In 2011, Paolo Galvani and Giovanni Daprà created MoneyFarm to help Italian investors with wealth management.
At that time, in a country with traditional attitudes toward investment and still shaken by a debt crisis, the two experienced investors with pasts at Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank quickly found that a purely digital offering was a bad idea. So they opened physical locations and hired people to answer phones to make their digital product feel more tangible and human.
“Investments are quite complicated and abstract. Having the option to talk to somebody over the phone can really help a customer to understand their decision,” Daprà told VentureBeat in an email. “We had to create a market where individuals were at the center of their investments. It wasn’t easy to explain this vision.”
MoneyFarm began trading and taking investments in the United Kingdom in February, and though bots assist customers in the onboarding process and people can invest from their smartphone without human help, MoneyFarm is keen to emphasize the human element in its wealth management and trading.
“If a customer thinks they’re talking to a robot it’s quite off-putting, but we’ve got a real combination of robo and human,” said Caroline Evans, the company’s marketing manager.
Here’s how MoneyFarm works: A new customer speaks with a bot to answer 20 multiple choice questions on a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Algorithms (robo-advice) then assign customers an investment portfolio based on the level of risk that the investor wants to take. The portfolio is then maintained by the MoneyFarm staff (people). If customers want additional instruction or to talk things over with a human, they can call a MoneyFarm office branch.
Robo-advice in fintech encompasses a broad range of services, like MoneyFarm and others that invest money on a client’s behalf, including Nutmeg in the U.K. and Acorns, which invests your spare change, in the U.S.
A British financial regulatory body estimates that up to 16 million people in the U.K. currently lack financial advice but can’t afford to hire a traditional human advisor. HSBC, for example, found that 30 to 50 percent of its customers want advice but were deterred by cost. MoneyFarm and other fintech companies are positioning themselves to meet this demand.
That need for more help comes at a time when fewer people are expected to be around to assist. Roughly 30 percent of U.S. and European banking jobs — more than a million jobs — are forecast to disappear in the next decade due to automation, according to research by Citigroup.
“The wealth management industry is going through what the travel industry went through 10 years ago,” Daprà said.
MoneyFarm allows clients to make investments as low as £1 directly from their smartphones.
“Apps are there that allow you to see how your investments are doing, but there’s no single app that allows you to invest,” Paolo Galvani told Business Insider. “You can invest your money while you’re on the bus.”
MoneyFarm currently has 60,000 users in Italy and offices in London, Milan, and Cagliari, Italy. The company declined to state the amount of money it manages for customers.
Since 2011, MoneyFarm has raised £21 million, £5.5 million of which came in September in a funding round led by Allianz.