Q&A- Startups

7 Questions with Serena Torielli of AdviseOnly

1.     Who are you?

My name is Serena Torielli. I am the CEO and a Co-founder of AdviseOnly. After 18 years in Investment banks, I realized that the web was the right medium to change finance as I knew it into something  less self-referential and  easily accessible to the the savers public.

2. Which services do you sell and who are your competitors?

AdviseOnly is an an investment advice hub for investors of any level of wealth and financial expertise.  AdviseOnly can handle investments in any type of financial instrument, from ETFs, stocks and bonds to mutual funds, in any market of the world.

Our competitive edge is a proprietary financial engine that is really the “state–of-the-art”  in risk management and has been developed by the founders over years. The financial engine of AdviseOnly imports raw data from data providers like Morningstar and produces three main outputs: investment portfolios, investment tools and risk estimates.

Our business is twofold:

  • Services from our financial engine can be supplied to financial institutions through a layer of APIs. That’s how we handle B2B in white labelling, or B2B2C in partnership with other financial institutions .
  • On the other side, our website interacts with our user base made of individual investors and financial advisors. We provide a basic portfolio and risk management framework for free and a premium automated investment solution based on real life financial goals.

The ownership of  the underlying financial technology gives AdviseOnly a pretty unique approach in the “robo-advisory” arena. Our only competitor in Italy is MoneyFarm that has recently entered the UK market, in Europe I would mention Nutmeg.

3. How did you get your startup idea and how did you finance your startup?

I left investment banking after 18 years. At that time I was really fed up with finance and probably not greedy enough to resist longer in a job that was uninteresting to me. When my partners and co-founders of AdviseOnly, came to me with the idea of using the web to make the output of a financial technology of professional standing, easily accessible to the savers’ public through the web, I falled in love with the project.  This project was giving a new sense of purpose to my background.

The idea behind AdviseOnly is quite simple.  Everybody can understand the basics of finance and investing. It’s no rocket science, just the use of an overly technical language and too much jargon, often unnecessary, which makes people feel uncomfortable and not ask too many questions, particularly about fees.

So far the project has been funded by the founders and by a small circle of “friends and family”.

4.     What were the biggest challenges in starting?

When we started at the beginning of 2011, we were moving in an uncharted territory. Digital wealth management in Europe was non-existent, the only benchmarks we had were a few pioneers in the US like Bettement or SigFig. Moving with no coordinates requires a good deal of creativity. Luckily the feedback you get through the web is immediate and unbiased, so if you can read it, you learn a lot and  you can adjust your business trajectory accordingly.

Italy is probably the most difficulty country in Europe  to start a fintech company,  since it is not advanced in digital area, the dominant culture is conservative and it’s a country overly dependent on banks.  At the same time, investing your own money in your venture,  in a country where there is no VCs and zero fintech culture can make you a much better entrepreneur and give you a lot of perspective.

Another issue has been the money to make AdviseOnly known to the investors public. All the reputation of AdviseOnly on the web, is coming from word of mouth and a smart use of social network. With some money to spend in marketing campaigns, our life would have been easier.

5.     What areas within FinTech do you personally find most interesting and why?

I personally believe that P2P lending and online wealth management are interesting right now, since the time is ripe for them to become mainstream . On payments I believe that the big technology companies would take a big chunk of the market. I particularly like what is happening in the payments area in Africa, where fintech, free from the traditional banking legacy is fostering a higher degree of financial inclusion.

I am personally fascinated by the blockchain technology. Maybe the current hype surrounding it as the holy grail of fintech is excessive, but I believe it is one of the few areas in fintech whose impact can be really disruptive.

6. What opportunities do you see for FinTech startups in Continental Europe, and how can we help to accelerate it?

The absence of a dominant financial center like London and the high-quality of technological and engineering capabilities available in continental Europe, have the potential to create outstanding fintech startups. The absence of an estabilished  VC culture and the scarsity of funds available for European fintech startups can be positive on one side, since fintech startups surviving here are often more “mature” and solid than the ones in the US. The risk, on the other side, is that the fragmentation of the market (many excellent German startups do not even have an English website!) and the dispersion of the initiatives could waste a lot of value. Networking, partnering with startups in different countries and creating a true fintech ecosystem for continental Europe are the key initiatives to generate value.

7. What tip would you like to give FinTech entrepreneurs?

In your career as a FinTech entrepreneur you will probably meet hundreds of people thinking they would run your business better then you, just ignore the noise and try to detect any honest and constructive criticism, that is the best value you can get for your firm.

Second, hire a team of people you like to work with, engage them with your time and passion to build the enthusiasm that makes your startup a special venture.