Scott Walchek, CEO and founder of San Ramon, Calif.-based Trōv, has been around the technology block. He’s been in the industry for nearly 30 years, working at firms like Macromedia in the ‘80s and Entertainment Arts in the ‘90s. He was a founding investor and served on the board of Baidu, the “Google of China,” and has been involved in several technology startups over the years.
“I’m a died-in-the-wool, caution-averse entrepreneur in the software technology space,” he told Investment Advisor in October.
He’s used that experience to build an application that allows consumers to easily compile information about valuable property they own and store it online.
“There’s a lot of value latent in the information about the things that people currently own and what they’re buying, and no one is doing a satisfactory job of liberating that latent value,” Walchek said. The reason people haven’t been able to capitalize on that information is that it’s been hard to collect.
“At the core of what we do is something we call the 'personal trov',” Walchek said. “It’s a cloud-hosted, secure, personal digital locker in which all the information about the things people own is collected, actively managed and then connected to a large and growing ecosphere of partners.”
There are clear applications for Trōv in the insurance community, but a trov is not just a list of stuff, Walchek said. After the information is collected, consumers can use it in various ways.
“The real magic happens after we’ve collected it all and it’s actively managed within the personal trov,” Walchek said. “Then we enable these actions, these connections. So it’s collect, value and connect.”
What can clients do with that information? Walchek said that with everything in one place, and with the connections that Trōv provides through its partners, users can insure their property or borrow against it. Soon, they’ll be able to sell it. “I’ll be able to maintain it, value it, leverage it, donate it. Once all this information is digitally captured and actively managed, a world of opportunity is opened up,” Walchek said.
Anyone can use Trōv, but Walchek acknowledged it’ll be most valuable to high-net-worth consumers.
“Like all emerging technologies, it’s really funded by the wealthy,” Walchek said of Trōv. “In our case it’s particularly important that we target the high-net-worth because the value proposition of understanding what I own and what’s it worth today is really best associated with those who are the most acquisitive.”
There’s a big audience, too. Walchek estimates there are about 30 million high-net-worth people around the world, and he has plans to bring Trōv to a wider audience over time. “We believe that there are 400 million people worldwide who can take advantage of the trov, and we will make it a mass-adopted opportunity in the future.”
Walchek noted there are two main channels that service the wealth of those high-net-worth, acquisitive users: “One is the P&C insurance space, which is asset protection, and the other is the wealth management space. For the wealth managers, we complete the picture of wealth.”
By that, Walchek means a trov can provide a full and accurate representation of where a client’s wealth lies: not just in investable assets, but in real estate, jewelry and other personal property.
“Most RIAs today are using some form of data aggregation,” Walchek said. However, “generally there’s one line, maybe two, in the balance sheet that exposes real property and personal property. With a Trōv account and the users opting in to allowing that information to flow freely, to either the aggregation platform or directly to the RIA, [advisors] will be able to see what’s been added.”
Because the information stored by Trōv is actively managed, advisors can also see when the value of that property changes. “That creates a whole new capacity for them to be better informed about their clients’ whole wealth picture. They can help them with asset protection. They can help them with liquidity planning. They can help them with estate and legacy plans in ways that they haven’t been able to do before.”
Remember, it’s not just about stuff. Clients’ expensive collections represent a significant investment of time, money and heart.
“For a good number of these high-net-worth clients, the trov is a perfect picture of the passions that drive those clients,” Walchek said. “Those passions are reflected in the things that they use their discretionary income to buy, whether it be art, cars or types of wine. The passion or heart connections that can take place because that information is now more actively a part of the conversation creates a new way for advisors to connect with their clients, as well as a greater set of information from which they can draw conclusions.”
Of course, security is a primary concern. A trov, by definition, is a single source of information on all of a user’s most valuable possessions. The potential for damage hasn’t been lost on the team at Trōv, and the firm uses a four-pillared strategy to protect users’ information: technology, policy, process and business model.
To address the first pillar, technology, Walchek has built a team with employees from huge tech firms like Google and Microsoft to build proprietary technology solutions, some of which they’ve applied for patents.
“We have a full-time employee, a former Google employee, whose title is director of information security and privacy,” Walchek said. “He is tasked with making certain that everything we do in the code, in the way we manage our servers, in the way we collect and move data is at the highest end of the spectrum for data security.”
The firm employs a policy that ownership of any data collected in a trov remains with the owner of the property.
“Our policy is that our users own their data—we don’t,” Walchek said. “We have no right, title or interest in the data that we collect on their behalf. They license it back to us on a limited basis for use in the application that benefits them. We know it’s what has to take place when we’re collecting this very personal information.”
The firm also addresses security in the way it conducts business day to day: the way employees talk about clients in the office, who has access to information and where servers are located, Walchek said. “We believe that data in itself is an asset and that asset can be protected in asset-protection-friendly jurisdictions.”
Finally, the firm makes no income from advertising to ensure that its business model is aligned with end users’ privacy and security needs. “We don’t collect anything that would expose our end users to goods and service providers who wish to get to them,” Walchek said of the firm’s no-advertising model. “We make money through transactions that are initiated by end users. We’ll make money through opt-in data feeds that our end users choose to participate in.”
Although Trōv doesn’t charge users to use the application, some services may come with a fee, such as hiring an appraiser. Consumers don’t have to use those services to continue using Trōv, though. “Using all the value that’s in Trōv is absolutely free to the end user. It’s up to us to then give them opportunities to leverage that information for their benefit, and in some cases we will make money on the transactions that are the fall out of that.”