Our guest today is Andrew Ward, the founder and managing director of online investing tool Self Wealth. Andrew is a former Executive Manager at Commonwealth Bank who has held many other high positions throughout his 20 years in the finance sector. Andrew seen an opportunity in the market for an online community for investors, but after failing to get through the red tape that comes with working in a large organisation, decided to start up his own company.
In this episode, we talk about:
- What is Self Wealth and what does it offer
- $9.50 flat fee brokerage costs!
- The catalyst for the idea of Self Wealth
- Pricing models
- What CHESS sponsored and HIN means and why it’s so important
- Integration with Sharesight
Aussie Firebug: Hi guys, welcome to another episode of the Aussie Firebug podcast, the financial independence podcast for Australians where I interview clever people who have already reached or are on their way to financial independence. Our guest today is Andrew Ward, the founder and managing director of online investing tool ‘SelfWealth’. Andrew was a former executive manager at Commonwealth bank who has held many other high positions throughout his twenty years in the finance sector. Andrew has seen an opportunity in the market for an online community for investors but after failing to get through the red type that comes with working in large organizations decided to start up his own company. Andrew, welcome to the podcast.
Andrew: Aright mate, thank you.
Aussie Firebug: Can you tell us a little bit about the online tool SelfWealth?
Andrew: Well really, SelfWealth was born out of frustration as you mentioned in your opening. I’ve been in the industry for a long time working at larger institutions across administration platforms, funds management, financial planning, stockbroking etcetera and I thought I didn’t necessarily want to pay the typical valued time and all those percentage-based states across the industry so I thought if anyone could get self-directed investing your crack, I potentially could. But really the only option I had was to jump over the dark side so it’s online broking to the concepts and of the world but in doing so very quickly realized that there were some services on the traditional part of the industry that I did value, you know portfolio construction, advice, reporting etcetera. So SelfWealth was really born out of trying to bring diluted levels of those services into online broking world where you directly own your own stock, you weren’t held up in custody or unit trust etcetera. The first hurdle I really had back then, I wanted to remove the percentage sign on financial services as well so I wanted to have a subscription-based service so I think what 100000 versus 10000 if you get the same level of service so I think it’s nonsensical so I wanted to remove that so the first hurdle I really hit was trying to construct portfolios although I’ve been in the industry for a while I’ve never actually been personally a funds managerial stockbroker so I tried to go to the various professional to give me portfolios to construct for this growing membership base. They all either wanted to charge a percentage based fee or asset management fee or didn’t want their IP to be shown. So that’s when it dawned on me and this whole P2P construction of social network for investors was born. I realized I had to really use the intelligence of sort of my own investing community itself wealth to create those portfolios for others to follow and help them construct their own portfolios moving on. SelfWealth was really born out of that and since the journey began five years ago, we’ve really developed those diagnostic tools to help people better construct portfolios based on the rest of the community and the main challenge we had at the start was there is no greater heart mentality than investing so we really had to stop that going over ball process. It’s like you know, you have a stock in a taxi but the stock has already run its course so we really have to create a diagnostic tool to really enable our members who might not be that savvy when it comes to investing. Next chapter, we the help to know who are the best investors and the best ways to construct portfolios so we did that. We created two diagnostic tools: one called a ‘safety rating’ which has a five star score. It really just measures the diversification of your portfolio making sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket and this really encourages a lot of ATF investing in the community because that’s the only way we’re able to get international shares, property, interests etcetera. And that feeds into our sort of our gold standard diagnostic tool which is what we call the ‘wealth check score’ which of the 30000 portfolios in the solution as we speak, where do you see- on a timeline performance basis- so where in that 30000 on a P2P basis, how well are you investing? So let’s take a that. Besides, we just mentioned that the personification tool is part of that as well and that really gives you an indication of the best investors over a long period of time over a diversified– and really we do prove that past performance is not indicative of peak performance at all just as a disclaimer. We truly do prove that but however using these diagnostic tools you can see who have been the best investors over a period of time and you give you the best chance to realize they’ll probably be the best investors into the future. So that will sort of be the genesis I suppose of SelfWealth but what really evolved to take you to SelfWealth today, you construct portfolios within the solution and we tell you how well you are going compared to this target portfolio that you might create from the community. And until last year, you could click on and we’d tell you what to buy and sell to get that perfect target portfolio but people then have to go to to their broker and it was sort of an overwhelming demand and members coming to us saying, “We really like the solution, you know it’s user friendly, it’s easy to use. However, we don’t want to toggle over to our broker. Can we do trading within SelfWealth?” So that had me starting out another junior kind of fund flat fee consistent with my of this no percentage based brokerage service. It took me two years, I was told it couldn’t be done because the have two; percentage based– it needs a clearing fee and a settlement fee but finally I was able to convince the clearinghouse of [00:05:48] and got a banker from New York, Millan, to provide a flat fee for it and that was sort of revolutionary for the [00:05:56]. SelfWealth now is the only flat fee brokerage in Australia and we launched that at the end of last year and that’s really changed the business. It’s commercialized the business and it’s almost like bringing the horse to water. People understand a $9.50 flat fee trade so in other words for a five million dollar trade or a five thousand dollar trade and when they come into the solution based on that, then they discover this whole social networking and the whole community which really cuts the stickiness for our solution. So it’s a long-winded way of getting there but SelfWealth is rally picking. That’s the online flat free brokerage with this really rich community P2P interesting solution behind it.
Aussie Firebug Well, so much to unpack in that opening. Now, that was fantastic; and it’s funny that you mentioned that because I was doing that my research before this podcast and I wasn’t completely aware of the social aspect of SelfWealth. I had come across SelfWealth in last couple years and we spoke before we started this podcast. You know every couple of weeks I would get an email or a comment saying: Have you checked out SelfWealth, there’s is flat fees… It is $9.50 did you say, per trade?
Aussie Firebug: That’s right, yes.
Andrew: Just phenomenal, $9.50. I’m currently playing and 19.95 for under 10000 dollars with CommSec at the moment and that’s half price to what I’m paying and then like you said, as you trade with greater volume, it’s the percentage-based model with CommSec and all the others and you pay more and more but with you guys it’s just a flat fee, $9.50 and that’s sort of how I came across SelfWealth in the forums and stuff but doing the research and stuff, there is the whole other side of SelfWealth once you’re actually in is the community and having that benchmark to measure yourself against?
Andrew: That’s right. It also creates exponentially the stickiness tactically zero and that’s based on the fact that most people in the community and they as you say, benchmark themselves so it helps to improve their performance you know after their retirement they don’t tend to go anywhere and you listen to the 19.95 trade– there’s big incentive to move to a $9.50 flat fee trading solution but then once you’re sort of with us and you have to help instead of being patted in the back there’s an arm around you to help you better at this. People don’t tend to leave. It’s really that community; not only is it fantastic for all the investors but it’s really great stickiness and the customer loyalty too.
Aussie Firebug: Yeah, absolutely. Now, I want to read you a quote I got from and an article I was googling about you online and I just want to hear your reaction. You were once quoted saying, “At the bank you need 5000 meetings to get anything done, six months before an IED is even looked at, you need another 5000 meetings to decide if it will work and then it takes three years and $50000000 to make it happen.” Now, I have to ask you: was SelfWealth the idea floated at a previous employer and did it or did not get off for whatever reason?
Andrew: No, SelfWealth was never floated but it’s my role at the CBA. I was responsible a lot for sort of the innovation and sort of the wealth chain because you know how the banks especially the big four are really looking for wealth solutions not just the red carpet, you know the loans et cetera and I was trying to get some [00:09:38] and having traditional platforms and trying to get managed account technology SMA’s, IMA’s up and running. I was part of a working group on which platform we could potentially use and you know I was probably doing that for two years and still when I left it hadn’t been implemented and everyone wanted to get their fingerprints all over it and also being based in Melbourne working for Citibank, that was also problematic so it’s pretty accurate in regards to many, many meetings, lots of people who want to sort of justify what they’re doing and to not have their input– you know, too many cooks in the kitchen type of thing–
Aussie Firebug: Was it– sorry, continue.
Andrew: Yeah, and so when you have an idea and you try to work towards a resolution and it takes longer than a year, it’s actually going to meander and not be [00:10:30], it’s nothing like what it should be and the benefit of a startup and this is really what I’ve been able to experience in setting up SelfWealth is you can just move so quickly and it’s you, a work board and a couple of your team making e decisions within five minutes and that is such an advantage over the big banks and we can talk later about how I think banks went into [00:10:55], their competitive responses and what they’ll do but there’s such advantage. The winner in this [00:11:02] it’s the [00:11:06] getting that distribution or the big banks working– I mean whoever gets their first win.
Aussie Firebug: Yeah right, that’s definitely something that we’ll be interested in to talk about. So you mentioned the flat fee for the brokerage cost. Is there another fee associated with the online community or anything like that?
Andrew: Yes there is. So there are two components to it. As I mentioned, we have sort of a two-offering. There’s a $9.50 flat fee brokerage that permits you to trade then once you join- it’s free to join- you get the whole– all the tools, all the bells and whistles, the whole community, construction tools etcetera for free for three months. At the end of the three months if you still wish to use the community and all the tools and bench marking that goes along with it, it’s $20 per month.
Aussie Firebug: $20 per month.
Andrew: You can choose not to pay that and just have the brokerage solution but then you won’t have access to the 30000 members which is growing rapidly and all the tools associated that will help you to better invest.
Aussie Firebug: Okay, so you get the first three months for free just to get a taste and if you like it you can continue paying the $20 a month but you don’t have to, you can stick with SelfWealth if you just purely wanted to your trades.
Aussie Firebug: Okay, cool. And what happens if– I’m with CommSec so let’s say I wanted to go over with you guys. Can you just explain to the listeners what a CHESS sponsored holding is [00:12:36]?
Andrew: Yes, that’s one of the key things we wanted to do from the start and by my background having a CHESS sponsored means you’ve acted legally and beneficially own the stock as opposed to having it under custody as some [00:12:56] in Australia do. One of the problems with the JFC and a couple of the brokers like Opes Prime that went down is that sometimes if there’s a custodian you should be very careful to ask any broker that you have whether it is CHESS sponsored which means it’s legally owned by you, not just beneficially because if there’s a custodian there actually legally owning the stock, they have the ability to on sell or lend that stock to others to short the market. So CHESS sponsored, I was paranoid that I had to have that solution because then it’s my way of safety. If SelfWealth for whatever reason ceases to exist or our clearing house ceases to exist, you literally can just remove SelfWealth from the equation and then take your CHESS sponsored stock to another broker because you actually legally and beneficially own it. So it’s a big question to always ask when you have financial brokerage– is it CHESS sponsored; do I legally own it or is there a custodian under the hood?
Aussie Firebug: Yeah, and this is a huge point. I just want to emphasize here because as he said, if it’s not CHESS sponsored and if another company owns it I guess it can put you can put your mind at ease because SelfWealth is a relatively new company, you guys have been around for what, five years did you say, or four years?
Andrew: That’s right.
Aussie Firebug: So some people might not have that trust with a newish company, a startup, but with it being CHESS sponsored like you said, you own your shares, not someone owns them and then on your behalf you can do whatever you want, so you own them so if something ever happened to SelfWealth, you still own the shares and you can start up with another brokering you know continue your investing journey. Very, very key point there.
Andrew: Yeah, exactly right mate. And that’s really tied up by our live chat and the people who call us up. You’re right, when you’re in the financial services industry, trust is paramount and we’ve recently just [00:14:55] which is given and I’ll tell you what, it’s maybe not great for your mental health but I would IPO or list the business in every trade market because it’s such a great marketing tool in validity and trust and credibility aspect to us. All these people that ring us up, “Who are you? We haven’t heard of you. What’s the bank account under the hood?” and say all that and I have faith in that that the government guarantees on that as well and then we say it’s CHESS sponsored, one out of five people say what happens if SelfWealth doesn’t exist so you spot on them. It’s very easy to answer and say it won’t affect you. It might be a little hectic for a week or two as your broker but that trust and credibility and the peace of mind that you own it and SelfWealth doesn’t or some third party doesn’t is spot on, it’s a very valid point.
Aussie Firebug: Yeah, absolutely. Now, I started on a point but I didn’t get to quite finish it but I have all my holdings with CommSec, can I transfer my holdings over to you guys or how does that work? Can you explain a bit about that?
Andrew: Yeah, it’s a very simple process. We use sort of an online application process and there are possibly three things you can go with as you sign up. You can either sign up from scratch and put cash into the account and we’ll CHESS sponsored holding identification number for you. Alternatively you can say, “I still want to use you, I want to transfer my assets from CommSec over to you,” or the third option which is what about a third/ 35% of people sign up with us is, “I want to bring my [00:16:34] and my shares across to SelfWealth.” So there are the three ways to do it, it’s all online. We use sort of an anti-money laundering counterterrorism behind the scenes with a company called Vader so it’s seamless and it can be up and running either with a new pin or the transfer of assets in 48 hours. So it’s quite a seamless process.
Aussie Firebug: Great, and you can probably educate me a little bit about this as well but so I’m with CommSec and they’re CHESS sponsored holdings as well, so if I was to transfer my holdings because a lot of people and myself included for a while there you know was under the impression that the holdings were with Commonwealth Bank but that is not the case I don’t believe. Actually your holdings, what shares and how much shares you own, that’s stored at the register, is that right?
Andrew: That’s correct.
Aussie Firebug: And mine I believe is computershare.com.au and when I’m transferring what I own, I’m transferring my holdings there to reflect that in SelfWealth so when I log in, everything comes up and it’s from CommSec, is that sort of what happens?
Andrew: Yeah, that’s right. There are about five key registries in Australia. The two main ones are Computershare as you say and the other one is Link and that is not so much attached to the broker. Each company so whether you’re investing in BHP, Woolworths, etcetera, they choose their own registry so your shares that you own through CommSec are split between the registries so you have some on Computershare and some on Link so if you transferred your shares across to SelfWealth and you want to bring your [00:18:26] with those shares, without getting too complex, nothing gets transferred to SelfWealth’s PID and the [00:18:36] is what the registries acknowledge as where the other shares now sort of reside and that will be split between the registries. Computershare and Link pretty much have about 90% of that market though.
Aussie Firebug: Okay, and if I bring over all my holdings, like if I sign up I get the first three months for free, the community aspect, can I do the analysis on my current holdings that I’ve got that I’m going to transfer across?
Andrew: Yes you can. At this point in time, you’ll enter SelfWealth at that point in time. There won’t be any history in so the analysis will really occur from there. However, your functionality we’re bringing in within about three months’ time, well then now we [00:19:21] your portfolio once you do bring your holdings in but at this point in time, your sort of history will start from the day you join us.
Aussie Firebug: Great. Awesome. So I’ve seen as well that you’ve got an app on Android and iPhone I believe. Is that a free app for members?
Andrew: It’s a free app, it’s actually right. But you can do a couple of things with that so it’s not necessarily just for members. We do have quite a few people who sign up and set up what they call a virtual portfolio so literally you can come in and create like a watch list and we call that a virtual portfolio and you have all the bells and whistles and yet again, three months free for the community. So that can be also on the app or through the main application solution on your desktop but obviously with the app, you can trade through the app so it obviously has people who’ve signed up for trading but you do have this trading and virtual portfolio if you do wish.
Aussie Firebug: Right, awesome. I did see, that looks pretty slick so definitely make sure you check that out. I’ll put a link in the show notes. Now, I’ve got another question. There is an online tool that I use all the time and I know a lot of my listeners use called Sharesight, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard about it?
Andrew: Yes, it get raised every couple of weeks.
Aussie Firebug: Okay, I’m going to put it to you Andrew, when is the integration coming?
Andrew: Good question. We are actually catching up with the Sharesight guys- I know Doug Morris who runs Sharesight quite well- in Sydney within the next couple of weeks to talk about how we’re better willing to grow with their API’s etcetera so that’s– we’ve watched this space but it is yet again by popular demand not only Sharesight members, [00:21:14] their members are hassling us because it is a great tool for recording. We’re sort of the brokerage and portfolio construction tool while they’re one of the best recording tools going around. So watch the space.
Aussie Firebug: There you go, exclusive! An Aussie Firebug exclusive, it’s coming guys, you can stop asking about it, it’s in the works. Now, you mentioned before the banks and entering Fintech. Now, I’ve interviewed a few companies in the Fintech space that have won a bunch of awards yourself included, I looked at your website, you’ve won a whole bunch over the last couple of years, it seems to baby and like you said a little bit, I feel like they’re going to get left behind quite quickly as well because I’m work in a semi-large organization and you know there’s politics in there and yes, decisions take ages to get done whereas a startup, you guys seem to be able to move so quickly and with the times and so in his garage can make a company and in three years have more of a reach than some big company so how could the banks ever compete with something like that?
Andrew: Yeah, well they have the biggest asset of all which is hard to take the tip away and I mentioned it briefly earlier and that’s that trust, this solid understanding that this bank isn’t going to go anywhere, I’m not going to lose my money. Now, things can get lazy because they know they have that, they’ve got this massive distribution base, they’ve got this massive customer base and as I mentioned earlier, to break it down really at the highest level, whoever is going to win, are they going to be the same to get the distribution or other banks that get the innovation and work ahead quickly? Whoever gets in line first will win. Another thing that we’ve discovered is well, it’s not this being Fintech thing twice is good or three times is good, what the banks do can maybe ten times as good since you have the customer loyalty to get them to actually pick up the restriction of moving from one institution to another and one of the major benefits that the Fintechs have and this will probably unhinge the banks and the banks might lose is the cloud. We have such an advantage of starting in the cloud. I mean we’ve built SelfWealth up with just over ten million dollars in funds and we’ve only got twelve fulltime staff and starting in the cloud has provided so much scalability and so much that ability to do things quickly and at a lower cost. If you take Nabtrade for example, Nabtrade have just spent two hundred million dollars upgrading their own systems and with the bricks and mortar and their seven computer legacy systems attempted to talk to each other and all their staff, it’s very difficult for the banks to move and to come down from their $20 and their percentage-based fees so by being so let’s say the $9.50 flat fee, that’s a significant [00:24:23] to move and we really don’t believe the banks can match because they can’t move to the cloud simply and also with all the drama that CommSec have gone through based on the [00:24:41] dramas over the last couple of years, the security and tightening up of their security and the cyber threats at the top of minds will be very difficult for the bank to throw away all day a computer system which [00:24:56] into them in-house and throw that out to the cloud so I think that’s the significant benefit that Fintech has and you know, there’s probably five years of [00:25:10] time that Fintech can garner at distributions so really that’s the significant threat to the banks. First of all, they can do anything really about the size of their internal [00:25:23].
Aussie Firebug: Yeah, absolutely. I think you’ve narrowed it because even the trust is a big one and you know I’m a self-proclaimed huge tight ass myself and even moving from a CommSec where it’s more than double than what you guys are offering, it’s still not a very easy decision straight away because you know this is everything, all your shares and it’s so important so even though I’m paying double, I’ve put it off for the last couple months really looking into SelfWealth just because in my mind, it’s safe with CommSec, it’s trusted, everyone does it, whereas SelfWealth is a bit new. But now interviewing yourself and learning a bit more about you and the company, that’s an avenue that I think I’m going to go down to investigate further but yeah, the trust is definitely a huge, huge part.
Andrew: And if you look at the online broking market, there are about 700000 active online traders in Australia, I think there are about three million who have got online trading accounts but 700000 of them are the ones that are active. The banks own 75-80% of that through CommSec, Nab, Westpac, etcetera and they control [00:26:42] in the market that’s really what we’re after and SelfWealth becomes a profitable business with an opportunity [Inaudible 00:26:53 – 00:26:59] so when the legacy sits there’s no big staff overheads. So when will the banks sit up and take notice and Fintech and especially us in the online broking market? Probably when we start to get to around the 5% mark and that’s where things are really too light because there the momentum is really shifting. Another thing, you mentioned about that friction of moving. We actually surprised ourselves a little bit and I think Fintechs are getting a little surprised at some of these early success they’re having although it’s still just a blip on the radar but I mentioned earlier that about a third of the people who are signing up are bringing their assets across straight away which surprised me. We initially thought that 95% of people initially signing up would sign up with a new pin and cash just to try us out then get that trust over time but we’ve been totally surprised that 33% of people signing up are actually making the leap straight up so maybe that’s a new education in this new internet crowd based world, people are trusting–
Aussie Firebug: Yeah, they’ve got more trust.
Aussie Firebug: Absolutely. Now speaking of looking toward the future and you mentioned the next five years is crucial, where do you see SelfWealth in five years? Where do you want to be and what do you see yourself moving towards?
Andrew: Well, I think an internal goal for us is to get to that 5% of the industry. Hopefully we’ll do that in sooner than five years. In actual we’re using at 35000 of the 700000 online traders coming to 35000 it’s a nice sort of audacious goal for us to get to. As I mentioned probably we’d like to do it sooner than five years. Also, we’ll be launching other products and services that users are demanding from us: margin lending, international trading, yet again flat-fee international trading, we’re launching that next year–
Aussie Firebug: That’s quite big one, flat-fee international trading. So at the moment, you don’t offer international trading so anything outside the ASX you don’t offer, is that right?
Andrew: That’s correct. So the only way to access diversification into international interests is through ATF’s. You can get that international [00:29:20], it’s just what’s on the ASX– you have to be popular with us.
Aussie Firebug: Yeah, because I only do the ASX and like you said, my international exposure is through ATF’s myself but I have seen a few people like to buy international shares so that’s quite a big one as well. International trading next year, did you say you were hoping to get it?
Andrew: Yes, and courtesy of a deal that we are in the process of signing up. The beauty of this will be sort of the Australian search that you’ll be able to settle the international tribes [00:29:55] buying an outfit, going on Facebook etcetera on your same domestic Australian [00:30:00] and it’s settled through the same cash account. So that’s going to be very exciting so it’ll be quite a seamless process, you’ll be able to buy Woolworths and then Facebook and you’ll have it all sitting on the same [00:30:12]. You’ll legally and beneficially own not under trust or custody so we’re very excited by that. We would hope to get that working before June next year and yet again it would be a flat-fee solution as well so a flat-fee international client list.
Aussie Firebug: Amazing.
Andrew: Also, we have a safety mechanism, we do want to make sure that we solidifying our competitive position here in Australia first but the social networking of the peer to peer part of our business Arab and the flat-fee brokerage is translatable to many markets in the UK and Asia obviously being first because they’ve got similar regulatory regimes like us here in Australia. So at some point in time we’ll hit up offshore as well.
Aussie Firebug: Great. Alright Andrew, I think we’ve just about covered everything. Was there anything else that you wanted to add?
Andrew: No, I think that’s it. I really am trying to make it as simple as possible. We have those two solutions at the moment; the flat-fee brokerage and this community of investors to help you better invest and we are constantly developing new solutions based on the feedback that we’re getting so international trading and [00:31:37]. Thank you very much for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
Aussie Firebug: It’s absolutely been a pleasure Andrew. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy day to tell us a bit about SelfWealth. This is a product I’ll definitely be investigating personally and I’ll probably be doing an article about it with the release of this podcast I would dare say so. Yeah, watch your space, thanks a lot Andrew.
Andrew: Thank you Matt.
Aussie Firebug: Alright, if you enjoyed this podcast guys and want me to make more, make sure you drop a comment and writing on iTunes and just for everyone’s information I did check iTunes for the first time in a while the other day and I’ve seen a whole bunch ratings and comments so thanks a lot guys, that’s awesome. Just search Aussie Firebug on iTunes and you will find me. I’m also on www.soundcloud.com/aussie-firebug. A transcript and show notes of this episode can be found on my website at www.aussiefirebug.com. Thanks again for your time, Andrew.
Andrew: Thanks Matt