Stock Picking Goes Social as Stockr, aSpark Debut

Finovate conference in New York sees launch of social networks and mobile apps for finance

Compliance issues be damned: tech entrepreneurs are moving full speed ahead into the finance space with social networking and mobile apps.

This week at New York’s Finovate conference, which bills itself as a showcase of the latest innovations in financial and banking technology, dozens of presenters stepped forward with new ideas from startups such as Tuition.IO and Virtual Piggy as well as tested products from old-guard tech firms such as Fiserv and Thomson Reuters.

But two new launches, Stockr and aSpark’s Stock Panorama, are of particular note for advisors. They show how Gen X and Millennial entrepreneurs want to take investing online—and encourage unfiltered, compliance-free information about everything from stock data to insights from nontraditional market intelligence sources including online forums and social networking.

Stockr, which went live Thursday at Finovate, announced a day earlier that it has closed a $1.5 million seed round financed by angel investors including Personal Capital, The Doyle Investment Group, and CBS investor relations chief Adam Townsend.

Based in Santa Monica, Calif., Stockr is led by co-founders Vinny Jindal, Tim Symington and Brendon Crawford, and hopes to provide a platform “where investors, analysts and public companies can communicate transparently and directly” about financial news, stocks, market trends and investment ideas. Stockr is free to join and uses Facebook authentication for network members.

Stock Panorama, meanwhile, is a personal finance app launched by aSpark on Tuesday that claims to combine market data, analyst sentiment and social intelligence. The company touts it as a place where investors can integrate stock data, analyst opinion and social intelligence in a single, easy-to-use dashboard.

The app is available for download in the Apple App Store at no cost for a limited time. Stock Panorama is also available to financial institutions as a white-label product, and an Android app is scheduled to be launched later this year.

“Stock Panorama is our first commercial product to channel the power of what we call the ‘new interaction model,’ where emerging technologies such as social, mobile and cloud are combining to give contextual and timely insights,” said aSpark CEO Raj Patil in a statement.

Jindal, Stockr’s 37-year-old CEO and a former analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities, said at Stockr’s launch party that the site’s mission is to create a high-quality community that avoids the sort of rumor-mongering and misinformation often found on online message boards.

“Ten years ago, people with compliance concerns were thinking, ‘Can we even launch a website?’ Now, the idea of compliance inhibiting people from talking online will go away,” said Jindal.

However, registered investment advisor Robert Zagunis, an experienced stock picker in his work as co-portfolio manager of the 20-year-old Jensen Quality Growth Fund (JENSX), questioned the value of the online startup, wondering how it could be any different from the message boards at Yahoo Finance. A site like Stockr could be dangerous for unsophisticated retail investors, Zagunis said.

“There’s no requirement for truthfulness,” he said. “Misinformation could be a problem.”

But Jindal said that he particularly hopes to encourage RIAs to maintain an active presence on Stockr. “RIAs are going to be one of the really important voices of Stockr because they know what they’re talking about,” Jindal said. “And Stockr will allow RIAs to distinguish their businesses from others’. Social media platforms allow for the cultivation of a footprint of expertise,” Jindal said.

Bill Harris, CEO of Personal Capital and formerly of PayPal and Intuit, sits on Stockr’s advisory board, along with people including former Facebook sales director Craig Coblenz and Eric Frank, former president of Thomson Reuters’ Investment and Advisory Division.

"Stockr is a big idea whose time has come,” Harris said in a statement. “I'm confident that the team at Stockr will continue innovating to bring the company to its fullest, and truly disruptive, potential.”

(Note: The Wall Street Journal reported on Sept. 17 that the Winklevoss twins of Facebook fame were back in the social-media sphere to promote their own investor networking site, SumZerio.com)

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Read Kickstarter for Wall Street? Broker-Dealers Get Into the Crowdfunding Game at AdvisorOne.

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