An innovative do-it-yourself investment platform is looking to broaden its business by providing high-net-worth-style service to investors who have as little as $50,000.
Five-year-old Covestor Investment Management, which is based in New York and London, started out by providing a website that lets individuals mirror trades made by successful investors. With its new Covestor Wealth offering, it is adding discretionary account management.
"Increasingly we're finding there is a group of people looking for discretionary money management, who say, 'Actually, I'd kind of like some hand-holding and guidance,' " Perry Blacher, Covestor's chief executive, said.
Covestor Wealth is meant to fill the gap between do-it-yourselfers and those who want more advice, the firm said.
Clients can establish a Covestor Wealth account for a minimum of $50,000.
Covestor's chief investment officer then provides one-on-one consultation to help clients formulate their investment approach. Clients have access to 100 model portfolios; day-to-day investment decisions are made by a team of Covestor professionals.
The chief investment officer, Raphael Mennicken, will work directly with investor clients until there are more than he can accommodate, Blacher said.
"Over time we will delegate some of the responsibility," he said. "We're already hiring people for that team."
Covestor Wealth includes regular portfolio reviews and valuations. And its clients, like all Covestor clients, can view their investments and their performance online at any time.
Wealthy investors often need $500,000 or more for separately managed accounts, and much more to consult with a chief investment officer, Blacher said.
"Really what we're doing is bringing that to a mass-affluent audience," he said, adding that the offering, which launched several weeks ago, is in its pilot test stage. "It really seems to resonate with this audience."
Covestor is a registered investment advisory firm whose stated goal is to give the mass affluent access to the kind of wealth management available to the wealthiest investors.
Blacher describes the firm as a sort of "open source hedge fund."
For a minimum investment of $10,000, Covestor clients can mirror the investment strategies of select investors, including professionals, in managed accounts. Covestor had more than $10 million of assets by the end of 2009, but it would not provide an updated figure.
Blacher has said he wants the business to have $1 billion of assets within a few years.
Covestor has attracted the participation of numerous financial advisers, who are paid half the fees the firm collects from investors who mimic its model portfolios.
One of them is Atlas Capital Advisors LLC of San Francisco. The firm provides two models that investors can mirror: A merger arbitrage strategy and a broad-based, core strategy, according to its chief investment officer, Jonathan Tunney.
Thus far, the revenue has not amounted to much, but that's not really the point, Tunney said. "Better than half the reason we're doing it is awareness," he said.
Being on the platform requires little extra work, he said. "We make those trades anyway, so it's not that big a deal for us."
Many advisers to high-net-worth clients said they want to serve mass-affluent clients, but do not have a cost-efficient way to do so.
Covestor can provide part of the solution, Blacher said. But he acknowledges that at present there is no way to provide the financial planning element that is part of most advisers' approach.
"At the moment we support more the stock-picking advisers than the asset allocators," Blacher said.
About 140 models are now available on Covestor, and about 10 are being added a month. Not all are run by professionals. The nonprofessionals range from bankers to ophthalmologists to pilots, according to Covestor. Mirroring-account clients now number more than 1,500, and the average account size is about $50,000, Blacher said.
Meanwhile, Covestor is working to market itself: In December, it began supplying data from its model portfolios to Yahoo's new Market Pulse site, which aggregates investing information from around the Web.
The site is aimed at investors looking to share tips and investing ideas.
Blacher said his firm's participation will help build its brand and increase investor interest in his its offering.