Aussie fintech startup building an investment platform for rapidly growing global retire early movement
Whether you’re an intern, executive or somewhere in between, everyone wants the option of not having to work, the sooner the better for most. While the end goal is easy to picture, the path to get there seems very complicated, or even imaginary.
Housing affordability, negative gearing, royal commissions and fund returns are topical stresses for older Australians. A bigger issue is younger generations not building savings in a world of credit and higher discretionary spending.
Younger people work as hard as past generations but have different relationships with. Bad financial discipline results in declining happiness as financial pressure builds and is passed on to future generations.
But, according to the founders of new online investing platform pearler, the formula is simple:
“These principles don’t make us very popular with the banks,” pearler co-founder Kurt says, laughing.
pearler is an investing platform that genuinely puts people first. A community that aims to promote good financial habits, instigate open conversations about them, and then implement them all on one platform. pearler wants to give Australians a sense of control over their money, get them investing often and get them feeling good about it. Their hope is for investing to become as ingrained in every pay-cycle as bills are. How does pearler aim to stand out in a noisy market? They’re using a formula they know already works – the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) community.
First up – who/what is FIRE?
FIRE enthusiasts, are a small but vibrant community of 20 and 30-something Australians (with many overseas cousins) who are committed to achieving financial independence as soon as possible, with the goal of retiring from work – or at least having the freedom to choose to – decades earlier than their parents and grandparents did.
The community defines achieving financial independence as the day their passive income, that is the income they don’t have to work for, equals their expenses. In the community, they refer to this as “getting FIRE’d”, and the day they expect to achieve it as their “FIRE date”.
The popularity of the movement is largely due to the efforts of blogger Peter Adeney, better known to his followers as Mr Money Mustache. A former software engineer, Adeney retired in 2005 at age 30, mortgage free and with an investment house and indexed funds valued at $US600,000. He advises those interested in following suit to slash spending and stash half their take-home pay in income-producing assets.
Frugal practices, such as cycling rather than driving whenever possible, enable Adeneny’s family to live comfortably on about $US25,000 a year.
Closer to home, the FIRE philosophy has captured the imagination of a sub-set of the population who are underwhelmed by the prospect of spending decades paying off the great Australian mortgage and locking savings up in super until they’re 60.
How they do it – Work hard, live frugally, save aggressively, invest the excess
Refreshingly, these aren’t the ‘How I bought 108 properties by 23’ crowd. There’s little-to-no financial engineering and not much – if any – debt. Instead, the FIRE crowd is taking a leaf out of the book written by the Boomers’ parents: work hard, live frugally, and save aggressively. Where they differ, is they invest their savings in bundles of shares, known as exchange-traded funds (ETFs), to grow passive income.
And it feels like the movement is growing. What’s perhaps most stark about this movement is that it’s a neat, if uncomfortable, counterpoint to the generally accepted view of the hopelessness of the financial challenges faced by Millennials. Not that those challenges aren’t real – it’s just that those following a FIRE philosophy are making hard choices to take control of their financial futures.
pearler estimates there are ~25,000 members of the FIRE community in Australia, and “that number has grown 130% in the last twelve months”, Kurt says. “What’s more is, there are about five times as many investors who behave like the FIRE community already, but they don’t feel like they need to identify as part of a specific community – it’s simply a more effective way to save and invest. It’s a no-brainer for most people once they understand that investing in ETFs is like opting for a high variable interest rate, rather than settling for 2% interest from their Big 4 bank account.”
pearler – the who and the why
Co-founders Nick, Kurt and Hayden each have their own unique and deeply-passionate story of why they are building pearler.
Working in finance for the past ten years, Nick often gets asked by close friends for his opinion on money matters. “As my 30s approached my friends became more engaged in discussing money but also more anxious about their direction. I’d try to avoid these conversations even though I had an opinion – better your friends think you’re not very helpful than be responsible for their decisions based on a brief chat.
Money is hard to talk about and even though we all have different jobs or interests, we are all in some way trying to figure how we’re going to pay for the life we want long term, be it simply quality of later life or giving our kids the same opportunities provided by our parents. When you think about school fees, mortgages or travel, even without adding up the numbers it can be overwhelming. Without a plan and some support network, the money side of life is stressful, we’re building something that we hope will truly help.”
Kurt’s passion comes from growing up in a country town, where he realised that the people’s quality of life depended more on their spending and investing habits than their income. “I was really lucky growing up, I watched my parents transition from owning a small duplex to a house on acreage. Then we started going on awesome holidays. Honestly, I felt a little undeserving – what had I done to deserve these things that my schoolmates hadn’t? As time went by I kept noticing these differences. Then, at the ripe old age of 14, I read The Barefoot Investor, 2nd Edition, and my eyes were opened. The basic financial principles my parents lived by turned out to be very different to most families’. If only people realised the pain credit interest was causing them, and how inflation was eating their savings… maybe they too could grow wealth, take control of their money, be less stressed and enjoy themselves more?
Well, we won’t be left wondering for much longer. By the end of the year we will see if pearler has the potential to create the wealth, liberty and empowerment I think it can.
It wasn’t until university, deep in a computer science degree and a mile away from the world of finance and investing, that Hayden became curious about money. He started to notice how his friends’ relative understanding of money seemed to impact their quality of life more than their income or work ethic. “I started to look at my finance-savvy friends and colleagues. They weren’t necessarily making more money or even working harder, but they knew how to save, where to invest, and when to invest. Even though I knew I needed to invest myself, I just didn’t know enough about it, or know where to start. It seemed daunting and difficult. Once I realised I was part of a majority of people, it became obvious that there needs to be a better way to allow your average Australian to become a confident investor. The more I got into it, the more I realised just how simple it was, and the more it frustrated me that everyone doesn’t have the same opportunities that those who understand money do.”
Nick, Kurt and Hayden began working together on the genesis of pearler in during 2017. Kurt and Hayden now run the fledgling business, whilst Nick contributes at a Board level whilst still working in the industry.
FIRE soon to have their own investment platform
Once the team began trying to marry the best customer outcomes with the needs / goals / fears of everyday people, they knew they were onto something. They realised they needed to achieve some core things: auto-investing, supportive community, no stock picking, an attitude to shares that was more like a variable interest rate than gambling, and the lowest prices on ETF investing in Australia. After realising there was a community that already existed that shared their three core principles, pearler found its spiritual home in the FIRE community.
Kurt says, “by building an end-to-end solution for saving and investing that is accessible, personal and empowering, we hope make it easier for FIRE and grow the FIRE community. Further, if we can take these principles mainstream, the FIRE movement will be the key to unlocking something much, much bigger.”
Let’s look at how FIRE works. Instead of saving a set amount to then invest, the approach is to invest often and incrementally build positions so the noise of market swings is less important. There is a bias towards investing in ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds) or LICs (Listed Investment Companies) with the lowest management fees and a focus on dividends, that are then reinvested. The kicker is that the community are already openly sharing investment information: tips, strategies, savings, progress towards goals – all for the betterment of others without the spruiking that happens in stock-picker communities.
It is this total disregard for stock-picking and market pricing that really made sense during pearler’s formative days, because these were exactly the core lessons we wanted to teach novice investors.
Kurt explains, “I read The Barefoot Investor at age 14, and by age 16 I was picking stocks. A few years later I began reading more about exchange-traded funds (ETFs), and I thought, what is the amount that I need to outperform the market by to justify all the extra hours I am spending researching, managing, and monitoring these stocks? I went and did the calcs – an extra 0.5% per annum – it just wasn’t worth it, I decided. That’s when my love affair with ETFs began.”
pearler – give me more info
pearler will allow Australian investors to automatically invest directly in ETFs from the Australian and US stock markets at the lowest cost. They will also allow investments in all other listed companies and assets at competitive rates. pearler groups assets together into portfolios they call pearls.
Nick says “We catalogue investments in ready-made portfolios called pearls, like playlists where the stocks are songs.
You can browse pearls generated by our platform, professionals or your close friends and tweak them to make them your own.
We are making it incredibly easy for you to learn and live good financial habits. Financial independence is a worthwhile goal for everyone.”
pearler has different layers of privacy settings, so you can pick and choose how much information you show your connections. At the moment, the level with most detail shows only the percentage each person has invested in each stock – the portfolio composition, not the dollar value.
pearler – how much and when?
Excitingly for FIRE investors, pearler’s beta will enable automatic investments in exchange-traded funds at the lowest cost in the Australian market. This gives FIRE investors the two things they crave the most – choice and cost effectiveness.
The long-term goal is to build towards a free/premium subscription model (freemium) where investors brokerage is free for Australian and American markets. If they can get there soon, they may be Australia’s first free investing platform.
The platform is still in development, but you can sign up to the no-obligation waitlist to be the first in-the-know when they launch at www.pearler.com.
pearler will launch a closed beta later this year within the FIRE community that will be by referral-only. Kurt explains “we want to test the platform at the grass roots level of the FIRE community and get their input on how to make this the best investing solution for them, and their friends. We are hoping that by starting with a small community that shares our values and ideal behaviours, we help more Australians feel in control of their money.”
Trading, custody and licensing partners are in the final stages of integration and pearler are also exploring whether the ASIC sandbox could be relevant for their beta phase. The public launch will occur in mid-2019 and there’s a growing waitlist where people are making their first connections, via pearler.com.
pearler – powering passive income.