Personal Finance — 10 investment alternatives to diversify your portfolio
Exploring the diversity of investment options for retail investors.
As long as I remember, I have been curious about the investment world, professionally, but also on a personal level.
Now, investment is a big part of my job. Specifically, after graduating from one of the world top business schools with a specialty in Finance, I acquired a lot of on-field knowledge about investing in my 7 years working in Private Equity, Corporate Finance and M&A, and I am now an investment and M&A director at HoriZen Capital.
But while I was learning about investing, portfolio theory, black Scholes formula, Arbitrage, Venture Capital, LBO and all the complex investment and finance stuff, I quickly realized that unless you have a few millions in the bank, most of what I was learning about was not accessible for personal investing.
I had to find other ways to put my capital to work. So 10 years ago I started exploring my investment options, investment opportunities that I could access with limited capital.
Now, I regularly have friends and family asking me for investment advice. And I always tell them the same thing: I can point you in a few directions, you can explore them by yourself, but I won’t advise anyone on what company to invest in, what stock to pick or whether it’s ok for you in particular to bet 2 grand in crypto.
Timing of an investment is as important as the underlying investment asset itself and whether an investment in a certain asset class worked (or did not) for me in the past does not mean that it will work for you.
Here is a testimony of my personal experience exploring and using personal investment opportunities for the past 10 years.
Of course, none of the below should be considered as investment advice. I am only sharing my personal experience investing my own money and I encourage anyone to do their own research on everything that I mention below.
So quick disclaimer, this article is a fully independent view. I did include my referral links to the platforms that I use if you want to sign-up but was not incentivized by anyone to write this blog post on personal finance.
I will broke it down by types of investment, give an overview of the status of my own investment and then share my personal opinion on each of them. .
Whether you are looking for new ways on how to make money, plan for retirement or are more globally exporting ways to better do finance planning, I will walk you through different options for personal investing.
TABLE OF CONTENT
1 — Equity Crowdfunding
In simple terms, Equity Crowdfunding investment allows you to invest your money in a privately-owned company in exchange for equity in that company.
Crowdfunding is cool because it allows to invest the same way a Venture Capitalist (VC) or Private Equity (PE) firm would do, but with a minimum entry of only $100. It is a great way to invest in the “real economy” and to support projects and entrepreneurs that you believe in.
Most crowdfunding platforms also allow to ask questions directly to Management, and you will generally receive updates on the project after the fundraising is complete, making you feel part of the adventure.
For these reasons a fair number of crowdfunding investors do not only seek a return on their investment but also enjoy being part of the ecosystem and part of the company’s journey.
However in my opinion there are some drawbacks to crowdfunding.
- Companies and projects who could not find funds elsewhere turn to crowdfunding as “last option”, meaning that the highest potential start-ups do not make it to the platforms.
- I feel like a lot of crowdfunded projects take advantage of addressing a crowd of less sophisticated investors to raise money at higher valuation than what professional investors would give them.
- From my experience, once the investment is made the Crowdfunding Platform does not really get involved in monitoring the investment and has no say in how the company is managed (vs. a VC or PE taking a board seat for instance) which can lead to unpleasant surprises.
- I also feel that due to the lack of involvement / leverage of the Crowdfunding Website management team, the exit can be sub-optimal for the crowdfunding investors, for both positive and negative exits.
I have personally invested in 8 projects through the 3 following platforms:
WiSEED (French Platform)
While WiSEED seem the most involved post-raise to gather reporting and follow-up with Management, and are likely the most serious of the platforms I tried in terms of structure and process, my main issue is the limitation of the French market vs. the American market.
WeFunder (US Platform)
I’ve done 5 investments through WeFunder. I do like the diversity of projects offered on the platform and different investment structures.
On top of that, WeFunder just raised over $6m to accelerate the growth of the platform and increase the number of projects, which may be an additional step towards confirming crowdfunding websites as a legitimate alternative to “traditional” fundraising and attract more entrepreneurs who like the hands-off nature of crowdfunding investors vs. VCs.
The two main critics I have with WeFunder are that 1) my customer service experience has been very poor (ignoring my emails or taking ages to respond / fix my problem) and 2) that they really send a vibe of not caring at all after you’ve made your investment.
In all the investments that I’ve made, it did feel like WeFunder just acts as a third party website to help the raise and collect the funds, and then let the founders handle the rest, which again makes me feel that crowdfunding investors best interests are not preserved.
CrowdCube (UK platform)
I only did one investment through CrowdCube and had a really bad experience because the company filed for bankruptcy just a few months after the investment.
This was years ago so this may have changed, but my understanding is that CrowdCube does not even audit the companies they list on their website, or do so very loosely.
I strongly recommend anyone interested in crowdfunding to make sure that the companies listed have been vetted and audited.
Current status of my investments
To give you an overview of my own experience, here are a quick overview of my investment and their current status. In chronological order:
1st investment : Wind turbine technology. The product had good traction but the company went bankrupt due to cash mismanagement. The technology was bought by an industrial group and the founder was hired by this buyer, which kind of felt like early investors who backed the R&D got ripped off, but it appears that it is totally legal to do so.
Status : Full loss
2nd investment : Biotech. Invested in 2013 and the company is still in business and making very promising progress, but biotech takes time to reach commercial success and will need new rounds of financing.
Status : Current performance based on last fundraising stands at 4x initial investment
3rd investment : Christmas Movie financing. Invested in 2017. Super shady in the way it was handled. The Movie was released but we never got access to the sales numbers, the founder went radio silence for months and it turns out he’s now giving conferences (and get paid for it) on how to successfully raise money for movies on crowdfunding platforms.
Status : Not official, but I consider this investment fully lost.
4th investment : Loan to open an Ice Cream franchise. The project went well, the loan was paid back in full in anticipation. By the way, if you do invest in risky loans, be aware that anticipated payback clauses are actually at your disadvantage as an investor if the interest % is not above market average.
The % of interest on a loan is there to compensate the investor for the risk of not getting paid back in full. Generally, most of the risk taken by the debt holder is at the beginning of the project. Then the hope of the lender is that the start of the project goes well and that past that point she’ll comfortably receive interest for the rest of the duration of the loan with risk considerably lowered.
By giving a free anticipated payback clause to the borrower, chances are that as soon as the project becomes less risky, they will pay you back and you won’t benefit from the whole initial duration of the loan.
If the % of interest is attractive enough, it can still be attractive to invest, but just make sure you understand the dynamic of how anticipated payback work, especially in order to take into account the upfront fee of the platform that impact your return on investment much more in the case of an anticipated payback.
Status : Including all fees, IRR was 9.1% over 2 years.
5th investment : Company producing sustainable surf equipment. I loved the project, and I thought of this investment as one of my least risky investments because the company was already in business, had assets and inventory and were getting awesome reviews by some of the well known surf publications.
The company went bankrupt a few months after the investment. Feels like I have been scammed and I should have been more thorough on my Due Diligence (DD). Lesson learnt.
Status : Full loss
6th investment : Propulsion tech for satellites. Founders were providing thorough, very enjoyable monthly updates, then went radio silence, then came back to tell investors that they were not doing well and that they struck a kind of partnership deal with a competitor. We were never provided details of that deal and haven’t got any updates in month.
Status : Hopefully won’t be fully written off but hopes are low to deliver any positive return
7th investment : New sustainable tea brand. The project was doing well and the team providing a lot of very engaging updates, but COVID hit. The project is still going and we’ll see what happens.
Status : Hard to predict any outcome at this stage.
8th investment : Innovative petrol additive. The project is doing well and the company has already completed another round of funding. The CEO is sending us regular positive updates.
Status : Going well so far
My Opinion on Equity Crowdfunding
In short, I still do like Equity Crowdfunding because I do enjoy looking at new companies, new projects, new technologies and assess their potential.
From a pure investment perspective, on a risk/reward basis so far equity crowdfunding has proven sub-attractive compared to other investment options.
If I were to invest in crowdfunding again, I would stick to the US market which offers the biggest upside potential in case a project takes off.
2 — Crowdlending
In Crowdlending, the money that you invest is lent to individual businesses or people.
There are different platforms out there, and based on what I read on forum, some investors have specific strategies to optimize their returns on platforms where you can handpick what individual loans you invest into.
As far as I am concerned, my time is limited and I am not necessarily an expert in loans. So the approach I have taken is to use platforms that have an auto-invest options with Principal guaranteed buy-back.
The three Crowdlending platforms that I have used are:
Twino is my favorite platform because of it’s simplicity and their option to invest only in buy-back and interest guaranteed loans.
Also the possibility to sell individual current positions on the secondary market is quite useful to get more liquidity in case you’d like to access part of the funds from the platform.
I’ve started using Mintos simply to diversify my risk (and not be solely dependent on Twino), and because they were one of the most mentioned / recommended platforms when I researched Twino’s alternatives.
MoneySpot (Australia only)
MoneySpot works on a slightly different model than Twino and Mintos. MoneySpot loans are targeted to individuals with short term cash needs, but most importantly, you need to commit your investment for a period of 6 months. And every 6 months you are asked whether you would like to withdraw your funds or commit for another 6 months.
With MoneySpot you don’t get to handpick the loans you invest in. You commit your investment to an investment pool and share the returns of the whole fund. As such, this is a very hands-off type of investment and you simply receive a monthly reporting of the performance.
Current status of my investments
Twino: I started investing on the Twino platform in June 2018 and reported IRR (Annualized return on investment) is currently 8.4%.
Mintos: I started investing on the Mintos platform in December 2019 and reported IRR is currently 9.3%.
Moneyspot: I invested through MoneySpot from September 2017 to September 2019 and yielded a IRR of 13% on the period. (please note that Australia has higher interest rates than Europe or the US).
My Opinion on CrowdLending :
Of all my investments so far I feel that Crowdlending has been the type of investment which delivered the most consistent returns so far. The two main threats / risks that I see with Crowlending are:
- the risk that the platform is a scam, which is why I stick to the most renown platforms even if other platforms promise higher ROI.
- the risk that there be a massive downturn on the market (like during the sub-prime crisis) which would potentially lead to high rate of default and potentially these platforms’ bankruptcy.
I was a bit afraid of number 2. with the Covid-19 situation but it appears that, so far, the platform have not taken too much of a hit. There is still a risk that so far most companies have been on a lifeline of Government money so we’ll have to see what happens in the next 12 months.
If we were in a less uncertain macro-economics situation, I would personally allocate part of my professional income to Twino every month and benefit from the compound effect of automatically reinvested interests.
Right now, I’m leaving my balance as is and will be watching the evolution of the world situation.
3 — Real Estate Investment Trust (REITS)
In France, these are called SCPI and they were one of my first long term investment.
The idea behind REITS is to say that rather than investing into buying a house you can instead buy shares in a fund that owns hundreds of thousands of houses and get a share of the rent, pro-rata to your holdings.
Moreover, REITS do not just own houses, they can also specialize in all types of buildings (professional buildings, retirement homes etc.).
The reason why SCPI were attractive to me is that I did not plan on owning a house as an investment because of all the hustle to go through as a house owner (finding and handling tenants, extra tax filing and administrative tasks) and the extra risk (unpaid rent, hidden costs of the house, repairs, refurbishment etc.).
REITS sounded like a good way to have money invested in Real Estate with a lower risk than owning a flat.
Also, the structure of the investment was interesting because 100% leveraged by debt. In other words, I took on a loan to buy shares in a few REITS and the REITS distribution partially repay the loan and interest. And also with the hope that the REITS price and distribution per share would increase over time.
Since the loan is backed by the SCPI shares that I own and that SCPI’s share price have a low volatility, I see this investment as long term, moderate risk and moderate returns (expecting 5%-6% after tax net IRR over 10 years).
The main difficulty that I encountered was to find a bank agreeing to loan me the money at a decent rate as I did not have any net worth. And most banks who agree on these types of loans want you to buy their own REITS, which are often not the best performing ones.
Also you need to be aware that SCPI funds charge a 8% to 12% commission on your investment, which means that you need to hold it for a few years before it gets profitable.
For this investment, I used the service of a Financial Planner that I still use as of today and who was really helpful helping me identify the SCPI to invest in and get a loan offer from the bank. Financial Planners in France consult for free and only get paid through retro-commission when you make investments through their contacts.
In the end I structured the investment that way:
- €100k investment
- 60% invested in Corum, 40% invested in Epargne Fonciere.
- 100% financed through a loan at 3.4% fixed annual rate over 25 years (which even back in 2015 was already above market rate).
Current status of my investments
After a bit, I managed to renegotiate 60% of the loan at a lower interest rate.
The real IRR will only make sense once I liquidate the position and I haven’t calculated a current IRR, so instead I listed below my cash in and cash out to give you a benchmark of how the investment is performing.
I have a monthly repayment charge of 460€ (principal + interest) and a monthly revenue of c.390€ plus the occasional capital gain distributed from the sale of buildings. I also need to pay tax on the revenue, with interest paid being deductible.
5 and half years after the initial investment, if I were to liquidate my position now (which would be sub-optimal) I would get €7k euros and that amount increases by €280 euros every month (which correspond to the nominal of the loan repaid every month).
My opinion on REITS / SCPI leveraged investment :
I liked the idea of investing in Real Estate without having to buy and maintain an apartment myself. The real downside is that, even if I can benefit from a limited increase in share price over the years, I have no chance to benefit from a huge capital gain equivalent to the one several of my friends got thanks to buying an apartment in Paris a few years ago. But as always with investment it could have gone both ways.
I won’t know about my final IRR until I liquidate my investment but so far I think it is doing great. It’s not going to make me rich for sure but it does contribute to increasing my Net Worth.
The thing with this type of investment is that if you can negotiate your loan well, say over 25 or 30 years, fixed low interest, you can potentially end up in a set up where your Reits revenue are GREATER than your costs (loan principal + interest + taxes). In such case, you’re basically getting free money.
With my current cash inflow and outflow, I’m on a way to have a pretty good IRR, however the extra cash earned in absolute value won’t be phenomenal. Rounding up my monthly cash outflow to €150 (difference between debt repayment plus tax less revenue), we said each month i pay back €280 worth of loan.
In other word for every €150 i add to the pot from my pocket i get an increase in value of my holding of c €280. Pretty good from an IRR perspective, yes, but all things considered, I increase my net worth by “only” €130 per month and to do that I had to borrow €100k.
I think that with low interest rates, REITS bought with debt can be an interesting play for someone looking to build passive income.
Say you buy $100k REITS, 100% financed through debt with a 20 year maturity when you start your first job. 10 years later, assuming the price per share has slowly grown, you hold $110k of REITS and still have $50k of debt to repay.
REITS (or at least SCPI), charge you a 10% to 12% commission when you sell, not when you buy. But if you decide to only sell enough to repay your outstanding debt and keep the balance to generate passive income, you can end up with approximately 55k worth of REITS shares paying 6% per year in dividends. ie. $275 per month (before tax).
And if you don’t need these extra $275 when you’re in your thirties, you can decide to automatically reinvest them in more REITS shares and benefit from a compound effect.
Again, this won’t pay for your Lamborghini, but given the limited risk profile of the investment, I feel that it makes sense to consider REITS / SCPI as part of your long term portfolio.
4 — Currency Trading
I remember the time where I was travelling abroad and had to get ripped-off at a FX exchange rate counter with a fixed fee + an outrageous spread charged. It was tedious, and financially painful.
Now trading currencies has become way too easy.
Current status of my investments
I tried to do a bit of currency trading when I was in Sydney. I would “play” and try to benefit from the currency swings going from EUR to AUD and to AUD to EUR.
That was a low risk situation for me because I had just moved there, all my savings were in EUR and I was getting paid in AUD. Also, the risk-free saving account interest rates in Australia were much better than in France (like 2.5% vs. 0.75%). So if I turned EUR into AUD and that the AUD fell (which it did…), I was OK with holding AUD anyways.
This little game did not last long. I moved to Sydney when the AUD was at a peak vs. the EUR and it kept on falling over the two years I stayed there.
Rather than doing currency trading now, what I do is rather to have my portfolio in different currencies with the aim to diversify my risk.
I do hold investments and checking accounts in USD, EUR, GBP and AUD. This mainly came from the fact that I travel very often, and that one of my life goal is to have enough passive income to be able to take a 6month off in Bali with enough passive income to pay for all my expenses without reducing my net worth.
Having my assets in different dominant currency will will prevent passive income devaluation risk.
My opinion on currency trading:
Before I tried trading currencies and after I did, my opinion remained unchanged. Based on my readings and understanding of the market, currencies are as unpredictable as they can get and I really saw my “little game” as a tentative to make a few easy bucks on an app from the comfort of my bed and based on luck only. Again my situation was very specific so it was a bit like playing the casino with no chance of losing.
For someone very passionate about macro-economics, who understand international trade and has a good grasp of the economic situation of their country and their place among the global powers, maybe currency trading can be fun and lucrative. But I do believe it requires a wealth of knowledge and commitment to really be able to consistently make money out of it.
But if you do have that knowledge and that you’re pretty sure of what you’re doing, currencies are one of these assets where you can easily find apps which offer debt leverage. Always remember though that the more leverage, the riskier the investment.
5 — ETF (Exchange Traded Funds)
I really like the concept of the ETF. An ETF is a fund that you can buy shares of and which tracks a specific index, replicating this index performance.
The platform that I use to trade ETFs is Stake and is the same platform that I use for trading US stocks.
For instance, very popular ETF are ETF that replicate the performance of the S&P 500. Instead of you buying 50 individual companies to benefit from diversification, you can simply buy an ETF which is made of a very diversified portfolio of companies.
And so far, looking at the chart below, for anyone who would have bought the S&P 500 at any point in time in the past, by holding long enough that person would have had a positive return on investment.
But again, no investment recommendation here. Personally I believe that the valuations on the market have been crazy high for a few years already and as you can see on the chart, this is getting worse and worse, so I would not be surprised to see a strong correction at some point.
Word of caution though, when ETFs track a major index, it’s easy to understand, however certain ETF may have a more vague definition (say, an ETF on developing countries). In that case, have a look at the Management team’s investment strategy and allocation, which will make you better understand if their approach is in line with your investment thesis.
Another thing to note is that some ETF replicate the inverse performance of an index. In other word, if you’d like to short a specific market because you’re really bearish, you can simply buy shares of these ETF.
Current status of my investments
I do not own any shares in ETF at the moment, mostly because I believe that the market is overvalued, but I don’t have any certitude that it will correct, hence do not own short positions either.
However if we were to see a massive correction, then I would happily start to allocate a part of my professional income to ETFs every month.
My opinion on ETF:
In short, I believe ETFs are the best option for busy individuals who want to invest money online but don’t have a lot of knowledge in stocks or in companies, and don’t have time to do their research.
What I really like is that there are a lot of ETF on different types of industries or geography. For instance you can buy a small caps only ETF. Or you can buy a Robotics ETF. Or an Energy ETF. There are a LOT of possibilities out there.
The way I see it, it allows retail investors to think strategically and implement more easily an investment thesis.
Say for instance I really believe that the usage of electric vehicles will be booming in the next decade, and that subsequently the price of Lithium will skyrocket. Instead of having to do a lot of research about what Lithium company to buy, I can just look up and see if a Lithium ETF already exists (I don’t know the answer).
Or imagine that I believe Robotics will be the next big thing. But I don’t have time to go through all the competitors on the market in hope of finding the next Apple of Robotics. Then I can just buy a Robotics index, like the iShare Automation and Robotics ETF and if my prevision about the Market is right, then I will likely make money in the end.
6 — Leveraged ETF
Leveraged ETF are ETF that seek to replicate 2x or 3x the % change in the underlying index they track. Which means that say if the S&P 500 increases by 5%, the ETF price increases by 15%, and if it decreases by 3% the ETF price decreases by 9%.
Some examples are:
ProShares UltraPro ($TQQQ): seeks (3x) the daily performance of the NASDAQ-100 Index
ProShares UltraPro Short ($SQQQ): seeks (3x) the inverse of the daily performance of the NASDAQ-100 Index
Direxion Daily Small Cap Bull 3X Shares ($TNA): seeks 300% of the price performance of the Russell 2000 Index
On paper it sounds like a very good way to increase your return if you are very bullish or bearish on an index, and a good way to benefit from debt leverage without having to borrow any money yourself.
However these leveraged instrument should generally be reserved to investment professionals who use them to hedge their positions.
By nature, these leveraged ETF should NOT be held long term. Because of how they are structured, mathematically if the underlying index tracked has a high volatility, the leveraged ETF will perform poorly as shown by the chart below.
You can see on the above example that with an index going up and down and finishing at the same level as where it started, the leveraged ETF price decreased by 12%.
Current status of my investments
I have experimented a bit with leveraged ETF for a couple of months, out of curiosity and gambling a bit when we were at the beginning of the global lockdown and that it looked like every markets were all following the same trends day by day.
I have stopped doing that and I don’t think I would come back to them. The only scenario where I’d see myself use those would be after a huge dip of the S&P 500 if I strongly believe the whole market is going to go back up strong.
My opinion on leveraged ETF trading :
I may have earned a few hundreds dollars, but the more I was playing around the more obvious it was that leveraged ETF, especially the bearish ones, are dangerous to be messed with.
I do not believe that the risk / return profile makes sense for a non-expert trader and is closer to gambling than investing.
However it is good to have a basic understanding of what leveraged ETFs are and how they work, just to make sure not to invest in them due to a lack of knowledge.
7 — Bitclout
Bitclout is a project built on blockchain that aims at creating an international and decentralized platform for creators to be rewarded and directly remunerated for their work.
Another good way to put it :
As of now, the platform is similar to Twitter, with a feed, messages posted on a public wall, reclout etc.
Each user has a wallet topped up in BTC or in USD and converted into $CLOUT, which is the currency used on the platform.
Where it becomes interesting is that every creator on the platform has their own creator coin. And if you believe that the creator will thrive and bring value long term you can invest in their coin.
That way the platform is both attractive to creators who receive a % of each investment but also benefit from the increase in price of their own creator coins, and for all bitclout users, this becomes a way to trade coins of creators in a similar way they would buy a stock.
For each post there is the possibility to like, comment or reclout, similar to Twitter, but there is also the possibility to reward the creator by giving “diamonds”, which corresponds to sending the creator a fraction of your own coin.
The whole code is open source and possibilities are endless for developers to create new apps and functionalities in the ecosystem, and the community has been super active since inception.
To think about possibilities, imagine a copy of Quora where people are rewarded by users in “diamonds” for each good question and good answers that they give?
Or imagine a celebrity management company organizing every year a day with one of the celebrities they represent to their top 10 coin holders?
Anyhow, I could go on and on, the baseline is that the whole project is still very early, is not perfect and could very well fail as with any new initiative.
But coming back to the subject of investment, I think it opens a whole new world where users can now invest directly in people, which I think is fairly exciting.
In the same way that you are looking for the next Unicorn when you invest in early stage companies, you’d now be looking for the next Will Smith, or the upcoming Rihanna.
You’d be showing support from the early days to an artist and reaping the rewards when their career and coin price blow up!
Also, the more people use the platform, the higher the price of $CLOUT so there is actually a double opportunity for your investment to be profitable.
The main argument against Bitclout over the past months was that it was likely a scam because you could only buy $Clout with bitcoin but it was impossible to sell your Clout back. However $Clout is now listed and openly traded on blockchain.com which in my opinion really opens the gates for adoption
Status of my holding
I got on the platform fairly early, when there was no possibility to cash out, and being fully aware of that fact I only invested a couple hundreds of dollars which I was ready to lose.
I spotted a couple of creators with great influence on other social media platforms and who just started on the platform and bought their coin.
Fairly quickly I had a 10x return on my investment, which Icould not cash out until recently.
Now I intend to cash out my initial investment and to keep my outstanding gains on the platform for a while.
My opinion on Bitclout
I think that if mass adoption arrives, the $clout price in itself has potential to at least double and I believe that the creator coins I hold still have potential to appreciate.
On top of that, I am myself regularly active on the platform, which I find way more rewarding than Twitter.
This is likely due to the fact that the community is still smaller, which drives better engagement to my posts and makes it easier to grow an audience.
Anyhow, I like being part of that project because beyond the investing, I believe it is made of very interesting people with interesting ideas, and I genuinely spend more time there than on twitter now.
Also, I have been impressed by how fast the dev have been able to ship new features and new products, especially compared to Twitter which take forever to implement minimal changes.
There are still a lot of flaws on the platform, the main one being scammers who impersonate celebrities and sell off their creator coin after a couple of people invested in it.
I also think that the way creator coins is priced will need to be tweaked to be sustainable long term.
But overall, I strongly believe that bitclout can become a major platform and is playing a crucial role in the adoption of decentralized social media.
Only time will tell!
8 — Cryptos
Cryptos currencies have been all the rage since Bitcoin became famous by increasing in value at a crazy rate and making a handful of early adopters rich.
The 4 platforms that I have tried are:
Revolut: I initially installed Revolut to be able to transfer money from France to Australia after I moved there, and to be able to use their international debit card every time I travel abroad. However, fairly quickly Revolut allowed to trade a few cryptocurrencies (Bitcoin, Etherum, Litecoin etc).
I do think they overcharged and, at least back in the days, were charging a spread greater than what they claimed. When I tried confronting them on their customer service chat, they repeatedly dodged the question and never answered it. That made me lose a great deal of trust in them and I’ve looked for alternatives like Transferwise (now Wise) for fiat currency exchanges since then.
Coinbase: Interestingly, I opened a Coinbase account, my first full-crypto account, because a client of mine requested to pay me in BTC.
Kraken: I opened an account there at the time where only a few platforms allowed to trade DOGE because at this stage I started to believe in the power of meme coins and was under the strong belief that people would pump the coin again at some point (I was right).
Kucoin: Kucoin is a platform / an app that lists a lot of small cap crypto currencies. The whole UX is less intuitive than a platform like Kraken but remains fairly easy to use. They also offer a fair range of more complex ways to trade (like on margin) but I haven’t really looked into it as at my level, I like my investments to stay simple.
It took me a while to get into cryptos because, like a lot of finance professional, I considered crypto investing as a big gamble, pyramidal scheme that people were drawn to due to FOMO.
Truth is, I still do. And I consider that any dollar that I invest in crypto is gambled, and may very well be fully lost.
Taking a data-driven / statistical high level approach, I know that when investing in early stage companies (through crowdfunding for instance), even though I spend time understanding the product, looking at the financials, assessing the team, the market potential etc. at the end of the day I know that about 9 out of 10 start-up fail.
The whole VC model is built on this assumption, with the hope that the one in ten company that will make it will deliver enough return to compensate the loss or poor performance of the 9 others.
So from that standpoint, with crypto delivering 5x, 10x, 20x performance when you are lucky to pick the best one, in a sense it feels like an asset class that can deliver returns similar to VC, but in a much shorter period of time, and which are way more liquid. (VC investment will generally be tied to the company for 5 to 8 years whereas cryptos are traded instantly).
So in a sense, if you agree with the principle that crypto investing is gambling, I believe that odds of winning versus losing are much better than at the casino, or the lottery.
Honestly I would love to have a proper economist / statistician looking at the above statement and provide me with a proper researched answer.
The thing which is quite frustrating for a profile like mine with cryptos is that it feels like my MBA in finance, my 7 years of experience in the investment and M&A world, all of that is worthless when it comes to crypto investing.
Honestly, the first few investments that I did in crypto and which delivered over 4x return were mostly based on twitter posts, reviews, and how I predicted the general public would behave, regardless of any fundamental analysis.
Current status of my investments
Bitcoin (BTC): Through Revolut, I bought a fraction of BTC in 2018 at around $12k after the first crash from the peak, hoping for a quick rebound that came but did not last enough for me to cash out on time.
I ended up holding until 2020 and sold at $16k. Obviously, I missed out on the big run that followed, but at least I still got a positive IRR of 16%.
Dogecoin (DOGE): I bought DOGE in Jan-20 at around $40c. I only bought a few hundred dollars worth of coin but in a few months it turned into a few thousands.
The cool thing about it is that at this stage I withdrawn my initial investment, and I got left with a few thousands of “paper” money to play with and try my luck at more high risk cryptos to double down on my gain without impacting my initial net worth. That’s how I started looking at smaller market cap coins on Kucoins.
However, at this stage I did not want to gamble on meme coins anymore, because I am definitely not a fan of pure speculation. So instead I started looking for coins which are based on a project which I believe will create real value over the long run.
That’s how I picked the two following:
UnoRe: The team behind the UnoRe project is building the first reinsurance risk-trading platform in the world. Basically, re-insurance is a huge market which is generally reserved to big specialized companies who generate huge profit out of it.
The project is aiming at offering the possibility to smaller investors to invest in this asset class, powered by the power of the blockchain technology.
The project is still fairly recent and as for any start-up, they do have a fair chance of failing. However if they do succeed, I do believe that they’re a huge market for them to tackle, in an industry which is quite often dominated by old school, non tech savvy big players.
TRIAS: The Trias project aims to define a new-generation all-platform-supported public chain system. They are building a trustworthy and reliable intelligent autonomous systems that can work on top of the whole blockchain ecosystem.
On that one, even though I did read the whitepaper, I don’t fully understand the tech in itself and its implication so I’ve mainly relied on comments, reviews etc. that I read in different places online.
Because the project is less clear to me and I have less knowledge than with the UnoRe project, I’ve allocated a lesser amount to Trias. But as with Uno, I’m aiming to hold long term with a very high IRR target.
My opinion on cryptos
Shit coins, meme coins that are pure speculation put aside, I do believe that ICO could become a valid alternative to VC money, and a direct competitor to traditional equity crowdfunding.
If they are related to a valid project, led by a solid team and which has a clear profitable business model, raising funds through ICO basically allows every retail investor to bet on start-up while having the possibility to trade the coin and sell it at any moment if they need the cash or lose trust in the project.
I see ICO as a way to make VC-type companies listed from inception. And I love that idea.
For sure the public needs to be educated around the risk inherent to early stage investment, and not been blinded by all the hype and FOMO around the word “crypto”, but if we succeed in that, I believe ICO are a very valid way to democratize early stage investment and make it accessible to even smaller investors.
This does not change the fact that I strongly believe that crypto investing has been a big gamble in the recent years and that until the main cryptos like Bitcoin or Ethereum become more stable, it will remain that way, and people investing in this market should only invest what they can afford to lose. And stop taking mortgages to bet it all on cryptos.
I also believe that the very important change of paradigm about cryptos is that it mostly benefited the early adopters and the influencers.
Also, I suspect that the new crypto millionaires demographics is fairly young (ie. less than 35), and I would be super curious to see how the whole crypto and meme stocks trend has re-balanced the share of wealth between generations at a global level.
9 — Public Shares / Stocks
Publicly listed stocks are likely the first mean of investing that comes to mind. What has been really great over the past few years is the creation of no-trading fee apps, the most famous of which is Robinhood (very popular in the US but unfortunately not available in every country so I could never try it).
I’ve personally been using Stake to invest in stocks for several years now, and you can too if you’re in Australia, the UK, or in New Zealand (and potentially other locations if they continued expanding). The Stake platform allows you to trade US stocks and ETFs.
Shares are fairly risky but have delivered incredible returns in the past year, especially the Software stocks, which de facto makes crowdfunding and other similar types of investment less attractive. If you can yield 3x-4x returns with stocks that are fully liquid assets, then stocks become more attractive than crowdfunding.
It took me a bit before starting to invest in shares because stock prices and the decision of what stocks to buy are not only driven by fundamental financial analysis but mostly by the expectation of what other people will find attractive.
My feeling is that the stock market lately has been driven way more by FOMO and social behaviors rather than real fundamental financial analysis. And that the stock market is also dominated by larger institutional investors who can manipulate the market and who have access to privilege’s information. All of which has impacted how to invest in stocks.
But in the end I decided to take the leap, cautiously, and try my luck at stock investing.
Current status of my investments
I currently am at a stage where I believe that the US stock market is overvalued (in particular software companies) and will suffer from a correction at some point. Hence I sold most of my American Stocks holding.
Nvidia ($NVDA): If I did not believe that the software US stocks were overvalued, I would strongly hold onto NVDIA which I believe has amazing prospects over the next decade. I was actually still holding that stock last April but I was not comfortable with the company being under the scrutiny of anti-Trust regulators who were threatening NVDIA’s acquisition of Arm.
But again, please consider my advice on HOW to think about investment or HOW to approach your investment strategy, but do NOT take the assets I mention as investment advice. As you can see below, I’m no stock guru and I would have been better off just holding to the stock.
Yatra Online ($YTRA): Yatra online is an online travel agency in India. I have been following the stock for over a year now and have strong hopes for it because:
1 — YTRA was trading above $3 pre-Covid (currently at $2.5) and the company was meant to be bought at $337m valuation by EBIX just before Covid. The current market cap of the stock is $120m.
2 — All the studies and market research that I read point towards a massive growth of online travel in India.
3 — Based on financials and earnings report, Management have been fairly good at managing cash to avoid the risk of bankruptcy.
4 — It looks like Management are developing well on the corporate segment which seem to be an under served market with a great potential as well.
I have bought and sold the stock at different occasions and latest re-entry (just before the third Covid wave in India…) average $2.38. As of today I am at + 2.55% after weeks at -15%.
Kingsoft Cloud Holding ($KC): Kingsoft Cloud is a Chinese company specializing in cloud servicing.
The same way that I am very bullish on Nvidia, I am extremely bullish on the development of cloud and SaaS solutions (which is the industry we specialize in at HoriZen Capital).
And since I was mentioning that I’m expecting a correction on the US market, I wanted to focus my investment on other markets like China.
I strongly believe from experience and from reading papers and articles on the subject that the cloud industry is moving fast but still has a lot of room to grow, and I think that betting on the suppliers of cloud solutions is a good strategy.
In all honesty, if I was looking for a more prudent play I would have rather looked for an ETF. In this case I am accepting a higher level of risk by betting on that one company, expecting a higher reward in case the stock does come back to its peak of $71 vs $33 today.
And since I am bullish on the industry and overall cloud market, I do not mind holding that position long term. Right now I am deeply out of the money but still trust this will turn into a good investment long term.
I have bought and sold the stock at different occasions and latest re-entry (trying to buy a dip) average $44.18. As of today I am at -25.55%.
Whiting Petroleum Corp (WLL): The only stock that I do not plan to hold long term. I found WLL when oil prices were still very low and that I felt like the US was slowly recovering from Covid.
My thinking there was that the price of stock of Oil company would increase way faster than the price of Oil if the latter was to recover. And given that WLL price spiked at $86 mid 2020 it felt like the stock had potential for big upside.
However overall I don’t believe in the oil industry long term. And the Oil & Gas industry is not one that I understand very well so I’d rather not allocate too much of my portfolio to it and not hold on to it for too long.
I have bought and sold the stock at different occasions and latest re-entry averages $49.59. As of today I am at +8.83%.
Lumen Technologies Inc (LUMN): Lumen is integrated communications company, also providing edge computing.
I have only recently discovered Lumen while I was looking for high dividend stocks. I figured that if my thinking that the US stock market is overvalued, at least by buying a stock distributing dividends that I am happy to hold long term, I will still get a minimum return on my investment (assuming the company continues to pay the same level of dividends).
And in case I am wrong about the US stock market and that it continues to increase in value, I am capturing a part of the increase through my holding of a that US stock.
Also I read a few reviews from stock analysts claiming that Lumen, given their recent technology development, was an interesting play because if they do manage to reinvent themselves, there is a good potential for their stock price to perform well.
I bought LUMN at an average price of $12.89 with a dividend yield over 8% in mid April 2021. As of today I am at +9.29%.
My opinion on public stock trading:
Trading shares is risky. I do believe that any non-professional trader who attempts to time the market will lose on the long run. So as far as I am concerned, I want to make sure that my portfolio is made of stocks that I’d be comfortable with holding for the years to come. Because I may very well have to before seeing a good return.
On top of that I do believe that the financial market paradigm has massively switched over the past few years due to trading free apps and massive number of retail investors going into the game.
Even more so than AMC and Gamestop which I think are Meme stocks purely driven by hype and the power of the crowd vs. Wall Street, I think Hertz ($HTZ) is a fundamental example of the shift in paradigm.
Hertz was meant to go bankrupt with a massive amount of debt on their balance sheet. And what generally happens in this case is that the whole value for the shareholders gets wiped out. Yet, after famous billionaire investor Carl Icahn sold all his position at c. $0.7 a share, the stock skyrocketed to more than 7x that, driven by retail investors who were just believing in the brand.
Turned out that a court recently agreed on a buy-out plan from an institutional investor, pricing the share at $7 a piece.
Also, I suspect that the new crypto millionaires demographics is fairly young (ie. less than 35), and I would be super curious to see how the whole crypto and meme stocks trend has re-balanced the share of wealth between generations at a global level.
10 — Tax reduction advantage investment (Girardin / PEA / Life Insurance)
The broad range of tax-reduction investments include some of the best Risk/Rewards investments that you can make.
I am mostly familiar with these types of investment in France, which has a very unique approach to tax and tax-reduction investment schemes so you may not have the exact equivalent in your own country. But if you do, I highly recommend that you look into it.
One of the tax-related investment I have made years ago is called Girardin Industriel. In short, this is a government program to incentivize people to invest in the French Caribbean islands.
If you invest say €1,000 today, in your next tax return you’ll be able to reduce your total tax due by €1,200. However that’s it, you’re not getting anything else after that. But that’s still a risk-free investment yielding 15%-20% over one year and a half! Risk-free (if you use the right investment company).
Another thing that we have in France is called a PEA. It’s basically an investment account that if you hold it long enough (8 years from memory) without withdrawing any money from it, all your taxes on gain on capital realized through the PEA are considerably discounted.
I recommend that you do a quick research to know if anything similar exists in your country. Personally, I’ve never done any investment through my PEA yet (investment options are limited to French companies) but I did open it years ago to make sure that I could benefit almost immediately from the tax exemption the day I’ll decide to use it.
Another way to benefit from tax exemption that I use is “Life Insurance Contract”, which I believe do not mean the same thing in France and in America for instance. But I would not be surprised if you could find an equivalent in your own country.
In France, a life insurance contract is basically an investment contract where you accept to commit your money for a long period and benefit from tax exemption in exchange.
Thanks to that, an investment that may not be that attractive on a net basis because heavily taxed can become a viable option as part of your investment portfolio.
Current status of my investments
Girardin: I used that tax reduction scheme twice and was quite happy with it. The only reason that I haven’t recently is that I’m not on a payroll anymore and cannot predict how much I’ll earn over the year.
PEA: I have had it opened for over 6 years and I now have a tax free investment account when the right time comes to invest in French stocks.
Life Insurance: I currently have a few thousands euros on a life insurance contract which are invested in a SCPI (REITS). Current IRR of 4% over 6 years.
My opinion on tax reduction investments
I believe that tax-reduction investments should never be under-estimated given the huge impact tax can have on your investment and how quick tax can reduce your gains.
However it is important to understand the full story. I have also come across tax-reduction investments that were tied to bad underlying investment assets. Do not be blinded by the tax incentive and agree to anything! As with every investment asset class, do your research first!
It is also important to understand that a lot of intermediaries take advantage of the tax reduction scheme and impact it in their own fees. If you get a 10% tax reduction but that the intermediary charges you a 8% commission, the whole thing become way less attractive.
And this happens more often than you would believe.
11 — Scams
I wanted to include a section about scams because I’ve encountered a few of those in the past and I find useful sharing my experience to reduce your chance to suffer from it.
First, be very very wary of any type of investment that GUARANTEES a great return (like 8% and above).
If that return is guaranteed “for life”, it’s likely a Ponzi Scheme. If hat return is guaranteed for the first 2 or 3 years of your investment, chances are you’re gonna get screwed after that. So at the very least, be extra cautious.
As far as I am concerned I had an experience like that. I cannot guarantee 100% that it was a scam, but I was super uncomfortable with it so I dropped the process.
I came across FJO investment when i was looking into investing in parking spaces. They had a nice brochure and they were guaranteeing 11% yield in first two years, + they gave you the option to sell them back your investment at 125% purchase price in 10 years.
I mean, if that was legit, that’d be a good low risk investment with guaranteed positive return. Which is exactly why it sounded fishy.
I even had a call with one of their associates. Still I was a bit uneasy.
I then did a bit of research about the UK investment regulation landscape, and I realized that FJP was not authorized by the FCA.
I got the following response from FJP:
At this stage I was not comfortable proceeding with the operation, especially after reading online about scams that involved investment in parking spaces.
That being said, I am not saying FJP investment is a scam because I have never got proof of it. This happened almost 5 years ago and they are still in business so who knows.
I would actually love that someone tell me their experience with them.
The point is, through my thought process, it did not feel right. I saw several red flags and when it does not feel right, you should just back off and not succumb to the fear of missing out.
Another experience that I had, and that was pure scam this time, was on Bitclout.
I was looking for influencers with a large audience on twitter and / or Instagram, who had recently joined the platform and whose coin price was still low.
I found one profile, like 200k twitter followers, fairly low price coin, who had joined less than an hour ago.
Turned out it was a fake. 3 days later my whole investment was wiped off and the twitter account had been deleted.
Fortunately for me it was kind of paper money, because it was money invested off the 10x return I got investing in other legit creators, so in the end that taught me to be more prudent without costing me too much.
But hopefully my bad experience will help you without costing you anything.
Now, I don’t invest in a creator coin if I cannot make sure their twitter account is legit, and if they did not mention or twitted about their bitclout account directly from their official account.
12 — Much more investment options to explore
There are so many opportunities to invest out there that I have heard of, had friends or relative do, but that I have never tried. I thought I’d mention the ones that popped to mind.
I quickly looked into Masterworks, which offer smaller investor the opportunity to own shares of a famous piece of art.
I am sure this can be interesting and exciting for anyone into art, but I have to admit that I have no expertise in this domain so I did not explore further.
Real estate with Airbnb
If I had the cash and the right opportunity, one strategy that I had in mind for years would be to find an apartment next to the surfing coast with two rooms, find a flatmate for the year when I live in it, and rent my room or the whole place on Airbnb in the summer, when location prices are sky-high.
I anticipate that this way I should be able to generate enough income from rent to service the whole mortgage payment.
Parking spots / boxes
As I mentioned in the Scam section, I was looking into that kind of investment before. The main advantage of parking over a house or a flat is that you have close to 0 maintenance cost.
I’ve heard of friends getting a bit more complex about it, doing Leverage Buy Out (LBO) strategies on parking spots. In simple terms, that just means buying out a large chunk of parking spots already generating revenue, with a lot of debt. The revenue repays the debt and the investor gets a high return on their own investment.
Retirement homes, Childcare, Student residences etc.
These investment have been all over the place in the past decade, especially retirement homes with baby boomers growing old.
I’ve never looked into it so I don’t have an opinion on those but just wanted to mention it was out there.
My guess is that to make these kind of investment you need to go through a third party or a fund, and the fees taken by Managers massively impact your returns, so be careful to understand everything.
I have seen people make hundred of thousands of profit out of buying old Ferrari, Porsche etc., holding onto it for a few years and re-selling them to passionate collectors.
This type of hobby obviously requires you to have both a certain amount of capital to spend in a Lambo, but also to have a certain expertise of these cars and which ones are likely going to be sought after in the next coming years.
Sneakers, rare cards, stamps…
And the list goes on. Same principal as with sports cars, but initial investment is more limited. It still requires expertise though.
Bonds, Commodities, Options, Mutual funds…
And all the other investment vehicles that you can find on the financial market.
In a sense, the Lottery can be seen as a type of investment. Say that you decide to allocate $5 a week to a lottery ticket, the same way that buying cryptocurrency is a gamble / investment, we can consider it as an investment as well.
It is very well documented that the odds are NOT in your favor and most statisticians will tell you that this is a waste of money.
I fully agree with the statistical argument. However another way to see it is that if, indeed, you do win the lottery, this is life changing. You’ll get enough money to not have to work another day in your life if you do not want to.
So assuming that your regular income is enough that $5 a week won’t impact your daily life, but that you’re not already a high net worth individual with total financial freedom.
If you think about it as a 0.25% allocation of your overall portfolio, which in the unlikely event that you win brings you a return on investment that no other investment will, then maybe there is a world in which it’s kind of make sense…
To invest in a rolling fund, it generally requires you to have a certain level of wealth already but entry ticket are still more accessible than regular Private Equity Funds investments.
I’m also mentioning it here because we like the model at HoriZen Capital and are thinking of launching one to invest specifically in profitable SaaS businesses.
Here is a video of Akeel, partner at HoriZen, explaining how rolling funds work.
13 — Conclusion
I hope this review of my own experience and opinion can help you widen and improve your investment strategy, and diversify your portfolio.
Always remember to do your Due Diligence and research before committing any money, and make sure that you never invest money you cannot afford to lose!