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Article from SFGate.

Americans have missed out on almost $200 billion of stock gains as they drained money from the market in the past four years, haunted by the financial crisis.

Assets in equity mutual, exchange-traded and closed-end funds increased about 85 percent to $5.6 trillion since the bull market began in March 2009, trailing the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index’s 94 percent advance, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Morningstar Inc. The proportion of retirement funds in stocks fell about 0.5 percentage point, compared with an average rise of 8.2 percentage points in rallies since 1990.

The retreat shows that even the biggest gain since 1998 failed to heal investor confidence after the financial collapse that wiped out $11 trillion in U.S. equity value was followed by record price swings in equities, a market breakdown that briefly erased $862 billion in share value and the slowest recovery from a recession since World War II. Individuals are withdrawing money as political leaders struggle to avert budget cuts that threaten to throw the economy into a new slump.

“Our biggest liability in the stock market has been the total destruction to confidence,” said James Paulsen, the chief investment strategist at Minneapolis-based Wells Capital Management, which oversees about $325 billion. “There’s just so much evidence of this recovery broadening.”

Weekly gain

The S&P 500 climbed 1.2 percent to 1,430.15 last week, extending the 2012 gain to 14 percent, led by financial stocks and consumer companies. The benchmark index from American equity has risen from a low of 676.53 on March 9, 2009, though it is still 8.6 percent below its record high on Oct. 9, 2007. The gauge dropped 0.2 percent to 1,426.66 on Monday.

Now, much of the damage to investors is self-inflicted as U.S. growth improves and companies whose earnings are most tied to economic expansion reap the biggest rewards. Of the 500 companies in the benchmark index, 481 are higher now than they were in March 2009 or when they entered the gauge.

Expedia Inc., the Bellevue, Wash.-based online travel agency, rallied 577 percent, leading consumer discretionary companies to the biggest advance from 2009 through the third quarter. Capital One Financial Corp. rose 39 percent this year as the McLean, Va.-based lender posted profit that beat projections by 19 percent last quarter.

PulteGroup Inc., the largest U.S. home-builder by revenue, more than doubled this year after the Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based company had its biggest annual earnings increase in 2012 and the housing market rebounded.

Individuals are selling into the rally, cutting the proportion of assets in stocks to 72 percent from 72.5 percent in 2009, according to 401(k) and IRA mutual fund data from the Washington-based Investment Company Institute compiled by Bloomberg. The data is for all equities, bonds and hybrid funds, and excludes money markets. Investors are lowering the proportion of stocks they own in retirement funds during a bull market for the first time in 20 years.

Safer investments

The percentage of households owning stock mutual funds has also fallen, dropping every year since 2008 to 46.4 percent in 2011, the second-lowest since 1997, according to the latest ICI annual mutual fund survey.

Money has gone to the relative safety of fixed-income investments. Managers who specialize in corporate bonds and Treasuries have received nearly $1 trillion in fresh cash since March 2009, ICI data show. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke‘s zero percent interest-rate policy and the lowest inflation in almost 50 years have helped spur a 29 percent rally in debt securities since President Obama’s first term began, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch‘s U.S. Corporate and Government Index through the third quarter.

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Article from TechCrunch.

Dave McClure’s 500 Startups is looking for participants to join its next incubator program, which will run from October through January. And for the first time ever, it’s going to open the process up to allow anyone to apply. To help it get through the process, 500 Startups Accelerator will be using AngelList, making it the first incubator to leverage the platform for applications.

McClure told me that historically, the program has avoided having an open application process and instead has taken on Accelerator startups only through referrals. So far, that has worked out just fine for 500 Startups: It’s had four successful incubator programs, usually with 20 to 35 startups participating.

As a result, McClure & Co. have been able to avoid the frustrating, time-consuming process of reviewing applications. That said, McClure told me that, while referrals have helped it to find a ton of interesting startups — and avoid sorting through a lot of crap — he also recognized that he’s probably missed a few that might not have been part of his network.

That’s where AngelList comes in. The professional network for startups and investors will help 500 Startups vet applicants through a mix of algorithmic ranking and curation from mentors and others. The AngelList platform will help speed up the process by weeding out unqualified applicants. It will also allow 500 Startups to scale up the application process without having to manually review all the applications by hand.

Not everyone in the next class will come from AngelList — 500 Startups expects to choose between five and 10 startups through this process. It’s already picked a few to participate and is reviewing several others. But McClure said that it was important to open up the applications process in a way that would allow it to review companies that it might not have seen. That’s especially important because so much of 500 Startups’ focus is on startups that are somewhat non-typical, for instance those that are in international markets.

In addition to opening up the application process, 500 Startups is changing the terms of its investment for companies that have already raised some funding. Typically, it provides $50,000 for 5 percent of equity, with an option for up to $200,000 in later rounds. But companies that have raised at least $250,000 will be able to join the program for only 3 to 4 percent of equity.

The fifth 500 Startups Accelerator will begin in October, with Demo Days in late January or early February. Companies interested in applying can do so on AngelList at angel.co/500startups.

Read more here.

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Article from GigaOm.

Spotify's Daniel Ek And Martin Lorentzon

Spotify more than doubled its revenue through 2011/12 after expanding to new countries like the U.S.. But the cost of doing so ballooned by the same proportion. The company spent 97 percent of the the €187.8 million it earned. So annual loss widened to €45.4 million.

In its 2011/12 Luxembourg filing, the company acknowledges: “In a low-margin business dependent on rapid growth to cover fixed costs, it is crucial that the group continues to penetrate existing and new markets as quickly as possible…”

With economics like this, global scale may be the only thing that can make Spotify truly sing. But, with Asia and Latin America build-out next on the horizon, it could be at least another year before roll-out costs ebb to the point where profitability is remotely in sight.

If Spotify is not yet a successful business, it is nevertheless a strategically significant one for others in the music industry. It has become the number-two income source for some labels in some countries. More interesting, however, is its direct relationship with labels, the four majors of which are believed to own 18 percent of the firm.

Through that relationship and through Spotify’s underlying API and third-party apps initiatives, it could yet become the industry’s de facto streaming platform – a fabric used by a thousand other services; part-operated by the labels themselves. As one friend described it to me: “A social not-for-profit for the good of the music industry, a rights clearing house.”

Herein may lay a dilemma…

As Spotify continues laying the costly groundwork for global dominance of subscription streaming, it needs more funding to make up for what is, so far, its unsustainability.

“To cover losses during the expansion phase, the group has been financed by existing and new equity owners,” Spotify’s Luxembourg filing says. “We cannot exclude the need or desire to raise more funds in the future.”

The problem is, if Spotify takes a fifth investment round to go on globalising, as has been rumoured, that could dilute the equity of its most vital partners – the labels.

To the labels, their stake is likely of more strategic than financial value – as already stated, they are helping create a digital streaming API that could bear great fruit. So they may want to hang on to the influence that they currently have.

If a new investment in Spotify diluted the labels, they may start charging Spotify more standard royalty rates, rather than the favourable rates it is believed it has been granted until now. That could mean Spotify’s costs escalate still further.

Spotify could dodge this problem by attracting investors only to spin-off regional subsidiaries in its next two target markets – Asia and Latin America – thereby ringfencing its core from dilution.

Four years after its foundation, trailblazing Spotify is the music business’ greatest chance at meaningful new revenue in a digital generation. But it remains to be seen exactly to whom it will provide the most value.

The well-run company is investing heavily in what could become a very valuable global business. But, until its international expansion is completed, we will be hard-pressed to ascertain its true value.

Read more here.

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Article from GigaOm.

Venture capital investments picked up significantly this quarter, with a 37 percent increase in funding and 3 percent increase in deals over the previous quarter. The period also saw strong emphasis on mobile investments and seed funding, according to a report released by CB Insights. There was a total of $8.1 billion in financing for 812 companies, the highest totals since Q2 of 2001.

About 13 percent of the activity — or 102 deals — was in the mobile sector, marking an all-time high, with 30 percent of those companies involved in photo or video technology.

“Without being too self-congratulatory, the Instagram Effect we speculated about in Q1 2012 seems to have taken shape as the mobile sector saw 102 deals, an all-time high… For skeptics, it may also be indicative of a VC herd mentality. Time will tell.”

Below is a breakdown of investments by dollar amounts in the different subsets of mobile and telecom industry:

Some other highlights from the report include:

  • Seed investing also hit an all-time high, with 22 percent of all deals happening at the seed stage this quarter, as compared to 12 percent from the same quarter in 2011.
  • The most successful sectors with respect to number of deals were internet companies with 46 percent, healthcare at 17 percent, and mobile and telecommunications at 13 percent. With respect to dollars in funding, the top sectors were internet at 38 percent and healthcare and “other” each at 19 percent.
  • 50 percent of deals occurred at either seed funding or Series A rounds, although they made up only 19 percent of funding dollars.
  • California took the most number of deals per state at 45 percent of deals, up from 40 percent in Q1. New York remained in second place with 10 percent of deals, and Massachusetts in third place with 9 percent.

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Article from GigaOm.

“I meet a lot of owners of midmarket IT services companies who almost immediately ask me, “What is my company worth?” Even those who don’t ask want to know often ask.

It’s a fair question, with a complicated answer. I can do a back of the envelope calculation and determine the enterprise value of a company today based on 12 months trailing revenue or perhaps a multiple of EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization). But the real value of a company is based less on its past performance than on its potential worth to a future owner. What the buyer can bring to the party and how well its management believes it can execute the acquisition and business strategy going forward is where a company’s true value resides and where the domain expertise or strategy comes into play.

Case in point: In 1996, IBM bought Tivoli Systems for $743 million, paying about 10 times trailing revenue. Many analysts concluded at the time of the sale that IBM grossly overpaid for the asset. Within a year, IBM was able to leverage Tivoli into almost a billion dollars in revenue. Just like beauty, value is in the eye of the beholder. Tivoli had more value to IBM than Tivoli had to itself at the time. So did IBM pay 10 times revenue or less than one times revenue for Tivoli?

Unfortunately, I don’t have a crystal ball. So I don’t know what potential buyers can do to leverage a company’s value. And a calculation on the back of an envelope almost always fails to satisfy.

Here is something else the owners I talk with really don’t want to hear: Chances are they have taken actions that over time have eroded — or even destroyed — the value of their company without even realizing it. In my last post for GigaOM, I wrote about “5 things that destroy a company’s value.” In this post and in future posts, I’m going to examine these value killers one at a time in greater detail.

Today, my topic is opportunistic acquisitions. And to be clear, my message is for owners of midmarket companies who are interested in making acquisitions designed to increase their own value. In doing so, they hope to become attractive acquisition candidates to buyers in the future.

Acquisitions fail 70 to 90 percent of the time

If you search for the phrase “acquisition failure rates,” you’ll be treated to study after study that peg failure rates at somewhere between 70 percent and 90 percent. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find articles enumerating the many reasons most acquisitions don’t work.

Nearly all of these reasons can be boiled down to two:

  1. The acquisition was a bad match between what the seller had and what the buyer could do to create value. The bad match often occurs because the buyer was fooled, misled, or overlooked key points of the deal, or the buyer simply suffered from hubris.
  2.  The buyer did a poor job of integrating the acquisition and executing on the business strategy designed for its new asset.

In both situations, acquisitions fail because the buyer doesn’t really know what or why it’s buying — let alone what to do with the acquisition.

Think about when HP bought Compaq or when Time Warner bought AOL.

Of course there are companies that are successful with acquisitions. Cisco has acquired 150 companies since its first acquisition in 1993. In fact, acquisitions are a core competency of Cisco — few companies are better at it.

Cisco’s purchases are fueled by the desire to speed up the rate at which the company can offer new technologies in a market that is hyper-competitive and evolving rapidly.

Not all of Cisco’s acquisitions are hits. Remember the Flip video camera that Cisco shut down in 2011? But many were successful, especially in the early days. At the peak of its acquisition activity in 2001, Cisco’s purchases were widely credited with laying the foundation for about half of its business at the time.

The secret to Cisco’s fruitful acquisitions is its ability to successfully onboard companies. Cisco employs a full-time staff solely focused on integrating new companies into the fold — instead of haphazardly assembling part-time transition teams whose members are all busy with their regular jobs.

In terms of strategy and execution, Oracle is even better at acquisitions. The company has spent billions on about 90 companies since its acquisition of PeopleSoft closed in 2005. Oracle’s chief skills are identifying companies that fit well into its longterm business strategy at the front end of the process, and its ability to integrate and act on these strategies at the back end. In 2011, readers of The Deal Magazine recognized Oracle’s track record with an award for most admired corporate dealmaker in information technology for deals completed from 2008 to 2010.

Until late in 2011, Oracle’s acquisition drive was to create the broadest portfolio of traditional enterprise software applications in the industry. With the company’s $1.5 billion acquisition of SaaS CRM applications provider RightNow Technologies (announced in September 2011 and completed in January 2012), Oracle now hopes to work its magic in the SaaS market. Oracle paid more than seven times trailing revenue for RightNow. I bet that in the next year or two, Oracle will make that multiple look like a bargain — just like when IBM bought Tivoli.

Still, Cisco, Oracle and other exceptions to the rule underscore the difficulty of making acquisitions work. It’s even harder when an acquisition happens because a buyer is presented with an unexpected “opportunity” and management decides it’s just “too good to pass up.” These so-called “opportunistic” acquisitions often lead to disappointment or disaster.

The reasons for failure are obvious. Acquirers lured by such a passive approach often have no clearly defined goals, have not thought through the attributes of ideal acquisition candidates, have done little or no pre-acquisition planning, and suffer from a lack of choice.

It reminds me of people who go to Las Vegas for the weekend and end up married. Getting married in Nevada is quick, easy and relatively inexpensive. All you need is a marriage license — no blood tests and no waiting period. And there is a wedding chapel on every corner.

Of course, when you wake up the next morning, there may be hell to pay.

I know. I’ve been there. Not in Las Vegas on the morning after, but at an organization that for many years only bought companies that showed up on its doorstep. We had no strategy and no process for integrating acquisitions into the mothership. I’m convinced that if the owner of the neighborhood car wash had offered us a “good” deal, we’d have taken it.

So here’s my advice for owners of companies seeking to enhance their value through opportunistic acquisitions. Acquisitions can do a lot of good. They can add to your growth and earnings, speed your entry into new markets, allow you to acquire human capital or intellectual property more quickly, and lower your costs through economies of scale. All of these things have the potential to increase the value of your company to a prospective buyer.

But just like marriage, acquisitions should never be decided on a whim. And you should never buy a company just because it’s for sale. Frankly, companies that are not for sale offer juicier profits and are likely a better strategic fit. Better to take some of that money and go have fun with it in Las Vegas.

And if you go there, don’t get married.”

Read more here.

 

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Article from Fenwick & West.

Background—We analyzed the terms of venture financings for 114 companies headquartered in Silicon Valley that reported raising money in the first quarter of 2012.

Overview of Fenwick & West Results

  • Up rounds exceeded down rounds in 1Q12, 65% to 22%, with 13% of rounds flat. This showed continued solid valuations in the venture environment, although a small drop off from 3Q11 and 4Q11, when 70% of rounds were up rounds. This was the eleventh quarter in a row in which up rounds exceeded down rounds.
  • The Fenwick & West Venture Capital Barometer™ showed an average price increase of 52% in 1Q12, a decline from the 85% reported in 4Q11, but still a solid showing.
  • We note some weakness in late stage financing (Series E and higher) valuations, where 37% of the financings were down rounds and the Barometer reported only a 12% increase. Series B financings were also not as frothy as they have been, with a Barometer reading of 58%, the lowest since 4Q09, but still very solid.

The results by industry are set forth below. In general software and digital media/internet companies continued to see the strongest valuation increases, with hardware and life sciences lagging.

Overview of Other Industry Data

  • Venture valuations were healthy, but investment was down.
  • M&A valuations were up, but the number of deals was down.
  • Venture fundraising was mixed, but corporate venture investing was up.
  • IPOs were up, and the passage of the JOBS Act is a further encouraging signal for the public market, but continuing global financial uncertainty, especially in Europe, is a concern.

So what is the take-away? Venture fundraising continues to be problematic, and likely contributed to the decreased venture investment the last two quarters. However with IPOs improving, and interest rates still extremely low, there is reason to believe that venture fundraising will improve, if the global economic environment doesn’t further increase risk averseness. The M&A market slowed a bit in 1Q12, possibly to give participants a chance to evaluate the improvement in IPOs, and its possible effect on valuations, but corporate America has plenty to spend, evidenced by their increasing participation in venture investment. And the areas of entrepreneurial focus and innovation are broad, with mobile, cloud, security, big data and of course social media all attracting substantial attention.

Venture Capital Investment.

  • Venture capital investment in the U.S. declined for the second quarter in a row, with the decline evident in most major industry segments, including internet/digital media.
  • Dow Jones VentureSource (“VentureSource”) reported $6.2 billion of venture investment in 717 deals in 1Q12, a 16% decline in dollars from the $7.4 billion invested in 803 deals in 4Q11 (as reported in January 2012).
  • The PwC/NVCA MoneyTree™ Report based on data from Thomson Reuters (the “MoneyTree Report”) reported $5.8 billion of venture investment in 758 deals in 1Q12, a 12% decline from the $6.6 billion invested in 844 deals in 4Q11 (as reported in January 2012).

Merger and Acquisitions Activity.

  • M&A activity for venture-backed companies had mixed results in 1Q12, with deal volume declining for the second quarter in a row, to the lowest quarterly amount since 2009, but with Dow Jones reporting a significant increase in deal proceeds.
  • Dow Jones reported 94 acquisitions of venture-backed companies in 1Q12 for $18.1 billion, a 12% decline in transaction volume, but a 93% increase in dollars, from the 107 transactions for $9.4 billion in 4Q11 (as reported in January 2012).
  • Thomson Reuters and the NVCA (“Thomson/NVCA”) reported 86 transactions in 1Q12, a 7% decline from the 92 reported in 4Q11 (as reported in January 2012). Sixty-eight of the 86 deals were in the IT sector.
  • Dealogic reported that Google, Facebook, Groupon and Zynga purchased a combined 34 companies in 1Q12 (not necessarily all venture-backed).

IPO Activity.

  • IPO activity for venture-backed companies improved again in 1Q12, which was the best quarter for number of IPOs since 4Q07.
  • VentureSource reported 20 venture-backed IPOs raising $1.4 billion in 1Q12, compared to 10 IPOs raising $2.4 billion in 4Q11 (as reported in January 2012). There were 50 companies in registration at the end of the quarter.

We note that the new law that permits confidential IPO filings may delay future information on the number of companies in registration, as a substantial number of companies appear to be taking advantage of this alternative.

Thomson/NVCA reported 19 IPOs for $1.5 billion in 1Q12, compared to 12 IPOs raising $2.6 billion in 4Q11. Eleven of the IPOs were in IT and five in healthcare, and 95% were U.S.-based companies.

Venture Capital Fundraising.

  • Industry sources reported conflicting fundraising results for 1Q12, with Dow Jones reporting an increase in dollars raised and Thomson/NVCA reporting a decline. Taking an average of the two, venture capital fundraising and venture capital investing were approximately equal this quarter, but the number of funds raising money continues to be low.
  • Dow Jones reported that 47 U.S. venture funds raised $7 billion in 1Q12, a 35% increase in dollars over the $5.2 billion that was raised in 4Q11 (as reported in January 2012).

Thomson/NVCA reported that 42 U.S. venture capital funds raised $4.9 billion in 1Q12, a 13% decrease in dollars over the $5.6 billion raised by 38 U.S. funds in 4Q12 (as reported in January 2012). The top 5 fundraisers accounted for 75% of the total amount raised, with Andreessen Horowitz raising $1.5 billion and leading the way.

Secondary Markets.

  • The secondary market for venture-backed company shares is in uncharted waters.
  • The recently passed JOBS Act made filing for an IPO more appealing to companies, which could decrease the number of late stage private companies whose shares would be available for secondary trading. However, the Act also increased the maximum number of shareholders that private companies could have before registering with the SEC, which allows private companies to stay private longer, which could increase the pool of late stage private companies whose shares would be available for secondary trading.
  • Additionally, Facebook, which accounted for a large percentage of the trading on secondary exchanges, and whose shares were also purchased by secondary funds, just went public, and secondary trading of their shares ended at the end of March 2012.
  • And the venture-backed IPO market seems to be improving in general, providing more opportunity for late stage private companies to go public.
  • Second Market reported that issuers were the buyer in 54% of second market transactions, but only accounted for 1.7% of transaction proceeds, suggesting that issuers are using Second Market to purchase small amounts of shares from numerous sellers, likely to limit their number of shareholders.

Corporate Venture Capital.

  • With a challenging venture fundraising environment, we thought it would be useful to provide some information on corporate venture capital (“CVC”).
  • In general, CVC declined precipitously in 2009 as a result of the stock market decline and global financial problems in 2008. Since then it has rebounded significantly with corporate venture investment increasing from $1.4 billion in 2009 to $2.0 billion in 2010 to $2.3 billion in 2011. Similarly, CVCs participated in 12.7% of all venture deals in 2009, 13.6% in 2010 and 14.9% in 2011. That said, these amounts significantly lag 2007, the best year for CVC in the past decade, when CVCs invested $2.6 billion and participated in 19% of deals (data from the MoneyTree Report).
  • While companies like Intel and Cisco have long been significant players in CVC investing, it will be interesting to see how heavily the current wave of major Silicon Valley companies participate in CVC. One indiciation is that Google started Google Ventures two years ago with the goal of investing $100 million a year, and has invested in 20 start-ups through March 2012. (Data from San Jose Mercury)
  • Another indication of CVC activity is that the number of CVCs who are members of the NVCA has grown from 50 to 62 members in the past year, and now comprises 7% of the total membership. (Data from Dow Jones VentureWire)
  • CVC investment seems more focused in industries with large capital requirements like cleantech and biotech, which accounted for 23% and 16% of CVC investment respectively in 2010/2011, than are independent venture capitalists. (Data from the MoneyTree Report)

Venture Capital Sentiment.

The Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist Confidence Index® produced by Professor Mark Cannice at the University of San Francisco reported that the confidence level of Silicon Valley venture capitalists was 3.79 on a 5 point sale in 1Q12, a significant increase from the 3.27 reported in 4Q11, and the first increase in four quarters.

Nasdaq.
Nasdaq increased 16% in 1Q12, but has declined 10% in 2Q12 through May 21.

Read more here.

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Article from GigaOm.

SigFig, a product born from portfolio tracker Wikinvest, is finally launching formally Tuesday, offering to make understanding investments easy. The free service, which has been in beta, allows users to sync all their investments and monitor them in real-time from one dashboard with extensive analysis conducted in the background to help find where users can save money.

SigFig syncs with about 70 brokerages and is already tracking $30 billion in investments, carried over from Wikinvest. The service can show a user’s positions — both current and historical — and also figures out how much they’re paying in fees. There’s also a way to see asset allocation and forecasted dividends and risks. The service is still invite-only but GigaOM readers can get access by going here.

The heart of the service is the advice component, which is possible because SigFig is a registered investment advisor. The service can tell users how much they are paying for options trading and what they can save on trading fees by switching to another brokerage. SigFig can dig into the past results and risk ratings of funds and determining how it’s done  historically. And then it can recommend better performing exchange traded funds.

And for users who rely on someone to manage their funds, SigFig can tell if they’re getting their money’s worth. Some brokers steer their client’s investments toward products that pay the largest commission but is not always the best performing fund, said SigFig co-founder and president Parker Conrad.

“We can show you where your advisor falls with everyone else on the platform,” he said. “We can tell if your advisor is overcharging or underperforming. About 25 percent are in that quadrant and the more expensive guys are not always better.”

SigFig CEO and co-founder Mike Sha said the idea is to bring high quality advice and analytics to all investors, not just those that can afford the best service. He said SigFig can offer a more data-driven approach to investing that can go beyond the current abilities of human advisors.

SigFig makes its money, in some cases, by getting referral fees from brokerages. Some advisors also provide a percentage of their management fees to SigFig for sending them clients. But the company said it relies on the best data to make recommendations and referrals and isn’t guided by potential revenue.

SigFig, Simple and Personal Capital, another wealth management service that launched last year, are showing how technology can make finance more transparent and understandable for consumers. Finance is still largely a human-driven business that can lead to a lot of mistrust, especially when Wall Street puts profits over customer service. With next generation financial tools, there’s the hope of more data-driven, transparent services that offer potentially cheaper and more accessible financial advice.

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