Silvan Schumacher is the CEO and co-founder of a FinTech startup Swanest, an investment portfolio factory which empowers DIY investors through the automated allocation of assets in order to optimize returns and control risk. In today’s interview for Magazine MN, Silvan talks about his entrepreneurial journey and lessons learned, shares more insights into how Swanest works and how this tool will support the growing trend of DIY investing.
Magazine MN: Silvan, tell us a bit about your background. What did you do before you decided to become an entrepreneur?
Silvan: In a nutshell, exploring the world and finding my destiny. In regard to my education, I was given the chance to follow a double degree at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. My Master in International Management brought me to institutions like Ernst & Young in Zurich and the American consultancy Hay Group in Indonesia. My second degree opened up doors in the field of International Relations. I ended up working for the United Nations in Lebanon.
On this journey I was always in the search to find my personal fulfillment. However, I could not find it. But what I realized during this time was the importance of money in our society. It connects the private with the public world, makes things go round and determines the life of people. However, only a few actually understand it.
This is why I started to deep dive into the monetary system and the financial services industry. My conclusion - a flawed system that rips off people in many ways.
This was the moment I found my destiny and entrepreneurship was the way to live up to it, simply because it gives me the freedom to shape the world how I imagine it to be, a world in which people are put at the heart of financial services, and not the other way around.
Magazine MN: What’s the greatest business lesson you’ve learnt so far?
Silvan: Build, measure, learn with a brilliant team. Our team had the chance to participate in the startup accelerator program NestUP in Belgium. The coaches of the program focused a lot on making us applying the lean startup philosophy: in short cycles a startup develops prototypes, measures the feedback in the market and gains understanding of how to further develop its products and services. I learned that this philosophy combined with a strong team can be a very powerful technique to innovate quicker than anyone else and to build something people need.
Magazine MN: What’s your definition of success?
Silvan: Success is to live up to your dreams. If you find what you want to become and you have the courage and the power to do it, no matter what society or anyone else is telling you, then you are truly successful.
Magazine MN: How do you manage to deal with day-to-day challenges of running a startup?
Silvan: Mastering the challenges. Challenges are plentiful at a startup. Each day you come across new questions: sometimes it is just a little stone put in your way, sometimes in can be a pretty huge rock. The only way to deal with them is to master the challenges no matter what. If there is a will, there is a way.
Magazine MN: As a startup CEO, what’s your favorite productivity hack?
Silvan: The entire team experiences the definition of clear goals at the beginning of the week as it is very useful to make sure that stuff is done.
Magazine MN: Tell us more about Swanest. How does Swanest work? What is your target market?
Silvan: Swanest is an intelligent online investment service. We help DIY investors to easily build and manage portfolios with the support of latest technology.
Our clients benefit in multiple ways. Besides offering a very easy experience to invest in shares, ETFs and bonds, we help to increase returns, manage investment risk and to lower the tax bill. On top of that, we offer a conflict free advice of investment products that our clients can trade for free. We do not take any third party commissions. We will most probably launch in the UK, but our aspirations go beyond this market.
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Magazine MN: How big is the team of Swanest?
Silvan: We are currently four co-founders: Youri Tolstoy, Cyril Lequeux, Nicolas Bindels and myself. Each of us brings in unique capabilities to the team. I met Nicolas when I was on an exchange semester in Belgium. He and the others had already founded a software development company. Because we all shared a big passion for entrepreneurship and financial technology, we decided to join forces.
Magazine MN: In your opinion, why DIY investing has become so popular and how will Swanest help to support this growing trend?
Silvan: The movement of democratizing investing, financial advice and asset management takes roots in different reasons.
One of the major catalysts was the global financial crisis. People realized that the financial sector is enriching itself with non-transparent practices for which they get bailed out when it goes bad with taxpayer money. In the search of new possibilities to secure their financial futures, more and more people started to invest themselves.
Furthermore, technology has enforced this trend. The Internet made investing as accessible and as easy as never before. Also fees and account minimums were put under pressure, making investing suddenly attractive to a broader range of people.
Also the Millennials keep reinforcing the trend. A generation of self-directed young men and women wants to take on more responsibility, also in the area of personal finance.
In the future, I do not expect this trend to slow down. Following the financial crisis, the regulatory entities put in place a bunch of new regulations. On the one hand, these regulations aim at protecting the consumers. On the other hand, they increase the costs of financial services. It is now the fear that investment advisors will lift their entry bar, in order to keep maintaining their level of profits. Hence, more and more people will not receive quality services anymore and start looking to manage the money themselves.
Unfortunately, not all new investment startups do contribute to a better financial future. For instance, we can observe a raise in platforms on which people can bet on raising and falling exchange rates and share prices. These bets are conducted through derivative financial instruments (CFD) and allow the user to borrow additional money to leverage a bet. You will not hold an actual part of a real value, you just bet as if you were in a casino. Hence, you may easily lose a substantial amount of your money.
Swanest aims at providing the tools needed to build a long term investment strategy in real values, tailored to your preferences and risk profile. Without actually knowing, you will end up investing like a professional financial institution with a long-term focus.
“ Swanest is a combination of swan and nest. The swan is a symbol of fidelity and relationship. The nest is a symbol of someone’s financial nest eggs. Hence, Swanest is about a trustworthy and long-lasting relationship of our customers’ finances.
Magazine MN: Currently, Swanest is in beta. If readers are interested to join beta, how should they proceed and where can they submit their feedback?
Silvan: We have decided to develop our platform openly. Everyone can therefore visit https://swanest.com and explore where the service is heading to.
We invite everyone to tell us their feedback and what they would like to see in the future. Building the product together with our community is of utmost importance to us.
If you have any questions or thoughts to share, simply drop me an email: email@example.com
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Silvan Schumacher was interviewed by Natalie Myhalnytska