Picture this: Snapchat offering robo advice.
And you thought all you had to worry about was Betterment or Wealthfront.
Snapchat, an instant photo and video sharing app, hasn't actually said anything publicly about such plans — the company's spokeswoman, Mary Ritti, didn't return requests for comment.
But a recent report from Reuters, which doesn't cite any sources, suggests that the social media site is developing a robo offering for its 100 million daily users.
You'd have to wonder if users should expect their investments to expire as quickly as their chats. (For the non-Snapchat user who is befuddled by this joke, images and videos shared on Snapchat are deleted seconds after they are viewed).
Snapchat's got one thing going for them — those millions of users are pretty much all millennials, that coveted population segment that everyone in the financial industry seems to be falling over to claim.
"They do have the eyeballs," says Alois Pirker, research director for Aite Group's Wealth Management practice. "That might be one way to monetize it beyond advertisements."
Does it actually make sense?
In some ways, the promise of tapping Snapchat's millennial users resembles the basic premise behind the reported $250M tie-up between Northwest Mutual and Learnvest, Pirker says.
"Learnvest had 1 million and a half eyeballs," Pirker says. "They were not paying anything but they were getting recommendations."
Also, taking the pulse of millennials might be a little hard for an industry where the majority of clients and advisors are Baby Boomers entering retirement.
"Today’s young consumer is defined by their affinity for technology and their negative view of established institutions, particularly in the financial services space," says James McGovern, vice president of consulting services at Corporate Insight.
"Young people would rather bank or invest through a technology company than through the big banks and Wall Street firms that serve their parents. We’ve already seen Facebook, Apple and Google all enter the payments space, with a focus on younger consumers. Investing represents the next logical step in this progression. "
The idea of mixing up financial services and social media isn't some groundbreaking idea either: Before it merged with TradeKing in 2012, Zecco was an online brokerage that offered a Facebook app that allowed you to trade stocks.
And there's new platforms such as Openfolio, which are based on social networks, but revolving around self-directed investors sharing investment tips and advice.
Pirker points out though that Snapchat's users didn't come together to trade information about the hottest leveraged ETFs.
And the assumption that Snapchat's users will be willing to pay for a service offered through it has already been tested in some ways. If it can't get its users to pay 99 cents for a photo filter without causing a ruckus, how much potential is there really for selling investment advice?
Then there is the special joy that is dealing with regulators. The social media company surely has the money to spend to go through all the legal hoops and hurdles to get an investment offering approved. But is the headache worth it?
The timing couldn't be better. The SEC has already said it "is now challenged with thinking through what it means to regulate a robo advisor.” Imagine Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel getting grilled about robo advice. (Maybe he’ll bring along supermodel girlfriend Miranda Kerr.)
Still, somehow, this play could come to fruition, in the time-honored tradition among tech startups of pivoting the business to evolve the company beyond the original premise.
It would be ironic, given that an established financial firm probably provided the biggest motivation for Snapchat to get into the fast-growing digital advice space.
Fidelity marked down the value of Snapchat by 25% in November. Oh, and then literally announced the following week that it was testing its own robo advice platform, Fidelity Go. So the pressure's on Snapchat to come with actual revenue streams as VC euphoria blows over.
Is Snapchat the way to bring investment advice to the millennial masses?
"I'm skeptical," Pirker says. "There's got to be some level of credibility on the investment side. Not that it couldn’t be tried. I think maybe I'm too old. I find it odd to make an investment decision on social media."
Maybe not on their own then, but maybe Snapchat could be an attractive pick up for a financial firm in the ongoing churn of M&A activity we're witnessing in the digital advice space? Don't forget all those millennial eyeballs.
How does this sound: Snapchat Advisor, brought to you by Prudential.
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