Category Archives: investment site

Future of online trading: App stores for investing

It’s been a truism that the secret to runaway success in technology has PlatformLeadershipBookalways been in platform building.

I learned about the intricacies of building platform leadership from a book by the same name, “Platform Leadership” which I read during my MBA. The book by Gawer and Cusumano detailed how Cisco, Intel and Microsoft drove industry innovation by building a robust, standardized technology platform other leading-edge products could plug into.

The premise of the book was powerful: companies that could create products/services that served the center of a powerful ecosystem of ancillary items built on top of these products become extremely valuable.  Think Intel Inside and Microsoft’s dominance of the OS.  Presently, think of what Salesforce.com is doing with its platform as well as Apple’s iPhone App Store.  By creating a platform around which 3rd party developers are incentivized to design and build products, these companies have created something much more valuable and harder to displace than a mere product.  They’ve created a platform.

Investment field riddled with platforms

The investment field is riddled with platforms, too.  Bloomberg runs an empire based on an install-base of thousands of terminals in most of the leading investment institutions around the world.  You want to reach institutional investors with financial content? Gotta work through Bloomberg.  Yahoo Finance is the granddaddy of financial websites, far and away seeing more pageviews than any of its competitors.  You want to reach the retail investor, gotta get on Yahoo Finance.

Platforms provide necessary structure to certain markets.  In the investment field, platforms like Bloomberg and Yahoo Finance serve to

  • Aggregate content: investors don’t have to hunt down information by doing hundreds of Boolean searches on the Internet.  By serving as content aggregators, the platforms serve as a clearing house and central node to consumer info.
  • Establish an orderly market: Platforms create order by creating certain standards for their products and partners.  Bloomberg and Yahoo Finance established syndication guidelines via which partners must comply to be on the platform.
  • Create viable business models: It’s not clear to me that many investment research products could survive on a standalone basis.  Investors don’t like to pay for content and by aggregating pageviews on a single site, Yahoo Finance actually creates a viable business model for their partners and shares it out with them.
  • Consolidates usage to make single a jumpoff point to reach users: By consolidating the market, making it orderly and putting viable financial metrics behind it, finance platforms are the gateway to the users.  It’s too hard, complicated and expensive to reach investors directly.  These platforms act as market makers for the investment content bringing suppliers and customers together.

Online Brokerages as Investment Platform

While reviewing a recent product/service that E*Trade launched last week, I stumbled upon the realization that online brokerages are doing the exact same thing that Apple is doing around the iPhone.

In fact, it’s a HUGE misnomer to call these firms “online brokers”.  What were once merely online trading systems, companies like Ameritrade and E*Trade are actually now in the platform business.  As this evolution develops away from just trading toward the development of a true investment platform, these firms are creating something so much larger than just online trading or banking services.  I like the term “investment platform”.

Ameritrade’s Premier Partners

platformpartners

Check out what Ameritrade is doing with its partner platform.  This page lists a handful of 3rd party applications that run on top of Ameritrade for clients to receive trading alerts, Jim Cramer’s wisdom, ongoing advice about when to sell and some nifty charting.

None of these services are completely groundbreaking in and of themselves, but Ameritrade is establishing itself as the nucleus of the investment ecosystem.  By allowing developers to build tools and hook them up to Ameritrade’s API, the firm is concretizing its position as the investment platform of choice.

You want to reach investors?  Gotta get on the platform.

While the platform provider has an unbelievable amount of power, on the other hand, having a platform enables software/services developers to effectively reach the investor smack dab in the middle of the investment process — something heretofore impossible to do.  Look to see a lot of services develop around this ecosystem.

It’s like milk — for everyone

It’s a boon for Ameritrade — they can provide more services for their client base without developing them in-house.  It’s a boon for consumers because they no longer have to wait on their broker to provide new services.  It’s a boon for software developers because a move toward a platform puts them in business.

Maybe this was self-evident.  Maybe others understood that this evolution was unfolding right in front of us. In fact, both Ameritrade and E*Trade have allowed 3rd party financial advisors access to their platform, technology, services and clients for years.  Yet, I think this is a huge breakthrough in the understanding of what the future holds for these particular firms, their clients and technology development. It’s the financial industry’s equivalent of a mash-up.

Exciting.

Additional Resources

Advertisements

SkyGrid: Case study on ad-supported investment media

Is the elusive “Bloomberg for the masses” attainable?  Of course, most do-it-yourself investors cannot afford the cost of thousands of dollars per month for these expensive terminals.  But, what about making a platform free for subscribers and monetizing the platform via advertising?

That’s exactly what SkyGrid is attempting.  Until recently, SkyGrid charged $6000 per seat/year for a flash interface that allows users to track financial news on stocks and sectors they’re interested in.  In April, the company, which raised $11M in April from top venture firms, transitioned away from a premium model to a completely free model.  SkyGrid has made free accounts available to New Rules of Investing readers.  If you’re interested, go here to sign up for a free account: http://www.skygrid.com/reg/?id=8x89a9e3

The Service

skygrid_home

SkyGrid users log in to their accounts over the web via their browsers.  Once in, users are greeted with the only human-arranged editorial component on the platform: the day’s top or breaking financial stories.

SkyGrid produces a user-defined customizable news-stream.  Users of the system can customize SkyGrid to continuously stream stories about stocks in their portfolios.  SkyGrid compiles this content based on what the company described as a complex, multi-step process that includes:

  • crawling/scraping data/headlines from feeds in real time
  • validating reputation (link structure, click volumes) to weed out only content appropriate for a high-end user, like a hedge fund manager
  • testing if the content is important/impactful  for investors (Steve Jobs = important for Apple),
  • applying sentiment indicators (green if the content is positive, red if it’s not) via semantic analysis developed by computational linguists (something the firm says is very different from keyword analysis)
  • real time clustering (grouping various articles around similar themes)

The upshot is that users get a vertical stream of  headlines which they can click through to read the entire article.

Pros:

  • The system works really quickly and it appears to be eerily on target with its content.
  • I found very few articles streaming by that weren’t interesting or important for shareholders.
  • I believe this comes from good science, programming, user interface and tying it all together, a focus on investors.  SkyGrid has developed this for investor use and investor use only and it shows.
  • It even follows Twitter streams where more and more investment content is being shared

Cons:

  • This may be another case of coming to a knife fight with a gun or a solution looking for a problem.  I found the amount of information hard to digest.  As an hedge fund analyst, I was paid to discover profitable investments.  Does actually having this amount of information make me better at that?  I’m not convinced.

Building News Streamsskygrid_portfolio

Because SkyGrid is a smart, content aggregator built with investors in mind (as opposed to some of their competitors that are merely trying to sell to investors), SkyGrid has some interesting functionality when it comes to customization of news streams.

  • Uploading tickers of portfolio: for institutional investors monitoring lots of stocks, the ability to upload a list of tickers makes it really easy to set up
  • Sector analysis: I like what SkyGrid has done here.  Instead of using old-hack sectoror industry number/jargon, SkyGrid allows investors to monitor sectors the way they think about investing in them.  So, no “information retrieval” for “web portals” or “hardware components” for “consumer electronics”.  This isn’t trivial and is quite useful.

Pros:

  • customizing a news stream is really easy on SkyGrid.
  • upload function is really helpful for professionals or retail investors monitoring a lot of positions
  • sector tools approach industry analysis the way investors do, not like the Dewey Decimal system does
  • Good filter system gives users ability to tune out blogs, mainstream media, news wires, etc.

Cons:

  • I’d like more help here with idea generation.  For many investors, they know exactly what they want to monitor.  Others need help.  Maybe pre-seeded news streams with commonly held stocks could help.  Or maybe seeing celebrity investors’ news streams could help prod users for ideas.  I think more work here will help many retail investors as well as professionals who are less web-savvy.
  • While the filtering provided allows investors to tune out certain types of sources, it would be more interesting to filter out specific sources.  Maybe I’m interested in TechCrunch.  Or maybe I’m not.  I’d like to be able to decide as I go to amplify or drown out certain sources.

Social components

There are a few important components built-in on SkyGrid that connects the platform to the greater whitespace of social networks:

  1. Each of the streaming headlines can be easily posted to social networks like Twitter, adding to the virality of the platform, though it’s unclear to me if there are any beneficial network effects for users by having additional users on the platform (it’s clearly good for SkyGrid’s marketing and distrubition).
  2. The customizable news-stream can be shared out with others, much in the way content aggregator, Alltop allows users to create my.alltop.com (see my.alltop.com/zackmiller, as an example)
  3. Users can rate that they like certain articles.  These articles are then tagged so users can revisit them.  At the aggregate level, there is even some rudimentary ranking of top favorited items.

Pros:

  • Basic sharing functionality outside of the SkyGrid platform onto social networks.

Cons:

  • There don’t seem to be any (easy to find, at least) internal social components.  I’d like more insight into others’ news streams.  That voyeurism works well for me and on the web in general.  We’re seeing portfolio peeking in expert investing communities, like Covestor.
  • analytics: I can’t put my finger on it exactly but there is probably some interesting stuff to be done here with meta information that would be useful for investors.  I’d like to see some data (ie., 76% of articles on Apple are normally positive, today shows only 25% — maybe the beginning of a turn in sentiment)

New Rules of Investing Overall Ratingraiders-sword_l

UsabilityPass +

SkyGrid does everything it purports to do.  It’s a great user experience to have an ongoing conversation stream of all the stocks and sectors in one’s portfolio. The filters are great — read only that content that’s pertinent to a shareholder.  The rest is just noise and SkyGrid tunes it out.

New Rules Meter:    Pass-

This is a level of how Web 2.0 the site actually is.  The site scrapes and analyzes content really well but doesn’t do a great job of sharing/producing content withing its own 4 walls.  Unlike Twitter, which combines both external content and commentary on top of it, SkyGrid seems a pretty static environment at this point.  Because we’re dealing with financial information, this could certainly be by design but it would be interesting to create some type of network effect, where users can also create content and share.

Needs Fulfillment: Questionable

It’s here that I struggle.  SkyGrid does what it does quite well.  I’m just not convinced anyone really NEEDS it.  Combine a chintzy Yahoo Finance with StockTwits and a good blog aggregator like Google Reader and how much do you really miss?  SkyGrid is another program that demands attention.  I like to keep a separate window open on a separate screen from where I’m looking just to let it scroll — much in the same way I use the Twitter client, TweetDeck.  I like it but just not sure how ultimately valuable this is.  It’s like half-listening into a conference call or letting CNBC play in the background.

That’s just me — what do you think?  What are your perspectives on SkyGrid?

I’m going to use a future post to delve into the business model — turning an institutional-grade investment platform into an ad-supported thin client.  Stay tuned.

SkyGrid has made free accounts available to New Rules of Investing readers.  If you’re interested, go here to sign up for a free account: http://www.skygrid.com/reg/?id=8x89a9e3

Like what you’ve read?  Don’t forget to subscribe to receive free daily updates from New Rules o fInvesting.  You can also follow us on Twitter.

WSJ: Navigating online personal finance sites

I’m not particularly a fan of these Mainstream Media (MSM) overviews of Internet tools.  I find, more often than not, that they’re typically short on analysis and don’t help investors really navigate what’s really out there, why these tools are important, and how investors are successfully using them.

This short video piece (2:45) ran late last week on the Wall Street Journal’s website (sorry, couldn’t get the video to embed for some reason).  It’s a cursory overview of some sites focused on personal finance (Mint, Wesabe) with the perspective of more people wanting/needing to take control over their finances and investments in light of the recent financial tsunami.  The interviewee is Shelly Banjo, Dow Jones Newswire’s reporter on wealth management.

A couple of sites are mentioned explicitly.  Simplifi, a site that helps investors build their own financial plans, is mentioned as a good resource for do-it-yourself investors.   Covestor, a tool that allows investors to see what others are actually doing with their investment money, is cited as an important site “so you don’t have to take advice from some financial advisor trying to sell you something”.

Frustrating to see MSM’s  quick gloss-over of security and privacy issues.  When asked about security with some of these sites, Banjo responds, “It’s OK.  These sites have to be secure so people will use them.  So, they’re OK.”  In a way, she’s right.  No one would use these systems if there was a likelihood that his entire financial history and net worth made its way online.  Security is an important issue — I don’t think it’s enough to reason-away security issues.  Be sure to check security/privacy policies of any site you may consider using for online investing/personal finance.

Anyway, also check out Banjo’s “The Best Online Tools for Personal Finance” that ran in today’s WSJ.

Piggybacking investing gurus just got easier

AlphaClone is probably the best research platform out there for investors looking to recreate, or “clone”, portfolios developed by leading hedge fund and mutual fund managers.

money-laundry-with-water-reflection-effectAlphaClone is Mebane Faber’s online foray that implements much of the research he recently published in The Ivy Portfolio: How to Invest Like the Top Endowments and Avoid Bear Markets. It’s a good read and AlphaClone has Faber’s extremely-well researched homework embedded in its pixels.

AlphaClone has now taken its platform one-step further and partnered with Folio Investing to make it even easier for investors to implement the piggyback approach by allowing:

investors to buy an entire portfolio of securities at once with one transaction, and have any dollar amount automatically distributed at the proper percentage weights across all of the stocks in the portfolio.

You can see the Folios for portfolios like the Tiger Cubs and Berkshire Hathaway here.

AlphaClone also launched a clone for a portfolio designed by the popular investment blog, MarketFolly as well.

According to AlphaClone:

Marketfolly’s prefered clone from its new group is the Top 3 Holdings clone which is up 15% year-to-date and has returned 20% annualized since 2000 (yes 20%).(5/29/09).

Not too shabby.  AlphaClone is moving further into this space and will be launching more clone groups developed by stock bloggers.  This is another important way to bring transparency to the financial blogosphere and bring quantification to some of the leading voices out there.

More Resources:

Financial advisor finds profitable niche with social media

Stonehenge_predawn_panorama

It’s still early days for financial advisors adopting social media.  There are compliance issues, structural issues and just questions as to the ROI.  There are a few early adopters investment advisors, though, who have seen the light and are not only using social media, but building their practices via new media.

EPIC Advisors and its Social Media strategy

Sean Hannon, founder and CEO of EPIC Advisors, is ahead of the game.  After cutting his teeth at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, he set out two years ago to found his own Registered Investment Adisory (RIA), EPIC Advisors.  I had a chance to speak with him today.

EPIC’s business

Sean’s firm has over 90 clients ranging from high-net worth individuals to families beginning to grow their retirement nest eggs.

  • Transparency: Sean believes in a uniquely competitive level of transparency and runs his business accordingly.
  • Communication: Communication is extremely important for him and he works hard to ensure that clients are never surprised by his activities.
  • Personalization: The RIA structure and the Separately Managed Account (SMA) provides many investment advisors with a scalable solution to servicing numerous clients.  The adviser manages a model portfolio which is replicated out in client accounts on a prorated basis.  Hannon works hard to overlay client-specific activities on top of his portfolio so that each client has a customized portfolio inline with their individual  objectives and circumstances.
  • Value add: While such transparency may be a double-edged sword,  he ensures that he provides real value at every step of the investment process.

3 Ways to Grow an RIA

How he’s building his business is a how-to guide for financial professionals looking to build their business beyond the boundaries of their traditional extents of influence (community, city, state and even country).

According to Hannon, he’s got a three pronged strategy to grow his assets: Continue reading

Twitter attracting new investment research products

Twitter certainly has gotten some great free press as of late, with Ashton Kutcher and Oprah all entering the fray.

All this excitement has not been lost on investors.  Traders have been using a service called StockTwits to trade breaking news, ideas, commentary and data on the broader stock market and individual stocks.  I like to use a Twitter client like TweetDeck to manage my Twitter experience.  It even has a built-in interface to StockTwits so I can monitor chatter around my portfolio.

upside-premiumIt’s great to see new investment products being rolled out for new platforms.  If investors are consuming information via Twitter, so why not?  So, while a group of early adopter investors are using Twitter to improve their trading, they now have a choice of 2 premium products to home their trading prowess.

Via an announcement today on the StockTwits blog, it was announced that StockTwits is marketing two subscription products produced by two outstanding memebers of the StockTwits community.  Investors can pay $50/month or $500/year for access.

One of the products is produced by Upsidetrader, a blog written by Joe Donohue, who was a hedge fund founder after a 13 year stint as a retail broker at Kidder Peabody, Smith Barney, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers.

According to Upsidetrader, you get the following with your subscription:

  • Weekly newsletter provides expert trading theses and pointed strategy for the coming week, as well as a detailed review of previous views; it is distributed during the weekend.
  • In addition, Joe will post charts 2-3 nights during the trading week, providing clear, actionable set ups.
  • Joe will educate you regarding his proprietary technical analysis system through the presentation of trades.
  • You will have direct access to Joe through the StockTwits community platform.

StockTwits Business Model

Here’s something interesting.  This new service is being delivered for a fee over Twitter and a 3rd party, namely, StockTwits is pocketing the profit.  Twitter doesn’t see any of it.

I assume StockTwits does the marketing and billing, the two analysts write and manage the research, and there is a revenue share between the parties.  Is this a new model, fee-based, Twitter-deliverd, investment research?

What do you think?

What is CBS thinking @ launching a finance site now?

AS per the article on All Things Digital, it appears that CBS is launching (yet another) finance site.

The site, Moneywatch.com, appears (it’s just a placeholder site right now) to be a slick investment website that combines  personal finance flair with moneywatch-screenshotindustry information, job/career info and investing content.  All this is held together by a large streaming video embed in the center of the page.

CBS is serious about this launch.  According to ATD:

…The real one should launch in mid-March, says Greg Mason, who came to CBS via CNET and is overseeing the operation. He’s hired Eric Schurenberg, the former managing editor of Time Warner’s (TWX) Money magazine, to handle the editorial, which will focus on personal finance rather than general business news.

CBS bought CNET last year and this appears to be the first significant example of CBS/CNET/BNET cross-platform collaboration.

It may seem like a crazy time to be launching a personal finance site — during the economic disintegration we’ve been witnessing.  According to Mason, though:

So: Why launch a personal finance site when everyone’s finances are being obliterated? Because that’s when everyone is acutely interested in personal finance, Mason argues. “Admittedly, it’s a little countercyclical,” he says, but argues that “CBS kind of figures that the economic crisis will be one of the big stories for the next 18 months.”

I don’t really want to talk about the business model.  CBS is as mainstream media (MSM) as you can get and they’ve got advertising relationships they can leverage and provide more inventory for.  Like Conde Naste’s Portfolio, high end advertisers are looking to reach this demographic.  CPMs, the value ascribed to 1000 advertising impressions on a website, are getting shafted and larger multi-quarter ad deals are getting pushed out, if not outright cancelled.

But let’s assume that CBS does a better job monetizing their new property than Conde Naste did theirs.

What gets me though is that Moneywatch really looks like just a me-too site.  How is this different than News’ (ugh, farewell Dow Jones) Marketwatch?  Yahoo Finance with Tech Ticker?  SeekingAlpha?  There doesn’t appear to be anything novel, anything that is not readily available other than what appears to be some proprietary video content.  How much is that worth in this environment?

Where is the breakout?  Where is the next big new thing?  There are so many opportunities available in the post-Wall Street era that it seems almost a waste to focus on yet another financial news site.

Photo credit: All Things Digital