing vs. Paying the Price Later

I saw Bill McKnight, Head of Product and Technology at RealtyMogul the other day. It was interesting to see the energy of the office, which was quite different from offices of places like Prosper, which have more of a tech company environment.

realtymogulThe office atmosphere reflected the high percentage of employees who come from a real estate finance background, resulting in a mix between a tech company and a traditional lender.

Bill spoke to me about the importance of moving fast, yet being smart about investments in engineering to avoid “technical debt” later.

Transparency: Metrics that Matter

Another player in the real estate space within FinTech is Patch of Land. I met the CEO, Jason Fritton and CMO, AdaPia d’Errico, on a recent trip to Los Angeles. A somewhat earlier-stage startup than RealtyMogul, I was struck by the strengths of the team in terms of client and market focus.

I’ve also been impressed by Patch of Land’s ability to build a community through its social media efforts. Would be winners in FinTech would be smart to look at how AdaPia’s team uses SM to bolster growth.

Here’s some comparative metrics for Patch of Land (on top) vs. Lending Club. It’s clear from the SM metrics that the objectives are different, with one being more of a broadcast model vs. means for community engagement, but the figures are striking.

 

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Steady Growth

Tim Chen, CEO of NerdWallet spoke to a packed house of about three hundred members of the SF FinTech Meetup at its offices in San Francisco recently.

nerdwalletPersonally, I was impressed by Tim’s modesty as he spoke of growing NerdWallet from tough early days when it made very little money. He won the crowd over with his timeline showing user growth matched by the SEO work to grow reach (building links and creating content).

Talking to others in the world of FinTech is useful, since I think each and every interaction with others can be a learning opportunity, but beware attending too many conferences on FinTech, when you could be building something.

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FinTech’s Zeitgeist

 

whurley

 

Recent conversations have led me to think that some of the zeitgeist of fintech is changing.

I think the focus on the hype and funding levels is shifting as both startups and mid-stage firms are pivoting from aspirational, even naive plans, to more strategic conversations.

For me, the decision of FutureAdvisor and its investors to fold its cards is but one data point. It’s arguably been both a case of capitulation on both sides, recognizing the challenges to achieve scale, and the difficulty of innovation at incumbents.

honest dollar

More than ever, it’s a card game, and playing your cards right can mean holding them close to your vest. The CEO of Honest Dollar, for example, spoke candidly on the gap between what people think they’re building versus what they’re actually building.

There’s smart and right out of Steve Jobs playbook. There’s a time and place for putting it all on the table – and it’s best not to do so too early.

Finovate

I wasn’t able to attend the recent Finovate event in New York due to a last-minute conflict, but was able to see themes from afar and through conversations with those in New York.

finovate

Mobile continues to be the key driver of the conversation. As Karen Webster, one of the most compelling voices on payments today, says: “More than any other, mobile is the ecosystem that has given rise to the sea change taking place in payments today.”

As she wrote on the @PYMNTS blog: “You can’t talk FinTech without talking payments, and you can’t talk payments without talking FinTech. They’re an inseparable marriage.”

I thought it was interesting that we both had seen Sprint Money’s partnership with Urban FT was one piece of news from the event.

sprint

As mobile gurus like Benedict Evans point out, although we in the US don’t often grok it, outside the US, telco companies operate more like banks or have a closer relationship with them.

In developing markets, phones can serve as the de facto means of payment. It will be interesting to see if the model will come to the US.

I think it will be a challenge given the Sprint brand and other options in the US, but demographic changes and aversion to banks might make it work in certain segments.

 

Payments News

Outside the marketplace lending space, other big news was the huge growth in payments processed by PayPal‘s Braintree unit. Just two years after its acquisition by PayPay this week it announced its authorized payment volume will be $50B this year.

braintree

Impressive, but with that growth factored in, the stock is still trading broadly flat to down from its IPO in July. The open question is whether the Dan Schulman can get PayPal to a place where it can compete with Stripe.

It’s interesting that Dan’s professional career includes little time in financial services (with time at AT&T, Sprint and Virgin Mobile vastly exceeding his time at American Express). I wonder what Dan thinks of  Sprint Money? I suspect his attention is elsewhere.

Only about 1.6% of retail purchases are made online, though a majority research prices online or with our phones before making a purchase decision. That behavior may be changing….

Recently Stripe announced Stripe Relay, which reduces friction for in-app purchases. It’s big news, and could usher in more online and in-app purchases over time.

stripe relay

The New Zeitgeist

Today’s zeitgeist is shifting from how big the opportunities are to being smart and strategic. (For that reason, there was a wariness about many startups at Finovate this week.)

Honest Dollar’s whurley going beyond what many think are its modest plans is one example. Being ambitious and holding your cards close is the mark of a company you want to work for – and a startup that the best  venture firms want to back.

I like the story he tells of an employee at Honest Dollar being asked what he’d done to achieve a big win for the startup, replying: “My job,” and walking away.

So here’s my advice to startups: don’t get caught up in the hype; focus on the job; and don’t show your hand too early.

It’s a smart strategy that will work better than raising too much, too soon and tilting at windmills. Remember, it’s business – you’ll need to think a few moves ahead.

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Weathering the Storm

volatility

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During all the recent stock market market volatility, I’ve been thinking about the long-running debate that tends to come up in the world of FinTech on the value of having an advisor.

Despite a drumbeat message to ‘ditch your advisor’ from robo advisors like Betterment and WealthFront, the reality is more and more are using advisors, who play a vital role at times like this.

While startups make a cost-comparison argument, research shows individuals working with an advisor often do better in terms of overall returns, in excess of fee difference.

futureadvisor logo

This week saw a watershed moment in the world of robo advisors, with acquisition by BlackRock of FutureAdvisor.

Rather than cover this topic, I encourage readers to check out the analysis by RIA Biz.

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Why Advisors?

There’s value in having a person to turn to and keep you on track. An advisor can help you plan for the future, control your emotions during times like these (e.g. market corrections) and as you enter different life stages, e.g. buying a house, planning for your kids’ education or preparing for retirement.

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A recent Q&A on Periscope hosted by Chris Sacca with long-time friend and financial guru based in Austin, Owen Brainard, made this very point.

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RIA’s vs. FA’s

Brainard, like other RIA’s, emphasized an argument that a big firm’s advisors only push product, and have a lower regulatory standard of suitability (i.e. putting clients in products that are suitable, but not necessarily in their best interest, or the so-called ‘fiduciary standard’).

Fees matter – but aren’t everything

While the regulatory issue is true, so-called warehouse advisors can serve clients well if you ensure the advisor is paid in a way that addresses conflicts (i.e. a wrap fee). But there’s been a lot of growth in the RIA segment, which I’ll address in a future post, since working with an advisor 100% who must be aligned with your interests makes a lot of sense.

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Starting Out

robinhood app

If you’re a Millennial or don’t have a lot of assets, there’s nothing wrong with an app like RobinHood to buy stock (although I wish they would offer custodial accounts).

Or you can choose to set up a self-directed brokerage account at Schwab, Fidelity or any of the new-style automated investment services (many of which tend to invest you in low-cost ETF’s from the likes of Vanguard).

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 1.53.46 PMMarket vs. World Volatility

Despite the turbulent times in the stock market, it’s important to remember all the other issues we face around the world – especially the refugee crisis in this week’s headlines.

I encourage readers to be mindful for everything they have, even with the stock markets recent dips, and consider making a donation to UNICEF or a charity of their choice.

Here’s a short video from David Beckham on the current crisis in Syria:

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Please consider a donation to UNICEF or any organization helping those in need.

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