Nutmeg, the UK-based online investment management service that earlier this year raised $5.3 million from Pentech, Tim Draper, Spotify board member Klaus Hommels and Armada Investment Group chairman Daniel Aegerter, opens its doors for business today. It is coming to market armed with a concept it hopes will grab consumers at a time of disillusionment with banks and existing investment models: the idea that any one of us can be a superstar investor.
With a minimum contribution of £1,000 ($1,612) from people aged 18 and over, Nutmeg advisors build and manage diversified portfolios and invest the money on your behalf. You are asked to set your own level of risk, investment timeframe and amount of contributions. Users can invest savings from any other accounts, including existing Individual Savings Accounts, special UK accounts tied to banks and aimed at investment and savings and not subject to the same taxes as other investment accounts. And although Nutmeg accounts are aimed at being there to make investments, users can also withdraw or top up the accounts at any time.
When Nutmeg first announced its funding in June, it noted that it was taking early sign-ups for the actual launch. Today, the company confirmed that the numbers are in the “several thousands,” without being more specific. “We’ve been delighted by the huge demand for the service, which reinforced our view that many people are looking for a way to invest that is transparent, safe and cost effective,” Nick Hungerford, Nutmeg’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch. “We now very excited to be launching officially.”
The idea, according Hungerford, Nutmeg’s founder and CEO, is to make investing as transparent and democratic as possible. Although he initially entered the world of investment as a fund manager for Barclays, working with millionaires, when he later left to go to Stanford Business School, he had a revelation: “Surrounded by people who worked at companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter, I realised that the internet could enable this vision to make intelligent, trusted investing accessible to all.”
That means, for example, giving people online access to your investment at all time, so that you can see where your money is going:
Nutmeg is going after two different markets with its service: the first is the existing market for investments, which in the UK alone is worth £500 billion. Those who use traditional investment managers today will pay 1.36% commission in fees; Nutmeg’s charges start at 1% and go as low as 0.3% depending on how much you are investing, and how many people you refer to the service. Its discount/referral inventive is passed around in the form of Nutmegs.
The second market is the group of people who have yet to ever make any investments, either because they have not had enough funds or because they don’t know where to begin. Nutmeg says 51% of respondents in a recent survey it commissioned thought they didn’t have enough money to make investing worthwhile.
Those two, incidentally, are also probably the two biggest challenges for Nutmeg to take off: existing, incumbent investing options (including those focusing on people investing smaller funds like selftrade.co.uk) for those who are already doing this; and intransigence among those who don’t.
Still Nutmeg wants to be the one to turn that around. This lack of knowledge, and ambition to solve it, is what caught the eye of Draper. “Financial services is one of the few industries to have withstood the internet revolution,” he said in a statement. “I’m convinced that Nutmeg is the right company to bring democracy and transparency to a sector which is ripe for reform.”
Draper is not known for making many investments outside the U.S., so that begs the question of whether Nutmeg intends to move to other markets, like the U.S., at some point. “Nutmeg is looking to expand, but it is important that we consolidate and grow in the UK first,” says Hungerford. “The rules and regulations for managing money are different in each country and establishing in each will take time. However, our systems and platform are built ready to quickly expand.” He adds that Draper has been “extremely supportive of our decision to start in the UK” because of London’s role as an international financial center.
Hugerford also points out: “The British have a high adoption rate when it comes to financial technology – for example, around 75% of people in the UK who have bank accounts use online banking.”
Although you can see how investment management — and the ability to transfer and withdraw money — may hint at a wider suite of services, for the time being Nutmeg is sticking to what it is doing now, and not looking to grow that list soon. “Over time we will grow and improve our service in line with what our customers want to see,” says Hungerford. More immediate plans involve adding more functionality for investing — for example group investments and family investments, investments for particular porfolios such only companies that are organic, or do not invest in particular countries, and so on.
He notes that Nutmeg is “fundamentally a B2C proposition,” but you can probably guess that as a company with big ambitions it’s also thinking of how it can leverage other companies’ sizes to grow its user base. “We are already in discussion to work with partners — such as independent financial advisors — who wish to find a suitable home for customers that they can no longer serve due to RDR,” he said. That could also potentially one day include the banks and larger investment houses that it is currently looking to disrupt.