Level Money

Leveling the investment research playing field

Investing is not something most of us do for a living. And sometimes even the professionals have a hard time. So how might the novice investor make more sound investment decisions? It’s no surprise that navigating through the complexity and confusion of the stock market is a daunting task. Many people don’t play the game until they know all the rules, and investing your own money into a system you don’t fully understand is too much of a risk.

 

Why is investment research so complicated? The experience doesn’t change or adapt based on your needs like Uber does, and it doesn’t present information in a digestible format either. Terminology and jargon exist as a barrier that only adds to the investing learning curve, making the user less confident in their investment decisions. How can we simplify the complicated financial terminology and concepts used to evaluate common stocks and securities so that making investment decisions can be more accessible, and people can play a more active role in their investment decisions?

 

This isn’t a new problem. Nearly every service and product we use today presents us with information that helps us make more educated decisions. ESPN’s weekly fantasy projections help people who might not know much about football determine what players to start and who to sit by converting stats into simplified projected future performance. Spotify helps users explore new music with curated playlists like Discover Weekly. Weather apps like Poncho convert numerical degrees into dress codes that help you decide what to wear every morning. These services are simple on the surface, but contain a great deal of sophistication in terms of how they frame the content they present. These services and others like them are great examples to learn from.

Knowledge is power

When you want to invest your money, where do you begin? Research. There is no denying that information is out there, but finding information at your level of understanding is the challenge. Most quote pages today display tons of information the average person simply doesn’t know how to comprehend. Statistics like Alpha, Beta, Sharpe Ratio, P/E, Bid, Ask, EPS, and others might be helpful but only if people are able to use them. It’s also not uncommon to have videos that start autoplaying on the page, adding sound to an already potent visual assault on the senses. Trading platforms today are sold like VCR’s in the 1980’s: more buttons means a better product. We know this isn’t true, and set out to envision a better way to research potential investments. A simpler way. Simplicity in this context isn’t necessarily the absence of content, but rather a tool to manage complexity.  

Guided searches

Not much has changed in the last 20 years of searching for stocks. While Google can predict exactly what you’re going to type before you even do it, to search for a stock today you still have to know the name of the stock, or a ticker symbol. If you want to look up Apple you have to type “AAPL” or  “Apple stock.” But what happens if you want to look up the companies that compete with Apple, or companies that make components for Apple devices? You’d have to do your own research. Wouldn’t it be nice if a service just knew what you meant and showed you some possible matches?

Instead of distinct companies, what if instead we had a flexible way to set search parameters? If you’re not exactly sure how to find companies that might meet your investment criteria (or what your investment criteria are), these types of features would come in handy. A successful implementation should balance the omission of criteria that are typical but not helpful, like stock price; while simplifying criteria that are useful but often very complex, like asset classes such as stocks, bonds, options, etc. Balancing the number of criteria is important as well: too many and results are over-constrained. Too few and you’re surveying the entire market.

 

We knew that traditional search styles wouldn’t necessarily work, but a madlibs style search like the Beats1 sentence might be a much better fit. Madlibs are a useful metaphor for conversationally understanding what you might be looking for. Multiple fill-in-the-blanks could be put side by side to represent whatever criteria are driving the search. They could even prepopulate based on your personal investment criteria.

Results that relate to your investment criteria

What if instead of showing you numbers that might not mean much, like stock price or volume, we could instead show you how well a stock matches your personal investment criteria? Those criteria could of course include a budget of what you’d like to spend, but it could expand to include things like ethical investing or geographic diversification like other investment platforms are already beginning to do; both of which have been proven as sound strategies for robust portfolio construction. Providing this high-level breakdown of various aspects of a tradeable asset in relation to your goals helps you decide if you want to dive deep into a quote page.

Browse curated content to discover and learn about the market

Another large component of researching your investments is learning about the context of the market, as well as learning terminology. But even if you know the definition or a term you still might not know how to put it to use. For example, a Beta value is known as a measure of risk. But is a Beta value of 1 good or bad? You need to know the range, the underlying math, and the index being referenced in order for a Beta to be useful. Investment research platforms assume users know the answers to these questions, and don’t do a good job of providing the additional context a beginner might need.

 

We looked at how Spotify helps people learn about new music as a metaphor, and noticed they look a lot at the music you’ve listened to in order to make suggestions for what you might like. What if the discover page of an investment research platform did the same thing? A discover page that that’s educational and explanatory would curate lists of stocks that helped explain different financial concepts, much like Spotify’s discover weekly playlists.

Follow investments to learn about market performance without the risk of gambling your real money

Once you decide to “follow” a stock, what happens? Too often when you check in on your watch-list using mainstream investment research software, it’ll just give you an updated quote. But users don’t follow to just see updated quotes. They want to see what’s changed – the delta between what the investment was doing then, and now. To do this a solution would show trailing data from the last quarter so you can keep track of how things have changed over time.

Quote Page

 

The design of a quote page today doesn’t change on the number of shares you trade, the money you have, or your personal investment preferences. Quote pages should instead be adaptable and present information in a more straightforward way.

 

What does that mean? It means when you see a stock chart the title helps explain what you’re seeing. It also means that when you see key quantitative data about the stock, are highlighted for you to see, with visualizations integrated into the sentence summaries. We did this using Spark, a font by After the flood – it uses OpenType ligatures to render visualization pretty much anywhere you’re writing text. That makes it much much easier to embed graphics in rhythm with text on the web. Instead of having to draw SVGs or import images, you can just type out the numbers and they’ll render automatically. When you hover over one of these sentences, an explanation pops up that breaks down the definition and terminology so you don’t have to look it up in another tab.

Even though Level isn’t a real product, the opportunities and problems it addresses are real and continue to persist. While investing your money is a task to be taken seriously, we don’t see a reason why it can’t be a more democratic process that helps you learn more about the decisions you’re making and the effects they have down the line. We hope one day something like Level exists in the real world, so people can teach themselves what matters when it comes to their investments and make the right decisions for their future. Right now though, it’s all up for grabs.