I recently had the chance to speak to Swanest Co-Founder and CEO Silvan Schumacher about the investment management industry, developments in the fintech sector and about what’s been happening at investing start-up Swanest. In this post, you will find the full interview and information on all topics we discussed.
How did you and your co-founders come together to start Swanest?
My three co-founders already ran a software development company at the time we met, which was during an exchange semester I did in Belgium for my master’s degree. When I entered into the mix we discussed business ideas and came to the conclusion that we wanted to do something in the fintech space as we all had a strong interest in it.
The founding team consists of Youri Tolstoy, Cyril Lequeux, Nicolas Bindels and myself. Each of us has their own set of skills that compliment each other nicely. Youri is our IT architect, Nicolas is our UI/UX expert, Cyril is the algorithmic specialist and my strengths lie in marketing and finance law.
How did the idea for Swanest come about and why did you choose the name Swanest?
Swanest came about as we all had frustrating experiences when it came to financial services and after a project at university about micro investments in emerging countries our interest for disrupting the investment space rose. Then came to ‘rise of the robo-advisors’ and we were able to witness the pros & cons of these business models and the challenges they are facing. Once, the basic idea for Swanest was formed we joined the NEST’up accelerator in Belgium. There we received excellent mentorship and guidance and our key takeaway was that we want to design solutions around needs of customers.
The name Swanest is a combination of swan and nest. The swan is a symbol of fidelity and relationship. While the nest is a symbol of someone’s financial nest eggs. Therefore, Swanest is about a trustworthy and long-lasting relationship with our customers.
How has Swanest evolved since, what major challenges have you had and when are you looking to launch?
We launched our MVP (minimum viable product) and then started to build new features on top of it. Our platform currently allows users to create an ETF & share-based portfolios, all individually optimised and managed, to test out our dashboard and new features we are adding.
The biggest challenge for brokerages and robo-advisors, in general, are the client acquisition costs. This is something we spend a lot of time focussing on for when we go live. Our official launch is planned for early 2017 in the UK.
You intend to launch in Europe and the UK. Has the result of the ‘Brexit’ referendum made the UK launch a lot more difficult or do you think that it will be business-as-usual for fintech services looking to launch in the UK?
For the time being the ‘Brexit’ doesn’t pose a big difficulty for us as long as the license passporting rules don’t change for UK-based financial services providers. I think it’s highly unlikely that that will happen given that London is a major global financial centre – a status that both the private sector and the UK government want to keep. On top of that, the UK remains among the most interesting markets to serve in our industry.
I have been following Swanest for quite a while and have been playing around with the dashboard and my model portfolio. I noticed you want your user base to vote on the next features you will develop for the platform. How did that idea come about?
It was an idea that spurred from improved customisation and client inclusion. Designing solutions around customer needs are key for businesses today, especially in the fintech sector. Hence, including customers in the development of Swanest is of utmost importance to us. At the end of the day, we are building Swanest for them. The features they want are the features we want to develop and integrate into our platform. That is why we have creates a list possible features that our users can vote on to be implemented into the platform.
We want to make Swanest the digital investment assistant helping self-directed investors to build, manage and understand personalised investment strategies. The way we achieve this is actually simple. We look at all the questions do-it-yourself investors face along their investment journey and then use algorithms & automation to provide meaningful guidance to help to solve these questions. Putting all that together into a user-friendly and accessible service, allows us to make self-directed investing simple, yet powerful.
“Swanest is a smart investing platform that empowers Individual investors by giving them the education AND TOOLS to take a more autonomous approach to their finances.”
What are your thoughts on the current robo-advisor landscape and why did you choose to go the route of creating a platform for DIY investors as opposed to jumping onto the robo-advisor bandwagon?
We follow this sector closely and we have noticed that robo-advisors aren’t really evolving at the moment. The business models and algorithms are all very similar without much fresh innovation coming. Furthermore, having attended several fintech conferences and having listened to robo-advisors talk about their businesses it seems like it’s an industry that is hyping itself up. Instead, they should be developing their services further and drive customer inclusion.
At Swanest, we believe that it’s time for self-directed ‘smart’ investing. We want to empower individual investors by giving them the education and tools they need to take a more autonomous approach to investing. Hence, we decided to launch a DIY online brokage as opposed to purely a robo-advisor.
What do you think will be the most impactful developments of the fintech sector within the financial industry as a whole?
From a tech perspective, fintech businesses are starting to understand finance and are improving the entire financial system. The global financial system is large and very complex and only a few people truly grasp the full scale of the financial system. I think that those who fully grasp the industry’s inter-connectivities and manage to find solutions that incorporate them will be the most impactful and influential in the future.