So…who wants to be a billionaire?

Above: Sheldon Powell explains the Bilionaire’s League App at a meeting at the Hyatt Regency. Photo by Mark Lyndersay. Click on any image to enlarge.

BitDepth#1155 for July 26, 2018

Sheldon O Powell wants you to make money as an investor.

He brings impressive credentials to the task.

At 13, Powell was a mechanic in Jamaica, but his early aptitude with finances placed him in the top ten of a stock wizard competition.

“I want to be the leader of that movement,” he said last week at a meeting at the Hyatt Regency, “I want to take financial technology to the region.”

In 2017, at 30, he won the Best Portfolio Management App award from Capital Finance International, a competition he was nominated to by the World Bank Group.

These are impressive imprimaturs for the project, just as they were when the Powells, father Winston and son Sheldon, introduced it almost exactly a year ago.

The App, available on the Google Play Store and for iOS is, primarily, a coaching tool. It uses publicly available records of the top 15 billionaire investors in the world and shows what their portfolios are doing in real time. Live stock information has been available on paper tape since 1870 and the price of accessing has been dropping steadily in the digital age.

Among the investor group are Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Carl Icahn, Abigail Johnson, George Soros and John Paulson.

“It is not an investment app,” Powell said, “it is a guide, an educational app. As an educational tool, it will teach you so much.”

“Users are now empowered to challenge a CFA expert, broker, financial advisor, portfolio manager, market analyst or a pension planner.”

So what’s happened since then?

Both app stores carry the app and a simulator, which sets you up with US$10,000 in virtual money to try its functions and the live app, which requires a payment of US$6.99 monthly to begin trading after a seven-day trial.

The Billionaire’s League app.

The app has more than 1,000 installs on the Google Play Store with 11 reviews. The simulator version of the app has just five installs there and while Apple’s iOS store doesn’t report install numbers, there are no ratings or reviews for the app.

In addition for the portfolio monitoring, the app also taps into information and reporting from Forbes as a data feed partner displaying its Investing & Finance, Politics, Sports and Business news.

Powell also noted that the app taps into global data provided by Edgar Online, Localytics, MetaStock, IQ Chart, Drive EWealth, Strategic Alliance and Global Fintech.

The app targets investment in international stocks, though investors in TT, Powell notes, are blacklisted from buying stock on the US exchange.

Local stocks won’t work with the app because local financial institutions do not disclose information about their portfolios publicly, so that data isn’t readily available. Where it can be sourced, it’s delayed by days at the least.

Powell makes a compelling argument against local investment by calling out the sluggish performance of local investment funds using a stock performance report for July 20, which showed least half of local stocks in US currency showing negative returns, the remainder demonstrating incremental, lower single-digit performance.

“Global wealth grew by 6.4 percent,” he argued, “so how is it that our local assets aren’t performing?”

And this is where young Powell turns up the heat in his presentation a bit to introduce the app’s ability to connect an investor with a brokerage firm.

“You can do KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (Anti Money Laundering) in the app. We disrupt brokers and the Central Bank.”

Then his father, Winston, explained The Alchemist’s Tool, a feature of the app, which he claimed to have successfully demonstrated to the T&T SEC who he says, in turn, have checked it with the US SEC.

In that system, a user of the app buys a stock using a local debit card using TT dollars, then sells it 24 hours later, getting paid in US, which can then be used to purchase other stocks.

Stock purchases done within the app are not done through the Billionaire’s League app, which only connects customers with brokers.

The system depends on the user having a credit or debit card backed by Visa. Debit cards of that sort aren’t currently available, but Sheldon Powell points to two products on the horizon which will enable investments using the app for less well-banked users.

The One Caribbean Card is from Global Integrated Fintech Solutions, who were talking in May about chip based card processing with security on a level with Visa and Mastercard.

The other is SugaPay, being developed by Global Processing Centre, Ltd out of Antigua and Barbuda, which Powell expects to develop a debit card with international provenance by October.

The structure of the app seems to favour safe investing over the exploration of marginal or up and coming stocks which might offer better returns.

“There are a few hedge fund billionaires to choose from that provides an aggressive user who desires greater risk the option to replicate or build custom funds for example, George Soros, Stanley Drunkenmiller or Ray Dalio,” Powell responded.

“For conservative investors they can also choose between Charles Schwab or Thomas Peterffy whose portfolio is structured around mutual funds and ETF’s.”

Winston Powell

Powell did not answer questions about how much money has been spent developing the app and user network, but acknowledged that the endgame for the project is the sale of the app.

“Our exit strategy like any other disruptive start up is acquisition by a US based broker dealer or investment bank.”

The Powells are articulate and knowledgeable about their project, but with any tool that manages investment money, any curiosities are worth noting.

The company is based in three Caribbean islands. It operates in Jamaica to enable online financial payments, in the Bahamas as “leverage for US based institutional investors,” and administratively from Trinidad and Tobago.

The company’s website has no contact information links and several links simply bounce you to the top of the site’s page. The most clearly usable link, “Get App,” gathers contact information before allowing access to the software.

Two additional apps are in development. The Global Export App is supposed to disrupt the process of moving goods to other markets by tapping into publicly available global data sets and simplifying the process of exporting for average users.

The other, the Billionaire’s School Club, targets teenagers with age-appropriate coaching on managing money and investment. A demo of that app shown at last week’s meeting uses the name and likeness of investor Abigail Johnson. Sheldon Powell did not respond to emailed questions about the licensing arrangements for that.

I took a card from Winston Powell for follow-up questions for this story. When I took it out of my wallet, the ink on the slickly produced stationery had stuck to the leather, peeling off the paper.

The contact email on the card for Sheldon Powell did not work, bouncing repeatedly. I eventually posed my questions via Facebook Messenger. The emailed response came from a GMail account.

Then there’s young Powell’s predilection for dressing up or down to suit his audience and his insistence that last week’s meeting was a gathering of friends, and not merely the discussion of a digital product or a business proposition and you get flags, not red but a distant flutter of yellow.

At the start of last week’s meeting Sheldon Powell felt moved to declare, “There’s a lot of network marketing happening in the world, this is not that, this app is a financial tool.” 

If he knew that he had to confirm that, then he should know that these tiny components of the project, all likely to be just early minor but untidy glitches need to be sorted out to ensure that the project is clearly, at every point, what it’s advertised to be.

There’s time to sort out these glitches in the messaging around the Billionaires League Mobile app is launched to the public, which is scheduled for the third week of August, Sheldon Powell confirmed in a follow up phone call that was too late for the print edition of this column.

A uniform, clearly articulated strategy is going to be essential in reassuring the people that the Powells hope will begin using the app after its introduction.

That launch will be fuelled by linkages with CNMG and TrendMedia’s Loop, both of whom will be involved in a financial education package to be called Billionaire’s Insight.

Despite the quirks still evident after the announcement of the app in 2017, the biggest challenge that the Billionaire’s League project and app will face is the institutional skittishness about investmenting and sophisticated financial instruments that pervades the general public.

For those with a fair level of financial savvy, the Billionaire’s League app will be a straightforward and enabling tool. But it’s one thing to offer up a pool of the financial wisdom of 15 billionaire investors and their considerable advisory teams, it’s quite another to get a financial newbie into those waters, even at the shallow end.