Personal Finance: Has it become easier?

The topic of the richest 1% is getting a lot of attention. Oxfam’s new report predicts that the 1% will own more than half of the world’s wealth. Inequality is deepening. The 80 wealthiest people possess $1.9 trillion, which is roughly the amount shared by about 3.5 billion people at the bottom the world’s income scale. While it is a macroeconomic problem and is obviously way larger than challenges of personal finance management of an average middle-class representative, it is important to set up the contest.

Money generates more money — it’s as basic as that. Smart money management will help getting there. So I’ve embarked on a quest to figure out what to do with the saved money. It’s an interesting adventure that not only resulted in new discoveries, but also forced me to brush dust off finance textbooks from my undergrad and to become a more frequent visitor of Investopedia and Bloomberg sites.

So, what have I found out so far?

There are a lot of companies trying to solve that. Way more than I expected. Below I’m describing experiences that I’ve had.

Composition of a sample mutual fund

There are traditional players like Fidelity and Vanguard or advisors at a bank.

Unless you are above a certain threshold that puts you into the wealth management category, you’ll get time with an advisor to go over your financial situation, risk averseness and goals. Mutual funds is the option that was brought up to me most frequently. While you get diversification and funds are managed by professional fund managers, you don’t really know what’s in the fund on a daily basis. You do get some high-level description of allocation, but securities are traded more frequently than it would be sensible to update fund composition. Plus, you don’t get to pick what goes into your mutual fund.

When it comes to non-mutual fund options, like ETFs, fixed income, stocks, etc., advisors are less helpful in my experience. That’s where I came to rely on my knowledge, research and professional advice of my finance-minded friends.

Then, there are start-ups in personal finance management and social investing.

Can’t say that I tried all of them — possibly, because there are quite a few now — but I tried a few and will share just some highlights.

etoro dashboard

etoro, Tel-Aviv based company founded in 2007, is all about social investing. You are part of a community.

Advantages:

  • Simple UI
  • Community: You are not alone. There are loads of thumbnail photos and user names, that at least sound like real names. Certainly makes you feel that “you are not alone”. Community is engaged and is posting articles and sharing comments on specific securities.
  • Copying and following: You can see portfolios and performance of other users. Basic stats like %-ge of profitable weeks and average profit and loss are helpful. If you like any, you can easily follow any user and even copy their portfolio.
  • Low minimum investment: You need to deposit minimum $50 in your account, but can use however much or little money to buy a security. For example, for $25 you can buy anything available on etoro — e.g., use it to buy a fraction of the $568. 65 Google share.
  • Easy payment: You can use your credit card to deposit funds.

Disadvantages:

  • Limited number of investment options: You do have a selection of stocks, currencies, commodities and indices. Within each category, however, there is a limited number of options to choose from.
  • Trade execution is not immediate: While etoro gets its data from Xignite, which is real-time, trade is not executed right away. That means that you may end up buying or selling a security for a price different from what you saw when you clicked “Invest”.
Motifs, a diversified portfolio of up to 30 stocks within a single theme or idea

Motif Investing is a company started putting investment strategy terms in human language words.

Advantages:

  • Investment translated into human words: Here, you choose which “motif”, a combination of stocks within a single theme or idea, to invest in. For example, you may choose “Online Gaming World”. That would consist of gaming companies, such as EA, King, Activision as well as non-North American gaming companies (Sky-mobi, Sohu.com, etc.)
  • Customization: If you are not 100% happy with consistents of a motif, you can change allocations as well as add or remove individual securities. Certainly helps if you want to be more in control and have certain opinions/ knowledge you’d like to use.
  • Easy set-up: Just like etoro, it’s easy to get started and easy to use.
  • Lower commission: You pay $9.95 per trade. You trade is a motif, which contains up to 30 securities. Typically, with traditional trading platforms, you’d pay around $7.95 per trade of one security.

Disadvantages:

  • I’m yet to use it more, but similarly to etoro, there is a limited selection. You only have stocks and ETFs.

Then, there is Robinhood that promises free stock trading, i.e., $0 commission on any trade. I’ve almost tried, but got $100 withdrawn from my account couple of weeks after I signed up (at which point I forgot about it) by Apex, which, of course, I could not recognize and my bank and I decided it must’ve been fraudulent transaction. But value prop sounds solid.

Finally, there are start-ups moving into wealth management space.

Personal Capital dashboard (aggregated view of all bank accounts)

I’ve been using Personal Capital for more than a year now. I like how simple and use to use it is. It’s a great aggregated view of bank accounts (U.S. only though, no success adding international/non-U.S. accounts). I’ve also been getting calls from an advisor offering wealth management services from time to time. Sounds interesting and cheaper than conventional wealth management services from banks — but requires commitment of $100K. You’ll get personal attention, however.

In the meantime, while there are seemingly more options out there, my quest for the best products that allow self-education on investing and best allocation of finances continues…

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