Monday 6 April 2015 10:38 pm

The investment democrats

Harriet Green talks investment gurus, Asian expansion and putting £1m of your own savings on the line with the founders of meetinvest, Michel and Maria Jacquemai LAST summer, Michel Jacquemai found himself under a pile of books by investment gurus. The portfolio manager, former Credit Suisse vice president, partner of investment manager Partners Group and founder of SAIS Group didn’t need lessons from the greats. It was his partner (now wife) Maria who needed the help. “I wanted to invest in stocks, similar to what Michel has been doing for so many years. I went online to research, and got faced with tonnes of confusing financial jargon… so I bought a bunch of books,” says Maria, a successful financial journalist. One stood out for her: The Relaxed Way to Wealth, by award-winning German mutual fund manager Susan Levermann. Suddenly, she had found a trading strategy that was in her language – it was understandable to the non-expert. HITTING THE JACKPOT As a seasoned professional, Michel didn’t take her excitement too seriously, but agreed to turn Levermann’s investment strategies into an algorithm for a bit of fun. But when they examined how the formula would have worked if actually used in the markets, its performance was unbelievably strong. So after that, Maria kept “chucking books at Michel,” who coded more and more strategies. It didn’t take long before they had algorithms for the strategies of a raft of investment gurus – from Warren Buffett and John Templeton to Jim Slater. It was Maria who initially saw the potential for a business – a platform where active DIY investors can find new strategies, share ideas and insight with others. First, the website was just a stock picking tool with strategies listed, but soon they realised that they could bring people from all around the world together (“a Facebook for investors,” says Michel). Quickly, meetinvest was born. With a soft launch in August last year, by November, the website was fully functional. It already has 5,000 users. Anybody can register – and it’s free. The site screens 68,000 stocks a day, with performance back-tested to January 2000. Users can choose to replicate the behaviour of established gurus: “you can decide what systems you like according to your risk profile,” says Michel. He likens it to “offering people the recipes” – then they decide what they want to cook. And the social element means that, all the while, you can be chatting to fellow investors. They’ve been extremely careful and honest around contentious issues like giving investment advice and, when it comes to sharing the strategies, questions of intellectual property. But far from being faced with complaints, Michel and Maria have been supported by several of the gurus they’ve featured. POWER TO THE PEOPLE For the Swiss-based pair, the investment strategies used on Wall Street should be available to everybody – and free of charge. So sure are they of the value the website can bring, they recently invested £1m of their own savings in four of the portfolios that focus on the most undervalued stocks in Europe and the US. “The internet has democratised the opportunity for the world to learn and has broken down barriers. Investing shouldn’t just be the privilege of the few, but a chance for anyone and everyone with an interest to really engage,” says Maria. “It’s a huge step, democratising the whole investment area,” adds Michel. “People have realised that they’re just paying fees. With meetinvest, they just need to find a discount broker. We’ve seen smartphones consolidate tech, fintech starting to replace financial services and change people’s relationships with banks. The financial industry has created a wall and people are shut out. The biggest hurdle in investing is education,” he says. EASTERN PROMISES By the end of the year, the couple aim to have 1m users. “Honestly, we don’t have a business model as yet,” says Michel – for the next couple of years, it’s more about digesting feedback from users and seeing what the platform is capable of. Recently, they have been approached by venture capitalists, and are looking at how to define the model so that potential money-making collaborations can be sought later on. Meetinvest is marketing in the UK and is in the process of designing a roll-out across Asia, where the Jacquemais believe demand is high. So far, users span Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Russia and Canada. “We’re leaving the US for now,” says Michel. “The market is a different animal – it’s a step we’ll take when we have a strategic partner, not something we’ll do ourselves.” FULFILLING A DREAM For both Michel and Maria, meetinvest goes further than a fortuitous business idea. Having been in the financial services industry for over two decades, Michel sees the growth of fintech as a “huge opportunity. Many people are so fed up with banks – this is a chance to do something else. If you have an idea, sure, it’s a risk, but you don’t need a factory anymore. Opportunities to disrupt are easier – you could really change the whole environment, and learn at the same time”. For Maria, owning a business was an enduring fantasy. “As a teenager, my friends would read comics, and I would read the German Manager Magazine.” Stories of entrepreneurs and self-made millionaires fascinated her. “Moving from journalism into entrepreneurship was always a dream I just didn’t know how to bring to life until meetinvest.” Her advice to others is to just “do it”. If you want to solve something that’s a problem for you, the likelihood is that it’s an issue for someone else. “Every time I read another message thanking us for running meetinvest, it just confirms to me that what we are doing is needed.” CV MARIA JACQUEMAI Company name: Meetinvest Founded: August 2014 Turnover: None yet Number of staff: 8 Age: 38 Born: Haiger, Germany Lives: Zug, Switzerland Studied: Broadcast Journalism at RTL Television Germany/New York Drinking: Red wine and water Eating: Lebanese, Greek food Currently reading: Talk like Ted, by Carmine Gallo Favourite Business Book: The Relaxed Way to Wealth, by Susan Levermann Talents: Learning languages (speak five fluently) Heroes: Still looking for one First ambition: Vet Motto:  “80 per cent of life is showing up” Awards: 1x Gold, 2x Silver Cannes Corporate Media & TV Awards MICHEL JACQUEMAI Age: 48 Born: Lucerne, Switzerland Studied: BA in Economics & Business Administration at HWV Lucerne Drinking: Red wine and water Eating: Lebanese food Currently reading: 45 Years in Wall Street, by W D Gann Favourite Business Book: Rich Dad, Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki Talents: Explaining complicated stuff in simple words Heroes: Robert A “Bob” Hoover – former air show pilot and USAF test pilot First ambition: Air force pilot Motto:  “Many miss opportunities because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work”