Shortly after he was married, Gino Heilizer, to his dismay, came across an unused rotary cheese grater that had been relegated to the bottom of a kitchen drawer. Surely, he thought, he and his wife were not the only newlyweds who had received more than a few frivolous wedding presents.
It donned on him that it would make better sense for a new couple to build up an investment portfolio for their future than to collect quirky gifts.
In February 1999, eight months after the cheese grater epiphany, Heilizer quit his job as an underwriter of real estate loans at GE Capital of Stamford, Conn. and began work on developing a web-based broker/dealer gift registry service that went online earlier this year. Called StockGift.com, the service registers people for mutual funds and stocks that they would like to receive as presents for weddings, baby showers, graduation, bar/bat mitzvahs, birthdays or other special occasions.
"Eighty-five percent of couples sign up for some gift registry or other, and nine out of ten said they would prefer to receive money than presents but don't know how to ask," Heilizer said.
StockGift.com allows people to register for shares in any publicly-traded stock and from among 50 funds from Vanguard of Malvern, Pa., T. Rowe Price of Baltimore and Janus of Denver. Heilizer selected these three companies for their name recognition and broad investment offerings.
StockGift.com assigns each registrant their own password-protected section at its web page, where friends and family can view what funds and stocks a registrant wants. StockGift.com also asks registrants to include a brief note to friends and family telling them why they have opted for an investment present, to make the service more personal, Heilizer said. Friends and family can then contribute to the registrant's portfolio in any amount they wish through an online transaction by credit card, or by phone, Heilizer said. Funds are transferred from gift givers to StockGift.com which then purchases funds or securities according to the recipient's directions.
StockGift.com informs registrants' prospective gift-givers about its registry service by mailing notices either by regular mail, or by e-mail, Heilizer said. Each time money is sent to the registry, StockGift.com will send the purchaser a gift certificate that he can give to the recipient, while also simultaneously e-mailing notification of the purchase to the registrant, Heilizer said.
StockGift.com does not charge for registering or contributing to a portfolio, but makes money from a $19.95 per trade transaction fee, charged to the registrant. Registrants can instruct StockGift.com to invest the money as it comes in, or in increments, to save on transaction fees.
The brokerage firm distributes money equally among the various investments in a registrant's portfolio, unless a registrant directs funds to be allocated in other percentages, Heilizer said.
More than 150 people have registered with StockGift.com since it began operating in late February, Heilizer said. Although stockgift.com has only sold $250,000 worth of funds, Heilizer is pleased with sales so far and is confident his business will pick up in the next few months, since most people registered with his service are couples whose wedding dates are many months away. Heilizer hopes to raise $3 million over the next 12 months, he said.
Heilizer said he has not been in contact with Janus, T. Rowe Price or Vanguard. He arranged to sell funds from these firms through Miller, Johnson & Kuehn, a clearing firm in Minneapolis. Spokespeople from the three fund complexes declined to comment on StockGift.com.
However, the general press, including Newsweek and The Washington Post, have written favorable articles about the new service. The media attention has helped build traffic to StockGift.com's website which has had as many as 10,000 hits a day, Heilizer said.
Geoffrey Bobroff, president of Bobroff Consulting of East Greenwich, R.I., thinks StockGift.com is an interesting concept but that it will be hard pressed to become profitable.
"It's pretty bold for someone to register for funds and stocks, and may be perceived as a little tacky," Bobroff said.