Hydro AMA Q&A Roundup with BitcoinMarkets (Slack), 15 June 2018
I've taken the liberty of rounding up all the questions and answers provided from Hydro's most recent AMA hosted with BitcoinMarkets incase you missed it. Enjoy! Hydro Q&A’s Q (knonsu): How does Snowflake relate to other identity protocols out there like Civic and uPort ? A.1 (Anurag): We see snowflake as existing a layer below these types of projects. Even without blockchain, identity is a broad term. Different people around the world have different forms of identity (state ID, country ID, social media IDs, etc). Civic, uPort, and other blockchain projects help to build specific types of an on-chain identity for a user; however those IDs are meaningful in different ways to different observers. For instance, imagine that a government or business builds a system that accepts Civic as a form of identity while another government/business only recognizes uPort identities. On top of this, certain systems only care about information tied to a user’s social media profile. A user can maintain one standard Snowflake as a base layer and set each of these different forms of identity as a resolver. Snowflake eliminates the need for global unanimous adoption of a singular identity standard and rather allows systems to build business logic off of identity standards they themselves recognize. Follow up Q (knonsu): thats cool. so its totally depends on the person/ institute utilizing it . One problem I found is how easy its to create fake identities (in their basic system). A.2 (Anurag): Yup! So people can conduct off-chain verifications to prove that you own a snowflake, and then tie an on-chain verification to your Snowflake. This links real-world KYC to your on-chain ID, so sure you could mint another snowflake, but that same party won't validate it again for you. Anyone who trusts that party would be able to accept their validations, and people who don't trust that party can rely on a different validator they do trust. — Q (kat): How big is the team working specifically on Hydro products? Can we get a numbers breakdown of engineers, biz dev, etc? Do you have plans to scale this team as the Hydro project develops? A.1 (Andy): Our Hydro team is 8 people. Devlopers (Myself and Noah) Product (Anurag and Shane) Community (Nahom) Founders (Mike and Matt) Partnerships/BizDev (Gunjan) The nice thing about Hydrogen though is we have a team of 30 people who we can leverage for different things. For example, Noah and I do not build mobile apps, but we have a front end team that is well versed in mobile app development. So while they are not directly on the Hydro team they do have a direct impact on Hydro. Hydrogen as a company is working to grow pretty rapidly. As we grow we will be filling out more positions in both blockchain and non-blockchain rolls. A.2 (Anurag): To add to Andy's answer - pretty much everyone working for Hydrogen helps out with Hydro in some way, whether via design, front-end development, API support, business discussion, etc. Here's our full team: https://www.hydrogenplatform.com/about — Q (rocket man): So in the age of ICOs, what motivated your team to not pursue that funding model and instead have a token distribution for developers? A (Andy): This was something that we spent a very long time considering and discussing. We spent a lot of resources (time, money & energy) trying to find the best solution for us going forward. When it was all said and done, we decided on an airdrop because of two main things, getting the token into the hands of people who will actually use it and regulatory concerns. We feel as though our distribution was the fairest approach that allowed for people with actual interest in the Hydro community to get involved. Overall, we have been very pleased with the level of community engagement from people who are interested in the utility of the Hydro token and we feel that a lot of this can be credited to our distribution strategy. — Q (matheussiq8): How hydro tokens will be used is still vague in the Snowflake whitepaper draft. Would the amount required to hold depend on the volume of API calls or some other parameter? For example, if I decide to implement raindrop and later snowflake in my small webshop would I need to hold the same amount of tokens as Binance (if they ever implement it of course…)? A (Noah): as always, the permissionlessness of public blockchains is a double-edged sword. smart contracts partially solve the problem by letting us enforce certain things on-chain (minimum token balances, signature validity, etc.), but there are limits. so, re. your specific question: in raindrop we do not vary the staking requirement across users, because that would necessarily involve value judgements we are not comfortable making as a centralized entity. however, there are two types of staking required for raindrop:
“institutional staking” requires entities who wish to sign up raindrop users *on their behalf* (i.e. passing new users’ addresses to the smart contract as parameters rather than new users transacting directly from their accounts) to stake a significant amount of hydro. these are the players we want to ensure are acting in the best interests of the community. in this model, hydro is simply one of many institutional stakers (where we sign up users on our kickass mobile app, which will be out soon).
“user staking” requires individuals who wish to sign up for raindrop on their own, i.e. transact directly with the smart contract, are able to do so by staking a much smaller amount of hydro.
What this all means for you, as a potential customer of our API, is that you don’t actually have to worry about the staking requirement or signing up users at all, and can simply use our API in conjunction with the Hydro app. Looking ahead to Snowflake, we have big plans to integrate increasing sophisticated uses of the token into the product. to some extent these are still up in the air, but rest assured that we are very focused on building a strong tokenomics structure. At a high level, the core token mechanism for snowflake will involve depositing tokens into the snowflake smart contract. These deposits will allow native staking/payment/incentive functionality denominated in hydro, without the hassle and worry of using ether with every call. — Q (Hodlall): When is raindrop Android app is releasing A (Andy): It is currently under development. We have a bunch of android phones with different OS on the way. It is hard to give a set date as we don't know what unforeseen issues could come up during the process though. All I can say is it is literally all that our mobile development team is working on — Q (Jeff_We_Cannafi): To piggyback on matheussiq8’s question, how do these identity tokens compare to existing forms of identity authentication, and do you anticipate the tokens themselves will be traded on exchanges? A (Andy): In my opinion, the main difference between what we are working towards and others like civic and uport is the scope of what we are aiming to do. We understand the value of having KYC on the blockchain and "One click signup", but really I think blockchain identity can be so much more than that. We are aiming to create a completely extendable and modular protocol which will allow for people to link anything they desire to their blockchain identity. Other protocols can tend to lean towards centralization (more a fault of current KYC procedures than the projects themselves) and we feel like this doesn't have to be the case. At least for now, something like KYC needs to have central authorities to verify user information, but why can't I also link my crypto kitties to my blockchain id or my linkedin profile to my blockchain id? Overall, what we are trying to build will easily allow for other blockchain developers to create robust identity solutions for whatever application they feel fit with Snowflake being at the core of that. We feel that this is crucial to eventually creating a completely open and decentralized identity system. Anyone can join and anyone can add what THEY consider to be an identity, but I only have to accept what I consider to be an identity. As far as trading, Snowflake Identity tokens will never be tradable. We feel that you identity should always be linked to you. This would be a dangerous road to a very easy black market for people's identities — Q (Jrock): What do you find the hardest part of pitching icos to regular companies? Also what do you think needs to happen for widespread crypto adoption? A (Shane): If you mean pitching Hydro to regular companies (we're not an ICO :stuck_out_tongue:), I would say the hardest part is getting the larger companies to move faster than a snail's pace. There are too many chefs in the kitchen and sometimes there is a lack of top-down strategy on blockchain, and it leaves large enterprises paralyzed sometimes. We try to resolve this by pitching how easy Hydro is to use, and how it connects to our broader Hydrogen ecosystem which can add value in a lot of places. In my opinion, widespread crypto adoption is going to be dependent on how parallelization plays out. If crypto's only option is to create a new parallel economy, widespread adoption is going to be slow and arduous and will take decades. However, if blockchain is able to be infused or layered on some of the current systems we have in place, the adoption will be much faster and broader. Ultimately this comes down to the usage of private vs public chains - the more private and centralized chains that get implemented, the farther the mainstream adoption will get pushed out. — Q (Luke): One aspect of Hydro that is beginning to really intrigue me are the potential use cases and dapps that can be built by external developers ontop of the Hydro protocol layers for each phase.
Having held various dev meetups and networking at various conferences, how are you finding the process of attracting developers to start building dapps and products in your ecosystem?
I understand the HCDP is getting updated with various new rules and bounties for dapps to be built, have you approached any developers yet with this new offer, and if so, how has the reception been?
How else do you intend to attract developers towards building on the Hydro protocols?
Through our events, we're mainly focused on helping expand the blockchain-focused developer community. We help give exposure to projects we find to be doing neat, innovative work in the space and keep ongoing dialogue with these communities.
In particular, to provide impetus to developers in the Hydro ecosystem, we've established the HCDP. The new process will involve putting out specific task requests. In the next week or so we'll have published specifications for dApps that can be built on top of Snowflake. We ourselves will not be building these dApps (they have nothing to do with Hydrogen's space as a company). This helps the ecosystem expand outside of Hydrogen-specific use-cases.
^^Through the above process to get them started. Eventually, we want the Hydro development process to be community-driven, so people are building on Hydro because it benefits their own programs and applications.
— Q (elmer_FUD): Hey Hydro Team! Here's a few question I've got for you after checking out the Raindrop and Snowflake whitepapers: How has your experience working in the Ethereum ecosystem been so far? While you are currently focused on the financial sector, would you consider actively marketing to other sectors such as healthcare and education in the future? It seems like both Raindrop and Snowflake would be useful in any environment that processes or stores sensitive data. Do you have plans to release official Raindrop SDK packages in other languages in the future? A bit more of a specific question: Raindrop is looks like a great product to use in a PCI-DSS environment - do you have thoughts on whether or not it the product is ready for primetime and do you think the industry standards and government regulation is prepared to handle these kinds of systems? A (Andy): Thanks for the questions! I'm gonna answer each in a separate response in this thread Overall it has been pretty solid. There is still a ton of room for growth in terms of documentation and stuff like that, but it is miles ahead of basically every other blockchain platform I have worked with. By far the biggest pain has been handling gas costs when considering the user experience. When trying to build actual products that people will want to use we feel that making it user friendly is something that many blockchain projects have not focused on nearly enough. Yeah certainly. We focus on fintech as that is where the rest of our companies APIs focus and that is where we have the most connections, but much of what we are building is much further reaching than that. Just as far as authentication goes, it really can apply to any major field and we intend to market it as such. We currently have Python and JS SDKs and have had a few java ones submitted through our community dev program. We have been revamping that program, but I anticipate we will be putting up more bounties for most major languages. I have considered making a few more myself, but we feel that they could be better suited as community projects. I completely agree. Raindrop and blockchain authentication when handling anything around payments is a great application. I think the biggest thing is actually convincing regulatory bodies that the protocols we have build are secure (since many can still be scared of blockchain). I definitely see this as a direct use case though — Q.1 (khonsu): What kind of banking relations do you have as a company, do they (banks) understand what you are trying to do ? Any VCs approached you for funding ? explain your business model. A.1 (Shane): Hydrogen has existed since 2009 in the form of Hedgeable. Hedgeable is a consumer-facing online investing app, and the tech behind it eventually spawned the Hydrogen tech platform. The story of how the transition happened goes essentially like this: (1) Hedgeable was disrupting banks & investing firms, (2) banks & investing firms started contacting us and seeing if we would help them digitize & automate their own businesses, (3) we started packaging up our tech and selling it to the banks. There was so much demand for this from financial institutions that we spun out a new company (Hydrogen). So to get back to your original question: we have some long-standing relationships in the banking & finance world, and to this day we have inbound leads from that space coming in every week. The key thing to keep in mind is that these institutions move extremely slowly, but they do understand the core value prop of our platform. Many of these firms are still in the midst of basic digitization efforts (i.e. moving from really slow offline processes to simple digital infrastructure), and that is the primary thing we are helping them with in early stages. But they are also keen on blockchain tech and they will naturally turn to us for that once they reach that point. We do have a few relationships with big financial companies in which Hydro/blockchain are already part of the discussion. We have revenue and don't need to rely on VCs. It is our general philosophy that building a business sustainably with actual clients and revenue is a good approach, but we would consider working with the right VC if that came to be and we wanted to scale more quickly. Right now, that is not an immediate concern for us. Our business model is in charging developers and enterprises to access the Hydrogen technology platform, which currently consists of products like Atom, Ion, and Hydro. Developers pay a per-user fee to hit our core APIs, while large enterprises negotiate custom (usually multi-year) contracts with us that typically include recurring revenue. Hydro, specifically, is being offered for free right now, as we attempt to gain adoption. But it is important to note that Hydro is just one piece of our ecosystem. Q.2 (Joleen): When you say fee - is this fee HYDRO? And when do you envisage HYDRO to no longer be offered FOC? A**.2 (Shane):** Sorry if it wasn't clear, I meant free to use our Hydro tech/APIs. The usage of HYDRO tokens within that is a separate issue - they still need to have HYDRO and we do not give it away for free to clients — Q (guacam0le): Adoption of an identity management solution (etc) would potentially involve a lot of identities. Further, scalability is a hot topic w/ blockchain. Is this a potential bottleneck? What is or might be done to address such? Tackling a competitor like Google or Authy's 2FA is no small feat. Also, not everyone is yet to embrace blockchain-based solutions. Have you found it difficult to interface with enterprises & get them excited about the idea of an overhaul? A (Anurag): nowflake is designed to be relatively low-load on the blockchain. A user needs to conduct a single transaction to “mint” their Snowflake. Once this is complete, they would need to complete one-time transactions to set each of their different forms of identities as resolvers as needed. A Snowflake is designed to be built out via resolvers over the duration of a user’s lifetime, so there’s never a need for heavy, frequent transactional capability. Similarly, smart contracts simply need to be set as resolvers by users; they do not themselves transact. Network scalability improvements will increase the range of use-cases for smart contracts that can be tied to Snowflake, but they aren’t a necessary prerequisite to some important early use-cases such as KYC platforms, and a few basic user-interaction platforms. As far as competition, we feel that current adoption of 2FA is, in general far short of where it should be, and any 2FA is generally better than none. Many businesses use text-message based 2FA, etc. In the short-run we are aiming toward pilot implementations with small businesses. To further this, we have put out many integration resources, guides, and documentation and accordingly believe implementation of Raindrop is a more straightforward workflow. As far as large enterprises go, Hydrogen has clients, so it is helpful for our project to have those connections. Large institutions are generally relatively slow-moving, but have expressed interest in using Raindrop, in particular for securing employee accounts. As the product grows, we may eventually move in this direction with Client Raindrop, but resources will always be available for any site that wants to adopt it. Additionally, we are looking into making a wordpress plug-in to make implementation much more accessible for many developers. -- Q (Smithymethods): I know Hydro is a fintech company, hydro plan to curb phishing and hacking to the bearest minimum we know that hacking is very rampant these days on MEW and with other wallet. Is Hydro planning to create a wallet that support hydro and other tokens using their raindrop Technology? As this will put an end to the problem of phishing and also promote hydro A (Noah): like everyone in the crypto space, we’re very worried about phishing, both personally and on behalf of all hydro token holders. we first want to reemphasize that preventing scams and fraud has to be a community-driven effort: teams and users need to be vigilant and promote best practices (never trusting links in public chats, shunning fake accounts, etc.). we are excited about raindrop’s potential to help combat phishing, though. we actually talked with someone about mycrypto about integrating raindrop into their desktop app. we’ve forked their code and are researching how feasible an implementation would be, stay tuned for updates! — Q (Hodlall): What security measures in place for hydro , I see lot of tokens being hacked nowadays , and money is stolen.. how does hydro make sure their team tokens are completely secured or as much as possible A (Andy): We all have been in crypto for a while and are pretty well versed in securing our stuff. Our tokens that are currently locked are in cold storage. Others are held in hardware wallets — Q (Joleen): We know that the Hydrogen platform is going to be used by CI Investments, a large insurance firm and a world top 20 bank, have these companies already begun purchasing Hydro OTC? A (Andy): This is something that we feel is best to be hands off with. It is really up to the discretion of our partners — Q (khonsu’s mumaffi): Ill be honest i have not yet fully read the whitepaper but id like to know other than investor growth do you truly believe there is interest in a model where users have to pay each time for access? How big do u expect this fee to be...for large companies dont you believe this is an unscalable practice? This may be a question more about most technologies built on token based economics too. A (Andy): So we have 2 different authentication protocols. One happens less often and is in the same vein as OAuth. This is called Server-Side Raindrop. This requires tokens to be sent. This protocol would only happen once per day for a business when accessing something like an API. I don't feel that these values are extremely high for increased security. Our second protocol, Client-Side Raindrop, functions much more like google auth. This logic actually does not require any tokens or even a transaction by the end user. It is 100% free for them to use and they will never have to pay for a transaction. Here the responsibility is on the implementing party to stake tokens. This allows them to onboard users and authenticate them. We felt it was crucial to have an authentication that did not have a cost per user login as it is not scalable — Q (khonsu’s mumaffi): Also do u plan to tokenise atom and ion too and if not covered earlier how big of an impact do the market conditions have on your business A (Anurag): Tough to say we're going to "tokenize" them since that word can carry a lot of different meanings in different contexts, but we do plan on integrating the entire Hydrogen platform with Hydro. This will most likely take the form of enhancements to systems leveraging Hydro. You can find a more detailed breakdown on our Hydro roadmap: https://medium.com/hydrogen-api/project-hydro-features-in-depth-look-39faa29f0d61 Market conditions don't really have an impact - we're still building the same tech on a day-to-day basis — Q (ghost): As a company in the space, do you see the fact that tokens have to be acquired on exchanges as an issue? How would a company that wants to develop with you acquire tokens? A (Anurag): Depends on what they're developing. dApps developing using Hydro smart contracts to create native functionality to their applications would need to acquire those tokens on their own; however, companies using the Hydrogen API will not. Here's a detailed article outlining when a developer would need the token for the Client Raindrop smart contract: https://medium.com/hydrogen-api/how-to-use-client-raindrop-without-using-the-hydrogen-api-bb04934ae293 — Q (jarederaj): Can you describe your stakeholders and give me a better sense of the exigency of your products? Who are you focused on serving with your platform and why are they motivated to use your platform? A (Shane): The Hydrogen platform serves developers and enterprises who want to build applications. We are specifically targeting the financial services sector, including banks, investing firms, insurance providers, and financial advisors. This includes large enterprises, individual developers, and startups. Our products are Atom (core digital infrastructure & engine for finserv), Ion (AutoML & business intelligence capabilities), and Hydro (blockchain & decentralization layer). Each has a different use case but these products combine to form an ecosystem of tools for developers to build sophisticated applications with. The main pain point we are addressing is the resources required to build, launch, and run a digital financial application. These resources include both time and money. Large enterprises have resources, but they waste years and millions of dollars trying to launch digital platforms (we've seen this first-hand), often unsuccessfully. The motivation here is obvious. Startups and smaller developers, on the other hand, do not have access to huge resource pools, so they are forced to look for solutions that make the process more efficient. In the same way that Wordpress makes launching a blog easy and also allows for extended functionality, Hydrogen makes launching fintech application easy. — Q (shujjishah): When the app will be released??? A (Anurag): We're going through our mobile development very iteratively. Since we work very closely with the product, there are things we can't recognize until we've got people beta testing the app. As we started Beta testing and conducting user-research, we realized that one aspect of the UI for the app was not intuitive to about half of our testers. We decided to make a few API changes to enable the mobile app to display a "linked" vs "unlinked" status in order to improve the user experience. Our front-end team is finalizing these changes, so our Beta testers will receive a new build in their testflight apps within the next few days. This new build will require another round of Beta testing to ensure that none of the code changes causes any problems on devices; if this change goes smoothly, and our mainnet testing goes smoothly, we will be able to release the app this month. Since there isn't much precedent on releasing a product into the app store that connects users with the ethereum mainnet, our primary concern is making sure the product works fully as intended and provides an intuitive user experience. Misc Q&A’s Q (elmer_FUD): What's your favorite thing to drink? A.1 (Andy): Overall, I really love Baja Blast Mountain Dew. If I am drinking, I'm a big fan of fruity beers like Blue Moon and Shocktop. Also had a really good raspberry sour recently A.2 (Nahom): Primary=water but i do enjoy Jamaican ginger ale/beer. We keep honest tea in the office too, i love it because it brings me back from the dead:skull_and_crossbones:, @Hydro Andy drinks most of it behind my back though :triumph: A.3 (Noah): hard: tequila or picklebacks soft: any sour beer other: mango juice i also crush like 2 nalgene’s worth of water every day at work A.4 (Shane): For hard alcohol: whiskey/bourbon A.5 (Anurag): ooh, went to the finback brewery last weekend; was wonderful — Q (Joleen): Do you HODL any other tokens personally? A.1 (Andy): I do. I think it is probably best to not say which, but if you follow me enough in #altcoins I am sure you will see me talk about a few A.2 (Noah): im a bit of an eth maximalist actually :grimacing: i do dabble though — Q (Joleen): Who got who in the World Cup sweepstakes? A.1 (Andy): I'm going for Germany, but I know next to nothing about soccer A.2 (Shane): I'm rooting for Portugal, but I don't think they're going to win the cup — Q (Joleen): Who's got the best banter in the office? And who has the worst? A.1 (Andy): One of our backend devs, Paavan, typically has some great banter and even better hot takes A.2 (Noah): dont @ me for worst banter A.3 (Shane): Sabih (BA @ Hydrogen) banter is by far the best
Need advice on where to park a new Roth IRA Account
A little background on my financial situation:
Already have 13% of my salary going to 401K with a 6% employer match on top of that
Wife has 4% of her salary going into a 457b as Roth contributions
She also has 4% of her salary going into an employee funded pension with the state
I've got $40k sitting in liquid assets, and figured it would behoove me to move some of that, $3-4K, into a Roth IRA given that I could withdraw principle penalty free in 3-5 business days if things really hit the fan. I have about $50/month to throw at this right now (I zero sum budget and count every penny) since I'm still actively paying off the remaining $73,000 in student loans we have (was $145,000 4 years ago) sitting at 7.5% interest. With that said, I've been back and forth on where to invest it (robo advisors vs Vanguard - I don't have experience with any). The main pros and cons I see to each option (correct me if I'm wrong): Betterment Pros
Lowest fees (on top of the ETF costs)
Partial ETF investment
Way too high allocation into foreign markets for my taste (they haven't performed well in many years and having 40-50% allocation overseas just doesn't make sense)
Better diversification than Betterment (includes commodities, REITs, if needed)
Foreign is about 23% and Emerging markets its 14% for me, which is more acceptable than Betterment
Doesn't do partial share purchase, so money is sitting in cash not earning for sometime if your monthly deposit isn't high enough (and mine is only going to be $50/m)
I really like the downside protection strategy...if it works. Being able to mitigate losses in an economic crash like 2008 and only see -16% loss vs -50% more than pays for the fees
The best diversification of any robo-advisor. They offer REITs, stocks, ETFs, commodities, cash, even bitcoin
With their strategy, they can afford to be more aggressive. At my risk level on their site, i'm 98% US equities (bonds and stocks) because they've done the best consistently. They move to safer havens when things start going south to protect your money.
Offers partial investments and auto withdrawals
The more you invest, the more core/satellite strategy they move you too. No other robo advisor does as far as I can see.
Highest fees of any robo advisor (though if the downside protection works, it more than pays for it)
The fact that they only have $45M in assets under management makes me wonder why it hasn't taken off like Betterment/Wealthfront? I've seen reasons ranging from people don't understand it and are afraid of it or to the high fees deterring people. Thing is, you're paying them to actively manage your account. They review your portfolio daily.
Ultimate customization in choice
Lowest cost since you're only paying for the funds/ETFs
Requires more time on my part (as much as I like finances, I am a new dad and the family will only be growing so my time will be increasingly limited through the years)
My initial investment of $3-4K doesn't allow me to diversify much with this option, short of sticking it in a target date fund, like 2055 (I'm 27 BTW). It'll take a while before I have enough $ properly diversify in Core 4.
What it's really boiling down to here for me is Hedgeable vs Vanguard. There are uncertainties with Hedgeable, but the prospect is quite exciting. I mapped out some forecast possibilities, factoring in higher costs and market downturns, and if they truly do downside protect, they're the clear winner in long term gains. With Vanguard, I know they'll be around for the long haul, but it requires more work on my part, eventually dumping the target date fund for the Core 4 when I have enough money (I'm not a big fan of target date funds, but it's the best option for me to start with). And I can always be persuaded back into the fold with Wealthfront or Betterment. I'm not sure how much of an issue Wealthfront's issue of not doing partial investments is in the long haul. But historically, I've heard a lot of pros (nice layout,, easy hands off approach) and cons (overall lackluster performance). Open to any and all feedback. Have at it!
I will base my analysis on each group, as I believe it is easiest to declare winners in each, based on the needs of the end users, and thus how robos have segmented the market. Introduction A firm that targets everybody, really targets nobody. This question is very much like asking, what is the best fast food restaurant, or what is the best car? Do you want mexican or pizza? Fast casual or sit down? An economy car or luxury? Electric car or gas guzzler? If you want to think about it like the ETF market, are you looking for an index fund or something more specialized - a Vanguard Group or a Wisdomtree? You can’t pick a “best” ETF because they are targeting different markets. FinTech Pyramid — Savers This segment I define as being very tied to their new financial independence. They are entering college or the workforce and have established their own bank accounts, debit cards, and are starting to pay their own bills. Any robo solution needs to address these needs. The main players here would be Acorns (Brokerage), Digit, Stash. Acorns (Brokerage) really was the innovator in this customer segment. For years, it was derided to offer investment focused products to college students. This has since changed that Snapchat (product) and others have announced their intention to get more involved in fintech. But, the thought of offering an investment product to those with only $100 or maybe even less to invest was very disruptive. What Acorns did was take a page from the old Bank of America (company) ‘Keep the Change Program’ and combine it with the robo principles that were created by Betterment (product/company). Instead of investing in a near 0% interest rate Savings Account, Acorns decided to engineer it as an investment account in the stock market instead. It has paid off, as of the time of this writing, Acorns has 472,000 accounts! The negative - they charge $1 per month on balances below $5,000. Given their average account size I calculate to be around $155, that means the average person is paying 7.7% per year in fees. But, I am a strong believer in consumer driven economics, customers love this app and don’t seem to care about the high fees. If interest rates go up, I believe this customer segment can move towards something like Digit, but at 0% that is hard to do. Winner: Acorns FinTech Pyramid — Experimenters This market I define as being UI UX focused. They are first time investors in the market, thus the experience needs to be fast, seamless, and educational. Robinhood (Brokerage) has done a brilliant job targeting this audience. According to a Fortune report, their average customer age is 26. They make it very simple, clean, and FREE to buy your first stocks. Likewise, I have always been impressed with the clean UI/UX of Betterment (product/company) and how many little bells and whistles they have to make their app simple for a complimentary wealth audience. There is a reason why they have attracted over 100,000 clients. It is very easy to use for first time investors. Acorns also has a very nice interface that wins a lot of awards for their UI/UX. You could argue they have a good product for the Savers and Experimenters. But Betterment has a much more robust technology platform that cuts across web and mobile, while Acorns is strictly mobile and it it focused more on savings (through the round up the change feature). Betterment also has been in the market longer managing money, and has a large Data Science department that puts out many interesting studies. For these reasons, I believe they are the clear winner in this segment. Winner: Betterment (product/company) FinTech Pyramid — Career Makers For those in Generation X and Millennial Generation that are just getting their careers on track, the biggest thing they are looking for is investing robustness and features. They are 20–30 years away from being able to reach a Private Bank like Goldman Sachs Private Wealth Management, and they may only have $50,000 saved up, not nearly enough to access a private bank. According to Barron’s, the median minimum investment on these private banking platforms is $3 Million. Some of the biggest things here that are wanted would be access, investing sophistication, and breadth of platform. On the liabilities sign they are most likely starting to re-finance their student debt and using more high end crdit cards like American Express (company). They are also driven by things like rewards and new experiences. Career makers want to go into work and tell their friends that they just invested in the next Uber (company). This comes down to what I define as “access.” Below, we show the current portfolio makeup of a Hedgeable portfolio. This includes our own Venture Capital fund that has a $1 minimum investment, integration with Coinbase for bitcoin and soon Ethereum (virtual currency) and more products in the pipeline lie P2P Lending investments, private real estate, and green energy. Hedgeable also allows clients to change the entire makeup of their portfolio to be Impact Investing focused, or called SRI in the industry - Career makers also want to make sure their growing sums are at least attempted to be protected from big collapses like the 2008 Financial Crisis. Remember, this demographic was in the Experimenters segment during the crisis, and they were deeply hurt by the aftermath. This comes down to what I define as “investing sophistication.” Below, I show GIPS compliant client composite performance of Hedgeable clients from Jan 1 - Feb 11 of 2016, versus a passive “Robo Index” that we have developed. What is Hedgeable's investment philosophy? A third decision point here would be what I call the “breadth of platform.” Are you a small business owner? Do you want to open an account for kids? The “best” robo-advisor might not even be able to take your money because of limited account types! So this could be a very important determining factor for career makers. Wealthfront currently supports taxable investment accounts including individual, joint and trust accounts. We also support Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, and Rollover IRAs. Betterment is harder to pin down, because they separate all of the account types into separate FAQ questions based on goals, but it seems like they offer about the same number as Wealthfront, with one or two exceptions. Hedgeable offers the most account types. In addition to all those listed above, Hedgeable has 27 account types, including 4 different joint accounts and popular small business account types like SIMPLE IRAs and Solo 401ks. Because of these three dynamics, I believe Hedgeable is the winner for Career Makers. Winner: Hedgeable FinTech Pyramid — Accumulators This segment has reached the pinnacle of their careers, and their earnings start to level off. They have “access” due to their typically larger account balances than those lower on the pyramid. They have accumulated many accounts across savings, checking, mortgage, investments. They are looking for the most robust app to keep track of these finances. The average American in this demographic spreads investment accounts across 3 or more firms. They also have 4 or more credit cards, 2 or more kids ready to go off to college, at least 1 mortgage, 2 or more insurance premiums and health accounts, and much more. PLUS, I call them accumulators, because the numbers get larger as they reach their 60s and 70s. This leads many to need a very robust suite of Personal Financial Management (PFM) apps to look at these accounts. Personal Capital has done a very good job of targeting this demographic. As of the time of this writing, they have over 1 Million downloads of their PFM apps, which like Mint.com (product) was originally, are built on top of the Yodlee (company) aggregation software. Other platforms have PFM, but Personal Capital is by far the most robust. Personal Capital allows you to hire one of their advisors if you want to talk to someone about your accounts and build an investment plan. I like to think about Personal Capital as the only true player in the market that is disruptive to the advisory industry. Whereas firms like Acorns, Betterment, Hedgeable, Wealthfront are targeting clients that have traditionally been shut out of the advisory space - they do not meet the minimums - Personal Capital is directly competing with them with a similar business model. The average balance of a Personal Capital client is about $125,000 according to my calculations based on SEC data. An advisor at Merrill Lynch or Wells Fargo (company) is about the same. Instead of building their own PFM apps, these advisors will use tools like eMoney Advisor for account aggregation or a TAMP platform such as Envestnet (company). Thus, if you are in the accumulator phase, Personal Capital is a good choice as a digital solution vs. a traditional advisor. Winner: Personal Capital FinTech Pyramid — Preservers This customer segment is going to be more income based, they are typically already in retirement, and are looking for products like annuities and health insurance. They also will tend to be more tied to the traditional brands like Charles Schwab, Merrill Lynch, Vanguard Group, etc, because they came of age with many of them. This is why Schwab Intelligent Portfolios and Vanguard Personal Advisor Services will most likely be strong choices for this group. Not necessarily for the actual product offered (as of the time of this writing I do not believe either offers true retirement & insurance), but because branding and trust matters with this demographic. Remember, Schwab was founded in 1971, and Vanguard in 1975. They were the fintech disruptors of their day. From the time the Preservers have been in their 20s and 30s - like the Gen X / Gen Y generation of today - they have grown with these brands. The brands Baby Boomers know from the 70’s remain attractive today. This will explain why Schwab has been able to move over about $5 Billion from this demographic, while Vanguard has been able to move over about $30 Billion, since they launched their digital solutions. According to reports, 75% -80% of Schwab’s Intelligent Portfolio AUM has come from existing clients. Their average client is over 55 years old, so this proves my hypothesis. They struggle to attract new young clients, but are very solid choices for their current Baby Boomer client base. Tie: Charles Schwab and Vanguard Group Pareto Principle - Other Segments I am also a strong believer in the 80/20 rule. My pyramid probably only encompasses about 80% of the market. For the 20% of the equation there are specialized situations that drive human behavior in consumer finance and in particular in wealth management. —- Bargain Hunters We see this “coupon” or “bargain” mentality occur a lot in the ETF space, some investors will solely look at low-cost options, and compare expense ratios of Vanguard, SsgA, Blackrock iShares, etc. Here the competitors would be Wisebanyan and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios. Both are no management fee, but Wisebanyan is truly no fee, Schwab is not really free when you look under the hood, as we did here - Why does Schwab Intelligent Portfolios hold so much cash? What is a good Schwab Intelligent Portfolios review? In fact, we estimate that with increasing interest rates, Schwab could be making over 2% on some accounts! WiseBanyan has done a nice job on their app design, and they have high ratings among customers in the iOS App Store. Because of the many conflicts of interest within the Intelligent Portfolios product, I believe Wisebanyan will be the clear choice among those looking at a simple solution at no cost. Winner: WiseBanyan —- Tax Efficiency Hunters If you have a large amount of unrealized capital gains in a taxable account or are concerned with cutting down on a potentially large tax bill on an account transfer or ongoing trading, then this sub-category is for you. Although most people will typically compare Wealthfront and Betterment (product/company) head on, I think of Wealthfront more as a tax manager and Betterment (product/company) as a UI/UX focused personal finance app. Tax managed investing is a very lucrative industry. For example, Parametric is a leading institutional asset manager that focuses on tax optimization, and they have over $160 Billion in AUM! When Wealthfront pivoted from Kaching (and then their original Wealthfront business model of a marketplace for actively managed portfolios) they smartly created new awareness in the industry for Tax Loss Harvesting. This technique has been used for decades by advisors, but was never optimized for the scale that Wealthfront operated on. They obviously hit a nerve in the market, especially from high earning Silicon Valley workers, because since they brought this to the forefront in their marketing, it has become “table stakes”. Every robo is expected to offer it, and Wealthfront can be credited with this. Below, is what Wealthfront claims is the returns from their TLH strategy (until August 2014). Wealthfront also does tax-efficient transfers of securities. Again, if a client has a large amount of realized gains in a taxable portfolio it becomes difficult to sell them. If you go to Wealthfront, they claim to sell them in a tax efficient manner, waiting for some legacy securities to become long-term gains, etc. Introducing Tax-Minimized Brokerage Account Transfers » Wealthfront Knowledge Center For these reasons, I would say Wealthfront is the leader in this niche part of the market so far. Winner: Wealthfront —- Service Hunters This niche will cut across demographic lines. Some consumer finance shoppers are most interested in the breadth of customer service. Personal Capital and Vanguard Group approach to support is to provide a human advisor that you can chat with. So, if your only concern would be that you want to talk to someone about your account via a video portal then these would be good choices. Below, I show the video portal from Vanguard PAS - Some people (like myself, who has never walked into a bank branch and hates talking on the phone) are looking for a more digital/tech look and feel. On the more digital side I believe Hedgeable has the most robust service, which is 7 day text messaging, live chat, support ticketing, phone, CIO office hours, digital consultations, email, and soon chatbots. Betterment (product/company) would be a close second, they also offer 7 day chat and phone service and they get good reviews from customers on service. Although, I am writing this in the afternoon on a weekend and Betterment’s chat is offline (see below), even though the chat hours say it should’t be - Some platforms just aren’t selling service and that is fine - sometimes people just want to go to an automat (remember those?!) versus a sit down restaurant. For example, Wealthfront doesn’t even offer a live chat feature, but that is purposeful (I assume), since they are trying to build more of a TurboTax (product) low service model. I cannot pick a best of this sub-category, because it really depends on what kind of support is important to you - an advisor via video chat or a fully digital experience. Winner: Depends on service type wanted Conclusion Part I The wealth management market is very complex, there is never going to be a one size fits all solution for everyone. Therefore I suggest the following two steps - Determine where you stand on the FinTech Pyramid Below I created a graphic based on the levels of the pyramid and my selections in each: Once you have determined where you fit in the pyramid (there will be some overlap in age, thus I took off the ages in some of the levels), it will help to narrow down the “best” selection for you and your circumstances. Determine if the 20% rule applies to you If so, the pyramid isn’t going to be applicable, and you can look across the spectrum for a solution. This accounts for why about 80%-85% of most robos’ demographics fall within the same age range, but 15%-20% do not. There are many more categories, but I focused on just three in my analysis. Conclusion Part II A shopper that is best suited for a Hyundai (car company) is probably not going to be hanging out at the Tesla Motors (company) dealership and someone in a hurry on game day is probably not going to trade in their Papa John's Pizza order for an hour adventure at Outback Steakhouse. Many of the answers here will point out a clear winner, but that is because they fall in a certain part of this pyramid, and they are looking myopically at the market from their own eyes. Thus, they are not even mentioning some key players in the space, that aren’t targeting their demographic. There is no way a firm can be best for everyone, and I don’t believe anyone tries to be. This is a common miss-conception in Financial Technology. Just look at the infographic I made below. This shows data from a Citi survey, on the expected rise of robo assets over the next 10 years. Much like the ETF market, this space will be fragmented, with “best” in class equivalents of Vanguard, SSgA, WisdomTree, GlobalX, etc. Or if you want to look at it like the trading market, an options trader certainly wouldn’t think Robinhood (Brokerage) is “best” because they don’t even offer that service, even though millions of 20 somethings might love it! There is nothing wrong with any of the players in the market, it depends on what is important to you at a particular stage in life. Happy investing! Disclaimer: This is not a solicitation to buy or sell securities or an offer of personal financial advice or legal advice. Past performance is not indicative of future performance. It is suggested you seek out the help of a financial professional before making any investing or personal financial management decision.
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Is BITCOIN a Good Hedge Against Inflation? (Fundamental Value Investor POV)
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