Fintech News: November 25th, 2016

Fintech this week: Data privacy is already an illusion, the fate of a maturing robo-advisor market, and the dangers & benefits of wide-scale passive index investing. Happy Thanksgiving!

Is Indexing Worse than Marxism? (The Wall Street Journal, Op-ed)

As investor money flows from active to passively managed funds, fund managers warn of the dangers of widespread index investing, where individuals invest in companies because they’re part of an index, not because they see strong growth and profitability in them. This columnist disagrees, and with active traders growing as well prices are still determined by company fundamentals.

2016 Will be Remembered as the Year When Data Privacy Was Killed (Let’s Talk Payments)

Three of the largest US tech companies know basically everything about you. Will 2016 mark the end of data privacy, or is it already dead?

What We Learned About Robo Advisors in the Last 19 Months (Let’s Talk Payments)

As the robo-advisor market matures, it faces new growing pains and new opportunities. The industry’s narrative has changed too, as more incumbent wealth management companies have built their own robo-advisors. Despite huge growth, robo-advisors continue to struggle with high acquisition costs and a client base that has little money to invest.

Fintech News: November 18th, 2016

The Next Generation of Hedge Fund Stars: Data-Crunching Computers (The New York Times)

The future of hedge funds isn’t the billionaire stock picker like George Soros or Carl Icahn, it’s a supercomputer guided by mathematical trading equations. The industry is witnessing a split, with some funds moving to long-term performance strategies and others embracing quantitative strategies. For example, BlackRock’s quant trading arm uses satellite images of China’s largest construction projects to trade their real estate market.

Wells Fargo makes move into robo-advisor market (Financial Times)

Wells Fargo has joined other incumbent firms in creating its own robo-advisor product, through a white-label with SigFig, one of the original robo-advisor startups. Experts say it will restore trust for the company, since algorithms rarely create fake accounts and PIN numbers.


Three market opportunities in Insurance Asset Management (Daily Fintech)

New opportunities arise where WealthTech and InsurTech overlap.

Long Live the DIY Investor

DIY investing is alive and well. And no, we’re not talking about $ETSY.

We hear this question all of the time: will robo-advisors cannibalize the online brokerage industry? Is DIY investing a thing of the past? Both are great questions, since robo-advised assets are expected to double each year through 2020. Despite analyst predictions to the contrary, recent data suggest that self-directed investing is growing, not dying. Where is all the robo-advised money coming from? For the most part, it’s flowing out of savings accounts and traditional financial advisors.

Broken Barriers to Entry: Horizontal Growth

In the past 10 years, the online brokerage industry has lowered fees, slashed account minimums, and built more education & research tools across the board. The result has been an explosion in the number of accounts, which has grown by 4% YoY since 2007 as more women, millennials, retirees and boomers have decided to take the reins on their investments.

More Engagement: Vertical Growth

broker-dartsThe subset of active investors & traders has grown twice as quickly as the overall investor population. The active subsets trade more often than their buy-and-hold counterparts, and the growth of this demographic is represented in the brokers’ trade volumes. Since 2007, the number of trades from retail investors has increased by 6.7% each year, on average.

This uptick is only the beginning. Mobile devices are driving engagement across the consumer-finance industry, but especially for active investors. Mobile banking is great, but there’s rarely a need to check your banking app more than once a day. Mobile investing is another story: during market hours, active traders stay engaged nonstop, no matter where they go.

Where are Robo Assets Coming From?

lost-revenueSince robo-advisors encourage a “set-it-and-forget-it” mindset, they attract the client base of a financial advisory, not a retail brokerage. Self-directed investors prefer to be in complete control of their own investments. Whether they want to “beat the market” or simply invest in companies they believe in, they are not interested in handing off the responsibility to anyone, whether it is a human advisor, or an algorithm.

The “HENRY” (high earner, not rich yet) is a key customer for robo-advisors. HENRYs today have just enough money to start investing and begin saving for retirement. As less and less employers offer 401(k) plans, more HENRYs are opening IRAs with robo-advisors. It is safe to say that most of the money pouring into robo-advised accounts would otherwise end up in a savings account or in the hands of a human financial advisor.

As these HENRYs build wealth over time, many will embrace self-directed investing after maxing out their robo-IRAs. Smart robo-advisors will build self-directed products before these former-HENRYs start shopping elsewhere. If anything, the growing popularity of robo-advisors will eventually boost the DIY-investing market even further, by letting young investors dip their feet in the markets.

Finally, as we saw during Brexit and the 2016 Presidential Election, market anxieties remain a huge problem for robo-advisors. Even “passive” investors want to feel a sense of control over their assets. For robo-advisors, adding a self-directed offering will help retain client assets when the markets get stormy.

As robo-advising goes mainstream, human financial advisors may be in trouble. Self-directed investors are another story. They invest “the hard way” because they trust neither man nor machine with their assets. The robo-advisor may someday replace the financial advisor, but it shows no signs of killing the DIY investor.


Oliver Wyman: The State of Online Brokerage Platforms, 2016 

Online Brokerage SEC Filings

PwC Fintech Survey, 2015

Aite Group 2016 Report



Fintech News: November 11th, 2016

Traders got screwed by betting on big data, what Trump means for fintech (tl;dr: nobody has any idea) and how to gain digital loyalty through customization.

Trading Stocks during the US Election, the Curious Case of Votecastr (Finance Magnates)

Instead of asking people who they voted for, Votecastr recorded the demographics of those exiting the polls, then reverse engineered the expected results. Many stock traders saw this as the ultimate prediction tool, since it didn’t rely on voter honesty. Unfortunately, the prediction technology turned out to be wrong in 5/7 swing states. Kind of like every other political poll!

Would Trump Policies Help or Hurt Financial Tech? Yes. (American Banker)

The president-elect supports government surveillance, which may clash with data privacy companies. His anti-regulation leanings could put a damper on “RegTech.” His job policies could cost banks by outlawing the outsourcing of jobs. Net neutrality and cybersecurity are still complete wildcards. On the flipside, reducing the corporate tax rate will make it cheaper to repatriate overseas funds. This would help the likes of Apple and Facebook.

Role of digital in driving customer engagement (Finextra)

How to hold on to customer loyalty in the digital age: get your product integrated in Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and personalize the experience as much as possible.

5 Steps to Choosing the Right ETF

ETFs have exploded in popularity as a cheaper, more tax-efficient alternative to mutual funds. But not all ETFs are created equal. From hidden costs to average trade volumes, here are 5 stats every investor should double check before taking that ETF to the checkout aisle.

1. The Ingredient List

etf-nutrition-factsAll ETFs trade like stocks, but they’re not always made of stocks. ETFs can contain bonds, commodities, REITs, futures, and more! Whatever the holdings are, you’ll want to examine them very closely in the fund’s prospectus. Otherwise, you’ll have no idea what you’re buying.

Some ETFs short major indices and even provide leveraged returns. However, these shorting & leveraged ETFs are only appropriate for short-term speculation. Over time, these ETFs diverge far from their original indices, because they are priced on futures contracts, not underlying equities.

In the months leading up to the 2016 Presidential Election, The CBOE Volatility index, $VIX, has soared 62%. However, because of their pricing structure, volatility ETFs have actually lost value during this time. See the chart below, which shows how derivative-based ETFs can disappoint in the medium and long-term.


Be careful with futures ETFs.

2. The Price Tag

Across the board, ETFs have lower fees than mutual funds, but some are more expensive than others. The key number to look for is the expense ratio, which is baked into the cost of all ETFs as a hidden fee. It might surprise you to hear that some ETFs are more expensive than mutual funds, with some charging expense ratios up to 2.5%.

price-tagWhile 1% in fees might not sound like a lot, compounding interest adds up over time, and fees really eat into returns. Say, for example, you switch from a 1%-fee ETF to a comparable 0.1%-fee ETF. Assuming equal performance, your 30-year returns will be 38% higher with the low-fee ETF.

For most sector-based ETFs, there’s a low-fee alternative from issuers like BlackRock, State Street, or Vanguard, which has established itself as the “Walmart of ETFs.” For more specialized ETFs, boutique issuer firms are often the only option, but their highly specific products (like the cyber-security ETF $HACK) justify higher fees to some investors.

3-5. The Fine Print

Before hitting that “buy” button, there are a few more fine points to consider:

  1. Liquidity: most investors want highly liquid ETFs with a small bid-ask spread, so they can sell at a fair price any time they want.
  2. Commission: depending on your broker, you may be able to trade certain ETFs commission-free. If you are trading in small quantities, this is especially important for your bottom-line returns.
  3. Active vs Passive: While less common, actively managed ETFs are out there, and they usually carry higher expense ratios. Make sure you check the holdings more often if you buy active.

So whatever your investment strategy, don’t skimp on your ETF research. By checking expense ratios, examining holdings, and choosing liquid, low-spread options, you can be confident in choosing the best ETF to help you reach your goals.

Fintech News: November 4th, 2016

Another major US broker launches its own robo-advisor, analyzing your investments with phi, P2P lenders court retail investors, and the enormous cash pile in the US:

Thomson Reuters to cut 2000 jobs (Finextra)

Thomson Reuters, the financial news & data giant, is laying off 2% of its workforce as the company streamlines its business and cuts labor costs.

TD Ameritrade to launch robo-advisor for novice investors (Finextra)

TD Ameritrade has joined other incumbent brokers in offering its own robo-advisor: Essential Portfolios. The new automated-ETF portfolios will require a $5,000 minimum deposit and charge a flat fee of .30% of assets.

Aligning Your Investments with What Motivates You (The New York Times)

Phi is joining alpha, beta and gamma as the newest frat house way to analyze your investments. A byproduct of recent movements toward socially-conscious investing, phi serves as a measure of how well your investments are aligned with your values and beliefs.

Oh, the things you could do with the enormous cash pile! (Daily Fintech)

Starbucks and PayPal have more cash on hand than some national banks. As the US cash supply grows, more and more investment startups are trying to convince young consumers to put that cash into securities.

Fintech’s Struggling Lenders Want Your Help (The Wall Street Journal)

More online lenders are looking to raise capital from retail investors, as money managers remain skittish of P2P loans. Lenders are drawn in by attractively high yields (around 4-10%) at a time when bond yields are near-zero. However, high management fees continues to make traditional bonds look cheaper.