"An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest."
(Benjamin Franklin, 1706 - 1790, Statesman, Writer, Scientist)
Brussels in the Rain
In the late Noughties I found myself in a meeting in the grey surrounds of the Berlaymont Building in Brussels, which houses the officialdom of the European Union. It was a dreary day, the rain splattering the windows outside, as I tried to persuade the EU Commission not to overcomplicate its now notorious MiFID II regulation.
This was long before "Brexit", and EU regulation mattered even more to the international financial community then, so there I was, sipping lukewarm instant coffee from a brown plastic cup. Those were different times: the immediate aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis was still reverberating, Biden was Vice-President, the US and its allies had just poured 17,000 more troops in to Afghanistan, Russia had invaded Georgia, Quantitative Easing was causing huge activity in financial markets, and Boris Johnson was Mayor of London.
My suggestions to the Commission were greeted with strong resistance, and as readers with any first-hand experience of it will know, MiFID II became and remains a needlessly complicated set of rules which are in some areas downright unhelpful to the people who's life they were supposed to improve. Amongst other things it inadvertently reduced the amount and quality of investment research available to institutional investors.
The Information Game
What surprised me was that one of the Commission's key claims was that large financial institutions had inadequate access to financial information. The financial world was awash with information and data, and it was visible to everyone professionally involved in finance; all one needed in those days was a Bloomberg or Reuters (now Refinitiv) terminal and all the information you could possibly wish to see was there. Since the 1980's financial services had been an industry where front line employees used "computers" as a matter of course, and these same networks had dominated the financial information space ever since.
However, the Commission's broad stance - irrational though it seemed to the industry at the time - contained a legitimate point: for anyone not sitting in front of a Bloomberg terminal all day - a government trying to regulate finance, smaller investment funds, investment advisors, companies and individual investors - all that information might as well not exist. It was literally invisible, it didn't exist on the Web1.0 version of the internet, and unless you worked in a specific role in a major financial institution such as an international bank or asset management firm you were unlikely to have even heard of Bloomberg, let alone used the eponymous orange and black information network that one needed to go on a course to know how to operate, and employ a specialist IT team to set up.
And the other point about that era of financial information was that the origin of the underlying information itself was another part of the same wholesale financial community; so in terms of both access and technology infrastructure there was a closed loop of information creation and consumption within the ivory tower of high finance.
As I stepped back out in to the Brussels drizzle to find a taxi and gaze at emails on my Blackberry my mind was preoccupied with who has access to information, and where information comes from. That preoccupation was to last.
Let the People In
A lot has changed since that moment of realization; mainly, it must be said, due to technology not regulators. For a start we all now have smartphones; the iPhone only became available in June 2007, which for a guy like me feels like yesterday. Armed with that smartphone distribution network, disruptive technology has put the ability to trade shares in to all of our pockets; and not just shares, now also digital assets that reside on the blockchain.
The scale and pace of the democratization of trading in investments has been truly staggering: crypto investing platform Coinbase (at last count) had 73million certified users, up from circa 20m in 2018, and share-dealing apps Robinhood and eToro have nearly 50million between them. And all this demographic activity created plenty of noise and heat on the Web2.0 social media platforms; Reddit fueled the meme-stock boom and Twitter is now genuinely a location for serious thinkers and observers to build an investment or business track-record in public. For the hard core DeFI crowd there is Discord and Mirror.xyz, where posts reside forever indestructible and uncensored on blockchain.
There are now 1,000x more people with access to democratized trading tools than there are Bloomberg users. So the old system of a closed loop of participation and therefore information has been broken, and broken in an incredibly short period of time.
The Insights Multiverse
Web2.0 let's us freely give away opinions - be they good, bad or indifferent - but what that has showed is that within the noise there was a growing population of people with thoughtful ideas and interesting observations that might be worth paying attention to. The big banks might still not be willing to give their investment insights to anyone other than their largest institutional clients, but a single person, with big bank experience or equivalent quality can now reach anyone who is searching for guidance on how to think about their personal investments. And what is interesting about the decline in sell-side research (assisted by our old friend MiFID II) and the shifting participation in digital assets in particular, is that the traditional community of finance now needs different sources of information as well.
The platform "gateway" model of distributing and consuming information is not dead - Bloomberg and the rest remain highly relevant dispite their cost and complexity - but the self-creator-owner model of Web3.0 will interact with the traditional world: it must in fact. The democratization of trading tools has put personal investing in the hands of hundreds of millions of people, and there needs to be an organized information layer to support their decision making, and indeed manage the information flow from the big-finance world to that new and growing community, and vice versa. Think how wrongfooted some hedge funds were by the GameStop saga, despite having access to all the traditional sources of market intelligence that have served them well for decades.
The new wave of tech will therefore (a) enable the organized recovery of investment insights from the unstructured and massively growing pool of people who now participate in investing, (b) provide high-quality sources of insight hitherto only available to professional investors to anyone who needs them, and (c) diversify the number of valuable sources of insight and perspective to the large institutions. So all users of information will have much more control and choice about what they need and when they need it; everyone will have their own personalized information universe.
Why we built Scriber
We already built and own the Tellimer Insights platform, which is a lightweight tech that gives research analysts publication, distribution and analytics tools, and people searching for insights a discoverable route in to investment insights from any device anywhere. Because anyone can sign up to access Tellimer Insights it already spans the old closed world and newly opened community, but we needed to go further to solve the information problem.
So we built Scriber as a creator stack for people writing on investing; giving them a professional grade set of tools to write, distribute and paywall their own insights, and to make it discoverable on the web; and in due course interact with their subscribers and generate and link data more easily. We fully expect top writers using Scriber to be able to distribute their content to institutional readers via Tellimer Insights - and even Bloomberg if they wish - as well as to anyone searching on social or the web.
We also believe there are opportunities in the future to create a native token to incentivize both writers and readers, and more broadly to make information more available and market participants better financially equipped. And to let more people share in the success of our mission to make difficult to find and understand investment information easier to find and understand.
The new information wave is coming, building since that day in the rain in Brussels. This is written using Scriber; it is currently in BETA, and free for you to use.