What do you as an investor know about the people who manage your money? If your answer to this question is “not very much,” then imagine the challenge of banks and other financial institutions who invest millions of dollars with hundreds, if not thousands of investment professionals.
This is an underdiscussed problem in the investment world: the lack of systematic knowledge about the individuals and teams making investment decisions for millions of individuals, families, and organizations. This can lead to underperformance in terms of investments, as well as inefficient financial advisory.
To this end, we caught up with Thomas Oberlechner, CEO and founder of BehaviorQuant. The company he founded in 2018 gives financial institutions predictive information about the people behind investment decisions. BehaviorQuant leverages behavioral science, machine learning, and automation to learn and analyze the behavior of investment professionals and teams – as well as customers. The insights derived from BehaviorQuant’s automated survey technology enables fund managers to improve their performance and better customize their services to their customers.
Headquartered in Vienna, Austria, BehaviorQuant demoed its technology at FinovateEurope earlier this year.
What problem does BehaviorQuant solve and who does it solve it for?
Thomas Oberlechner: We developed BehaviorQuant because every financial decision is ultimately made by a person or a team. BehaviorQuant solves a core problem that underlies the entire investment industry: we don’t have systematic knowledge about the people and teams behind investment decisions. And that’s true for financial professionals and clients alike.
Financial players – for example, banks, funds, financial advisors – are used to having access to vast amounts of financial data and information. But without BehaviorQuant, they don’t have systematic knowledge and data about the people and teams behind this data. Yet it is the people and teams behind the visible financial results that play the key role in investing. You can see this everywhere — in the performance of investment teams, in the selection of fund managers, in the efficiency and success of wealth advisors.
For example, in our research we found that 37% of the performance of top decision makers at world-leading financial institutions is based on their behavioral characteristics. However, there is no product to easily measure and quantify the behavioral characteristics of decision-makers. This lack of insight into the behavioral aspects and decision-making tendencies leads to underperformance of asset managers, missed profit opportunities for investors, unrecognized fund manager selection risks, costly staffing mistakes, and churn among dissatisfied clients.
How does BehaviorQuant solve this problem better than other companies?
Oberlechner: Our behavioral finance technology combines the highest level of expertise in behavioral science, personality and decision research with machine learning. For the first time ever, we are capturing the people and teams behind the visible investment decisions. And we give our customers predictive knowledge about themselves and about others – about their own investment teams, about the fund managers they allocate their money to, about their clients. Our solutions solve three distinct problems: first, they help asset managers to improve their performance; second, they help allocators choose the best fund managers; and third, they enable advisors to tailor their advice highly efficiently to each individual client.
As we all know and often forget, markets are made up of people. And financial decision makers have very different ways of processing information, personalities, values, goals, and decision paths. Before BehaviorQuant, there was no systematic knowledge of these aspects. But it is exactly these aspects that are critical to how successfully you steer your course through the rough waters of financial risks and returns.
So BehaviorQuant enables you to efficiently personalize your client advice, optimize your investment decisions, and avoid invisible risks in capital allocation and manager selection.
Regardless of how experienced you are as a financial professional, you will always benefit from a system that gives you systematic, quantitative knowledge about people. Our clients receive predictive knowledge about asset managers, investment teams, and clients. And they make far better decisions — whether they want to interact more effectively with their clients, optimize their team’s decision-making, hire promising professionals, or select compatible external fund managers. BehaviorQuant effortlessly makes them a master of these tasks.
Who are BehaviorQuant’s primary customers. How do you reach them?
Oberlechner: The lack of knowledge about the actual decision makers is pervasive, and it affects three kinds of financial companies in particular. These companies are also our main customers. First, we work with financial companies and asset managers who actively invest in the markets and who want to optimize the returns they generate by improving their own decision processes. Second, we work with family offices and other allocators who use BehaviorQuant to evaluate and select fund managers. And thirdly, we cater to banks and investment advisors who want to excel in advising their clients. They want to advise in a highly personalized way that is truly aligned with their clients.
How do we reach these customers? We’re proud that our first clients found us, not the other way around. Of course, in the meantime, we have grown our sales and marketing team and expanded our outreach efforts by maintaining an active presence on social and other media and attending of relevant conferences — like Finovate. And we’re finding that word of mouth from customers who love our solutions is increasingly supporting our efforts to win new customers.
Can you tell us about a favorite implementation or deployment of your technology?
Oberlechner: We have been receiving enthusiastic feedback from users on both sides of the Atlantic. It makes me and the team happy when they tell us that BehaviorQuant should be a mandatory tool in any decision-making process, when they emphasize how BehaviorQuant’s solutions help them to make better decisions in a systematic and sustainable way, and when they express their enthusiasm about how it helps them deepen their customer relationships.
But my personal favourite deployment of our technology is something that has only very recently come to market. It allows us to impact many more customers without them having to contact our friendly sales team first. Just in time for the 2023 fall season, we’ve introduced an all-new, self-service option for our financial and wealth advisors. They can now effortlessly get detailed information on our website and actively try out BQ Advisory. Then they can purchase single product uses for their work with clients. They can do this directly on the website, on a credit-by-credit basis. This self-service option and the ability to join on a credit basis alongside our attractive licensing offerings have made the of BQ Advisory much easier, especially for the many independent advisors who advise a limited number of clients. And it’s also great for advisors in large institutions who use us already and now want to easily show their colleagues what BehaviorQuant can do.
What in your background gave you the confident to respond to this challenge?
Oberlechner: I was initially trained as a clinical psychologist in Vienna and always have been fascinated by the differences between people and the way they make decisions. As a university professor for many years, I have focused on how people actually make financial decisions — and the fact that we are all different financial decision makers. I have been fortunate to work with dozens of the world’s leading financial institutions for my research, from Goldman Sachs to Merrill Lynch to UBS. My female cofounder, Dr. Gerlinde Berghofer, and I both have PhDs and strong backgrounds in behavioral science. We have spent years doing research at Harvard, MIT, and Columbia University. We have worked with and studied hundreds and thousands of investment decision makers, from top fund managers to banks, advisors, and financial clients. From academia, we moved first to Silicon Valley and now to Vienna to translate this research into turnkey behavioral technologies for investment professionals.
Our solutions are therefore based on our many years of scientific work with many of the world’s leading investment institutions. And we have gone to great lengths to empirically test their benefits. For example, we have systematically tested the predictive power of BQ Performance with professional portfolio decision makers. While their average annual performance was about 10%, the annual performance of those whom the system predicted would outperform was more than twice as high. To give another example, in a comprehensive study of wealth advisory clients, BQ Advisory identified clients at risk of churn with 90% accuracy. Compare this to the 50% accuracy without BehaviorQuant!
What is the fintech ecosystem like in Austria? What is the relationship between techs, fintechs, and traditional financial services companies?
Oberlechner: Austria and Vienna have proven to be a fertile breeding ground for the specific type of fintech that BehaviorQuant offers. Vienna historically has played a large role in the sciences that generate a better understanding of individual and collective behavior, from Freud’s psychoanalysis to the Austrian School of Economics. After spending many years in San Francisco developing fintech, we felt very fortunate that the Austrian government offered us a generous grant to bring BehaviorQuant here.
I would describe the fintech industry as friendly and highly innovative, with some already well-known international players with roots in Austria like n26 and Bitpanda. Collaboration between traditional financial institutions and fintech startups has been a major driver of innovation in the Austrian market. Established banks are turning to fintech partnerships to expand their service offerings, improve the customer experience, and stay competitive in the digital age. Vienna has become a bit of a fintech hotspot, attracting both local and international talent and investment. Fintech companies benefit from Vienna’s consistently high rankings in international surveys of capitals’ attractiveness. The city offers an ecosystem of co-working spaces, incubators, and accelerators that foster collaboration and help fintech startups succeed.
At BehaviorQuant, we maintain close personal relationships with many of Austria’s “traditional” financial firms and banks, and we also have a very active bridge to the U.S. based on our history and our strong network on both the East and West coasts.
You demoed at FinovateEurope in London earlier this year How was that experience?
Oberlechner: Wow! We are absolutely thrilled by the incredible response we’ve received for our products! The interest and the number of new connections we’ve made were really overwhelming. We received amazing support from the organizers throughout the conference, as well as during in the preparation stage for our participation and presentation. The feedback from participants gave us an incredible boost of confidence and motivation. Thanks again to the team for a great and wonderfully rewarding experience!
What are your goals for BehaviorQuant and what can we expect in the months to come?
Oberlechner: Our goal with BehaviorQuant is simple: we want financial decision makers around the globe to become better decision-makers though our systematic behavioral data and decision support. And we want to become the world’s leading provider of predictive behavioral data for financial professionals and investment companies.
I briefly mentioned that we recently launched a self-service payment option for our advisory solution. In the coming months, exciting new self-service options are in the queue for the analysis of financial professionals with BQ Performance. This will allow individual investment professionals to easily get started with a comprehensive analysis of their personal untapped performance potential, as well as possible behavioral bias and performance blockers — before using it in the wider context, for example, with their entire team or company. So stay tuned for our upcoming releases!