18 Jun 2019

A Life Less Ordinary: Marco Abele

Investec Focus

Digital content specialists

After nearly 12 years at Credit Suisse, including over three years as chief digital officer, Marco Abele decided to change course, creating a new business that, in his words, “uses technology to help people invest into and enjoy their passions.”

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His fintech venture, TEND, takes the sharing economy to the next level, decentralising ownership of high-value, highly meaningful assets.

 

The TEND app provides a digital platform for shares in an asset – a classic car, a piece of fine art, a wine collection, a racehorse – to be bought and sold, facilitating co-ownership in an investment with the potential to appreciate in value and opening up opportunities to experience this investment in a tangible way.

 

With an increasing number of people placing more value on experience and personal development than the accumulation of material objects, TEND lends itself to those looking for flexibility, who want to invest without the traditional structures of ownership, and who are seeking like-minded individuals who share their passions.

 

Abele talked us through his business journey, from moving out of the corporate world to using new technologies to build his start-up and proving the sceptics wrong.

 

I started TEND on an observation: a lot of people aren’t fond of financial products. But as soon as you start talking to them about their passions, whether that’s cars or fine wine or travel, their mood completely changes. I thought there must be a way to use technology to help people invest in, and enjoy, their passions.

 

At the same time, I saw that luxury assets are really well-performing investments. In last year’s Knight Frank Wealth Report, classic cars, wine and whisky were outperforming things like stocks and bonds. So there’s a real financial case – it’s not just about having access to things you love to own, there’s also an opportunity to make a strong return.

 

When I started TEND, a lot of people told me it couldn’t be done. I said it can be. There was a lot of scepticism – people said we wouldn’t get the insurance cover, the ownership structures would be off-putting, and the logistics would make it too hard. We had to be creative – so we worked with top insurance companies to develop new insurance products that can cover people in a shared ownership model.

 

Moving out of the corporate world was a big step. I have huge respect for people who start their own businesses and try to build something from the ground up. It’s very high-risk, and the risks are completely different from what you face in the corporate world. You really can’t underestimate the amount of work it takes.

 

One item we have on our platform is a classic car once owned by Apple. Steve Jobs may have only driven it a few times a year. Typically, the owner has to make the full investment in the car, but it will barely leave the garage. With TEND, each owner will likely be driving the classic car as often as they would under outright ownership, but they can dramatically lower their individual investment amount.

Marco Abele
Marco Abele

There’s a real enthusiasm for the sharing economy – people are putting a premium on experience over ownership.

We’ve seen a lot of interest in areas like wine. Fine wine might not be the first asset you think of as working under a sharing model, but we’ve seen many clients who want to own a portion of a wine collection. You get to drink some of it every year, but the real value comes from getting to meet other people who are passionate about wine and having a shared experience. The fact that wine as an overall asset class is also appreciating at close to 10 percent a year is just the icing on the cake – it’s really about the learning opportunity and the social experience.

 

A lot of our prospective clients are young and based in East Asia, with a global lifestyle. For younger buyers, there’s a real enthusiasm for the sharing economy – they’re putting a premium on experience over ownership. Even property has a huge appeal under this model. If someone is only in London for four weeks a year, it’s easy to see why they might want to buy a share of a luxury property rather than investing in one that sits empty most of the time. Owning a share of three homes around the world is also a popular hedging strategy against shifting property prices.

 

Before striking out on my own, I spent 12 years at Credit Suisse, including as CDO in their private banking and investment management arm. We digitised a big part of the company, and that was all down to how we used technology to transform the business. I saw there was a real shift in the way people manage not just their wealth, but much of their lives, using mobile devices.

 

I’m a bit of a customer-fanatic, so everything I do starts from that. With TEND, we built the business around an app because we also wanted to tap into the network effect. We want people to be able to have access to the platform from anywhere and also be able to show their friends their investments right from their smartphone.