The $5 trillion ETF market has been tested

There is nothing like a market induced shake-up. This past week reminded me of all the trading floor jargon of my Salomon Brothers days on the 37th floor of 7WTC.

`Bleeding`

`Catching falling knives`

`Close the book`

It also reminded me of the Betterment/Brexit incident in July 2016! When the unexpected election results hit the market, ETFs became illiquid and mispriced. Betterment suspended trading for retail on that Friday of the Brexit results for almost 3 hours. Read more details here.

ETFs are the bread and butter of all robo-advisors. Both standalone fintechs and incumbents use these efficient wrappers to create their portfolios.

Today I take a look at how the ETF market fared during last week`s sizable downturn.

Eric Balchunas, was reported that history was made on Feb 28th, with the $SPY ETF becoming the first security to ever trade in one single day, over $100billion!

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Efi Pylarinou is the founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer – No.3 influencer in the finance sector by Refinitiv Global Social Media 2019. 

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Several large ETFs made all-time volume records on that same day. For example, $QQQ the NASDAQ tracker reached $28billion and $HYG, the most widely used high-yield bond ETF, reached $7.8billion daily volume.

Overall, the ETF market fared very well in this market blood bath.

The record volumes are a healthy sign. ETFs are used by professionals to get in and out of the market fast and efficiently. I say that the record volumes are a healthy sign, because they were combined with tight spreads and reasonable premium-discount levels; unlike the situation that occurred in the summer of 2016.

Authorized participants (APs) that manage the liquidity and play a significant role in the bid-ask spreads in ETFs, worked wonders in this recent market turmoil. In my 2016 post, I discuss in detail the liquidity risks inherent in ETFs. The bottom line is that the business of APs for ETF, is an operationally intensive business. The APs create and redeem ETF shares and on average each ETF has 5 active APs. These are typically large US banks but also European banks are involved in the large US ETF market as APs.

We need to celebrate the way in which these entities handled the total record volume of ETFs this past week. $1.2 trillion traded in ETFs! Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and ABN AMRO, are some of the major AP players that make it possible for robo-advisors to brag about serving smoothly end customers.

ETFs proved themselves in this downturn that goes down in history as one of the most severe drops in a short time. It has been compared to the 2008 crisis, as it wiped out close to $5 trillion in value in public stock markets.

ETFs overall experienced $24billion of net outflows! This is peanuts compared to the overall drop in equity values. This shows that that retail ETF holders, HODLed; the high ETF volumes indicate that professionals used ETFs to manage their exposures.

Sources

 

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Mortgages for `Branch-Never` clients is the next re-bundling item  

`Allocating capital and managing the risk on the debt side of our personal balance sheet is larger, more complex, and determines whether we reach our goals or how far away do we end up. This is primarily where we all need advice (human, bionic, hybrid) in the first place, and subsequently in the investment segment of our finances`

This is an excerpt from a post I wrote nearly 3yrs ago The vertical integration of SoFi has the core entry point right! One of the points I was making is that offering mortgages first and then expanding into wealth management, is the way to go during this digital transformation and cannibalization of several financial products. Simply because the value add of advice on the debt side is significant and easier for the end customer to understand.

Efi Pylarinou is the founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer – No.3 influencer in the finance sector by Refinitiv Global Social Media 2019.

Since then, the digital mortgage market has evolved – US players like Roostify, Mojo mortgages, or ElliMae – and several partnerships have been established. For example, Ally Financial partnered recently with digital mortgage disruptor Better.com; or HSBC with Roostify.

Since then, the market reality is that several Fintechs in the investment part (e.g. robo-advisors) have cannibalized products and services, while increasing customer acquisition costs. As a result, they have been forced to expand their initial laser focused offering. Which brings me to the recent announcement of Wealthfront, the digital-only standalone robo-advisor, that plans to add mortgages to its offering.

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Wealthfront started on the asset side of our personal finances and is now enriching its offering on the liability side. Sofi did the reverse. Wealthfront, however, has been analyzing data for its clients around home pricings and mortgages, as part of their saving goals towards mortgage down payments. So Wealthfront is not starting from zero. They see demand (they always have been) on customers that are `Branch-Nevers` as they call them.

At the same time, Varo Money the mobile-only banking app (with no banking license yet) has been offering unbeatable free checking and high-yield savings accounts, and plans also to add mortgages and more once they get a banking license. Both Sofi and Wealthfront have added cash and savings accounts.

What a mashed-up market!

From unbundling, integrating, then re-bundling and consolidating. Over and over again.

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Transparency, Transparency, Transparency in portfolio performance

Four years ago, I started preaching about Transparency in wealth management. In the Global Transparency movement in Portfolio Performance from the Daily Fintech archives in October 2015, I asked for `…  a world in which Barron’s top advisor annual rankings take into account performance. Believe it or not, right now these rankings don’t include performance […]

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Square`s growth strategy and the masses

The ten-year-old Fintech that listed on NYSE exactly 4 years ago – November 2015 with the ticker symbol SQ; continues to innovate. It is best known as a B2B Fintech in the payments space that had huge success with small merchants globally. It grew with POS terminals and smart credit card readers. As a publicly-traded […]

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What has triggered the explosion of payments for order flow? Not Fidelity

The Robinhood effect popped up again, as Schwab slashed its stock commissions to zero and forced TD America, E-trade, Interactive Brokers, Ally Invest, and Fidelity to follow suit over the next few days. Schwab called this the zero commission brokerage war, on CNN. This war is just the beginning of a broader trend that will […]

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Where are the missing Homo Economicus in investing?

Source All economic theories assume a Homo economicus; which in plain English means a totally rational investor. We forget this basic assumption which makes all models ill-fit to our emotional and unstable behavioral profiles. This point cannot be ignored anymore, as we seek to deploy technology to offer customized financial advice and goal-based services. Deep dive […]

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Robo-advisors have not reduced the Cash Pile

It was four years ago that Schwab and Vanguard stepped into the robo-advisory market and leapfrogged the standalone top US robo advisors, Betterment, Wealthfront, and Personal Capital. SigFig was also a big contender at the time but has pivoted since into a predominately B2B business.

Anyone interested in reviewing the baby steps in grabbing market share and luring those holding cash to invest, can review a series of past posts[1].  Fintech startups and incumbents with low-cost investment asset allocation services, great customer onboarding, and relatively simple investment choices; have been trying to serve Unadvised Assets.

Current market snapshot

The top five robo advisors by AUM are 3 Fintechs and two incumbents. They have accumulated over $187 billion in AUM.

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Source: Robo-advisors With the Most Assets Under Management -2019

The growth has been double-digit, the kind that VCs like. Despite the fact that robo-advisors have clearly not lowered the customer acquisition cost (CAC) and ironically, in most cases have been deploying the same old-fashioned channels to acquire customers[2]; VCs have been generous in funding them. Just for the top three Fintech robo-advisors, Betterment, Wealthfront, and Personal Capital VCs have invested ($275, $204, $265) nearly $745million.

The market share (as measured by AUM) amongst the top 5 US robos, is 20%-80% between Fintechs and incumbents.

One of the metrics that I had chosen to follow from the very beginning of the robo-advisory trend, was Unadvised Assets – cash in physical wallets and in checking & savings accounts. For me, Unadvised Assets are a measure of the market opportunity for robo businesses. Deloitte reported in 2014 that in the US there were close to 13 trillion of such, unadvised assets.

Looking at the Q3 2018 U.S. Federal Reserve report[3] and recent Money data, from grandmothers to hedge funds holding cash, in overnight money market funds, to checking accounts and currency; I realize that

Robo-advisors have had none or negligible impact on Unadvised assets.

In the US, Unadvised assets continue their solid growth. In 2016, I had reported $13.4trillion and now we are looking at $14.5trillion. An 8+% growth over the past 3yrs.

Unadvised assets in the Euro area, have grown from a total of 10.3 trillion EUR to 11.8 trillion EUR – a 14+% growth over the past 3yrs.

In the UK, from 1.56trillion GBP to 2.4 trillion GBP – a 5+% growth over the past 3yrs.

Cash continues to be up for grabs, for robo-advisors, for P2P lenders, for crowdfunding platforms, and tokenization platforms.

When will Unadvised Assets shrink? Will the digitization of capital markets (with the rich variety of technologies and business models) overtake the trends in fiat monetary policy, public markets, and human behavioral psychology?

[1]Nov. 2015 Salivating for Unadvised assets: a videographic

March 2016 Digital Wealth management: a videographic update

Nov. 2016 Oh, the things you could do with the enormous Cash pile!

[2] Advertising, mailing services, cheap initial offers….

[3]https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/z1/20181206/z1.pdf

Efi Pylarinou is the founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer.

 I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research).

The `robos` in the front-office – takeaways from Swiss innovators


Watch the gap; between the Attention Economy and financial services.

 Market forces are fiercely at work to start closing this gap. I shared insights around this reality and ways that financial services players can participate successfully in this transformation, during my opening talk at the annual event by the Bank Innovation Competence Center[1], at Unil, HEC Lausanne. I also listened to different perspectives regarding `Les robots au front-office`.

Actual experiences and learnings from:

  • A Swiss private bank with a global outreach – Julius Bear
  • A Swiss online Bank with an in-house robo solution – Swissquote
  • A Swiss cantonal bank innovating through Fintech collaborations – BLKB/True Wealth B2B
  • A Swiss bank using chatbots – PostFinance/ELCA.

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Julius Baer, a 10yrold pure wealth manager[2], has already deployed a Digital Investment Advisory suite – called DIAS – in their Luxembourg operations and is in the process of adopting it in its home base. This is a technology stack deployed to empower the Relationships managers of JB so that they can focus on relationships, offer customized insights and reduce the burden of the ever-growing regulatory requirements.

Undoubtedly, the unbundling of financial services that have been instigated by standalone Fintechs, has essentially commoditized several aspects of financial services. Wrapping value-added advice around products and transactions is inevitable and that is what JB is aiming at. For now, and from JB`s experience, there has been no JB customer that has left from private banking to go to a standalone robo-advisor.

 Swissquote, the Swiss tech born online bank, has developed its own `robo` offering. Their heavily quantitative approach is well known from the suit of their financial products and services. An online automatic but discretionary approach to investing was a very natural extension of their successful e-trading business. One of their first learnings was that personalization is needed for the automation process. Through a close collaboration with Neuroprofiler, a Swiss-born behavioral finance risk profiler out of the Kickstart accelerator, they offer a dynamic automated risk profiling with gamification elements[3].

Swissquote`s robo is used by some of their end clients but also by asset managers and financial advisors that use the Swissquote technology. The two main learnings are that one of the main in-house uses of their robo capabilities, is from existing customers that leave cash in their accounts without doing anything. Think, for example, a customer using the Swissquote e-trading platform that has often cash that is not at work.

Evidence that robo-advisors can be of value-add to customers that leave cash sitting in their accounts due to inertia.

Swissquote is continuously improving their offering by experimenting with Big Data and AI that can enrich the interaction with customers beyond and in addition to their dynamic risk profiler. Think of an algorithm that sends an sms asking `Dear Efi, ahead of BREXIT, would you want to consider switching off the robo algorithm?`.

Digifolio, is the BLBK robo advisory offering powered by the B2B technology of True Wealth, a Swiss robo that also runs its own B2C offering. BLKB is the most innovative Swiss cantonal bank with an early online mortgage offering and a digital earthquake insurance offering. Digifolio was launched in the summer of 2017 (with a minimum requirement of 5k CHF). One of their main learnings up to now, is also that success can be clearly attributed to the effectiveness of Digifolio to move existing customers from cash in their account, into investing.

As early as 2015, I had introduced the concept of `Unadvised assets`[4] and since, have been looking at ways that Fintechs can `nudge` and grab the piles of cash.

3yrs ago, my 2min view

Digital Wealth management: a videographic update, March 2016

In addition to robos, Oh, the things you could do with the enormous Cash pile! November 2016, in which I looked at `competing` unbundled Fintech offerings.

Thanks to the market feedback shared at the BAICC event, I will be updating the `Unadvised Assets` perspective to check if there has been any noticeable impact on the cash pile possibly from rise automated investing offerings at the B2C and B2B2C level.

PostFinance, a Swiss financial service provider that has been investing in Fintechs for a while, has launched a text chatbot in collaboration with ELCA, a Swiss IT company. Postfinance is the first Swiss bank launching a customer-facing chatbot on its website. This is part of their business goal to offer 24/7 service with no queuing (as in the case of live online chatting with an `agent`) as one of the advantages of text chatbots is the simultaneous handling of requests.

The global chatbot market is expected to reach $1.23 billion by 2025according to a recent report by Grand View Research[5]. The challenges however to adopting chatbot technologies are not negligible. As ELCA explained, there needs to be a clearly defined business goal before designing a suitable chatbot, that of course, needs to be trained with the relevant content. Add to this, the complexity in the chatbot market because of the incompatible between text chatbot interfaces and voice user interfaces. In simple words, the language used and the content for training text chatbots is very different from that of voice chatbots. For example, in text chatbots often answers are provided in the form of links, which cannot work in voice chatbots.

Tech integration is always more complicated than it seems at the surface. Both because of legacy system integrations but also because experimentation maybe needed until the suitable product fit is determined in each use case. Pictet has been using chatbot technology internally, to modernize communication between the front office and compliance. This is a functionality that is also built behind the scenes of the JB DIAS system too.

[1] Agenda BAICC – EE – Seminar Robotics in FS – Agenda f (master). http://www.baicc.news/a-propos-baicc/

[2] JB separated in 2009 from its asset management business.

[3] Neurprofiler is a MiFIDII-compliant customer risk profiler for Financial Advisors.

[4] Salivating for Unadvised assets: a videographic, Nov. 2015

[5] https://www.techradar.com/news/support-agents-versus-conversational-chatbots

Book one hour with Efi – Ask me anything (AMA) for 0.10BTC – Efi@dailyfintech.com

Efi Pylarinou is the founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research).

Unadvised Assets ’16

Robo-advisory: Women, Freemium, and Subscriptions

subscription

Spring has brought lots of action even in the commoditized robo-advisory segment.

Three picks capture the flavor of the day in US robo-advisory.

  • Ellevest, the B2C standalone robo focused on women, raised $33million from a select group of investors[1].
  • Betterment, the hybrid standalone robo, drops account minimum for customized portfolios for retail clients too.
  • Charles Schwab adds a subscription-based financial planning offering (Not one size fits all).

Ellevest is in its 4th year and remains focused on empowering women. The offering includes a significant educational and coaching service for business women. What became clear from this recent funding round, is that the only viable part of the business is actually the HNW part. Ellevest Private Wealth Management is the premium service targeting HNW females and most of the capital raised will go into growing this business. This makes me believe that Ellevest doesn’t actually belong to the robo-advisory category but to the `Financial Wellness for Women in Business` category.

Betterment, on the other hand, has gone hybrid in two ways. Both in terms of offering a 100% DIY asset allocation service and with an advisor lite possibility; and having a B2C business parallel to a B2B business for financial advisors and for corporates (e.g. Uber). Financial advisors using the Betterment platform didn’t have an account minimum anyway. Now Betterment drops the 100k account minimum for individuals that want a customized portfolio allocation through the Betterment Flexible Portfolios offering. Their Premium service for 40bps now has no minimum. Betterment`s move comes in response to demand from existing retail clients to be able to customize their exposure in certain asset classes. The business decision of offering this flexibility at no cost, confirms that Customer is King and will remain so forever and ever.

Charles Schwab subscription service rhymes with Apple`s news service. For $30 a month, Schwab offers a financial planning package. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium (rebranded name) is offered at $30 a month after a one-time $300 fee with a $25k minimum. Asset allocation is from a universe of 50+ ETFs, including a financial plan with a customized roadmap and unlimited one-to-one guidance from a CFP professional. Regulated financial-investment advice at $630 for the 1st year and $360 annually thereafter.

Schwab Intelligent Advisory (the original robo name) was at 28bps per annum 0.28% of assets.

Think of the 300,000 Schwab Intelligent Advisory accounts ($37 billion). Some will remain in the free, no-advisory offering. But a significant part will switch over to Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium and get advice. Evidently, any account with enough assets ($125k seems to be the magic number) will switch over.

What will this move do to the rest of the large players? When will Vanguard follow suit?

This is another discount brokerage moment in the investment industry. This is the subscription financial advice retail moment. Michael Kitces, the cofounder of XY planning Network XYPN, has deployed a successful subscription-based business for financial advisors, thus proving that it works at the B2B level. Now Schwab is pushing for a B2C implementation.

[1] Rethink Impact, PSP Growth, the Melinda Gates’s investment fund Pivotal Ventures; PayPal; Wynn Resorts co-founder Elaine Wynn; former Google and Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt; former top aide to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett; and Mastercard. Source.

Sources: Schwab on Bloomberg; Betterment on FP; Schwab on ThinkAdvisor.

Book one hour with Efi – Ask me anything (AMA) for 0.10BTC – Efi@dailyfintech.com

Efi Pylarinou is the founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer.

 I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

Subscribe by email to join the 25,000 other Fintech leaders who read our research daily to stay ahead of the curve. Check out our advisory services (how we pay for this free original research).

Digitizing employee benefits towards Goal-based investing: the case of Moola.(JLT)

Gemma

Call it a hidden bias, or coincidence, the fact is that I have mentioned Moo.la the UK `robo` in three posts over the past 3 years. Gemma Godfrey, CEO and founder, is an ex-Goldman Sachs personality who was in the City A.M.’s Power 100 list the 2017  and was also chosen to join Arnold Schwarzenegger advisory on The Celebrity Apprentice (alongside Jessica Alba, Warren Buffett and YouTube celebrity Justine “iJustine” Ezarik).

In early 2016 as I was searching for robo-advisor actual performance, I spotted Moo.la as one of the promising female-led robo advisors along with  Sallie Krawcheck`s Ellevest. Call this another bias? Maybe, since Sallie and Gemma are both ex-Wall Street female leaders with significant investment experience. See here.

In late 2016. Moo.la was already included in the Top50 European Fintechs.

 In Feb 2018, I included Gemma in my monthly `Women and Fintech – The Feb. playlist of 10` for a very explicit reason.  Gemma’s venture was addressing the savings crisis problem in the UK. Her message was loud and clear and based on her belief that the domination of men in finance is a problem that can only be solved by us women becoming raw models for others.

In Spring 2018, Moo.la came across my path again as I met Paul McNamara, the CEO of Evalue, the sophisticated UK financial planning and advice software company. I could not resist sharing on DailyFintech Paul`s excitement on the launch of their API platform and their participation in the 2nd cohort of the FCA with a focus on regulated advice.

Moo.la was one of the Fintech partnership examples with Evalue that I reported. While Moo.la is a savings platform and one that caters to all those that are intimidated from the investment lingo and the confusing product choices; they wanted to offer their clients realistic, visual scenarios for the inexperienced to become comfortable with their investment choices. Evalue offered a piece of mind to Moo.la that behind the scenes, the scenario analysis was as sophisticated as it can get.

On the other hand, Gemma had made a business choice to offer a limited menu of investment choices. Three kinds of investment plans and one additional pure ethical portfolio. There is no `luxury` of customization and the focus is on offering comfort for the pre-designed investment choices. The philosophy behind this, is to focus on the customer experience which is mostly driven by emotional comfort or discomfort (leading to panic when least needed).

Four investment options that are well understood will work wonders for customers versus 44 investment options that are not well understood.

As Moo.la is not an investment advisor, Evalue`s software also makes sure that all is fully compliant. The limited menu also allows Moo.la to keep costs low. Savor Moo.la`s knowledge center with insights and education for all levels in a language that is natural.

Last summer, Moo.la was acquired by JLT Employee Benefits (JLT), one of the UK’s leading employee benefits providers. This acquisition should not be seen as a just another Fintech M&A transaction. It is actually a purposeful strategic ecosystem move, whose success should be measured beyond the dry numbers. First and foremost, Moo.la becomes part of a business (and running also standalone) that is in complete alignment with their philosophy. JLT’s strategy is focused on helping UK businesses deliver better performance through the improved financial, emotional and physical wellness of its people.

This acquisition is at the service of Goal-based investing.

Moo.la will also be integrated in JLT`s Benpal platform. Fintech from an angle of employee benefits in all industries is a great example of sustainable innovation. Robo services that are not just about the low cost but predominately about retentions, engagement and well being of the employees. BENPAL is an evolving next generation rewards and benefits platform that JLT offers its corporate clients. It is designed to help attract, retain, engage and reward the workforce. It allows employers to manage employee reward and benefit program in a digitalized era.

Last week Moo.la won the City of London’s ‘Best Goal-Based Investing Service’. We are already designing the world we have been dreaming of; slowly and steadily. An investment world that is not only about the monthly reports of our investments but also about our progress towards our goals

In this spirit:

Efi-Book-Review paolo1

Book one hour with Efi – Ask me anything (AMA) for 0.10BTC – Efi@dailyfintech.com

Efi Pylarinou is the founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer.

 I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.