Copy trading, low cost active alpha and the democratization of Wall Street

Copy Trading (sometimes called Social Trading) means something like Follow or Like or Connect borrowed from social media, but instead of indicating “I like you”, it indicates “I like the way that you think about that investment enough to invest with you”.

I call this “low cost active alpha”.

My theory is that we are all experts in something and we can use that expertise to invest/trade if we have the right tools. In Hedge Fund speak, we can all generate Alpha returns.

This theory come from the “buy what you know” mantra of Peter Lynch, the legendary investor who built Magellan Funds. For a contrary view, read this post (which I think says you should use your enthusiasm for a product/service as the starting point for a disciplined investment process, not a simple “follow your gut and hit the buy button”).

I have no idea which name will catch on. You could also call this “democratization of Wall Street” which has a more exciting ring to it. I prefer “low cost active alpha” because Social Trading implies that making money trading/investing is as easy as hitting Like or Follow. However I understand that “low cost active alpha” sounds geeky and klunky and probably won’t catch on.

Fintech ventures in this space that I have covered include Motif, Angel List and Wikifolio.

The disruptive technology is XBRL:

“XBRL democratizes fundamental stock analysis in the same way that PCs democratized computing and social media democratized HTML. When you can compare the cash holdings across 100 companies with a single entry in your spreadsheet, or see quarter to quarter revenue growth for every company in the index that you devised, do you need mega brokers and their me too reports churned out by freshly minted MBA graduates in an outsourcing center somewhere?”


The picks and shovels (white label) vendor is Xignite. “Back in the day” I worked on the transition from analog to digital market data in the 2nd Fintech Era. Xignite brings this into the 3rd Fintech Era by making the data available online via API to startups that want to innovate with market data.

Another startup that is doing exciting things in this area is ThinkNum. I also like what Estimize is doing by bringing some data science to the murky world of analyst forecasts.

I happen to be a believer in Fundamental Investing. I am not inclined to trading, although I know it is a good game if you know how to play it well. So I include trading tools like StockTwits and Saxo Bank (although Saxo can be used for both trading and investing).

There is a blurring of the lines between professional and amateur or retail and institutional. Opportunity often lies at the intersection of categories that become obliterated by technology. What do you call a single individual who invests/trades their own money but also has other investors/traders who pay a carry fee for following his/her trades? Is that person a retail or institutional investor? When all the back office tasks are outsourced to something like Angel List Syndicates and you can get the same market data as the professionals, the lines do get blurred.

Here are the Innovators that I see in this space that I have already reviewed:

Angel List







Saxo Bank

I am building a database of Fintech Innovators that I informally call Fintech 1,000. This is a “stretch name”, because I am only up to 700 today, but I can see how to get it to 1,000 quite easily and probably 2,000 and maybe even 3,000 (“Fintech 3,000” has a good ring to it). Here are the other ventures that I have tagged as low cost active alpha, but I have not reviewed them yet:



Essentia Analytics


Simply Wall Street

TR Data

Who am I missing?






  1. there are a lot more, as I’m sure you already know considering you have a database of 700 at this point…here are some:
    Rank and Filed
    New Constructs
    Capital Cube

    I’d love to share more (I know a lot more) and discuss with you. Maybe we can combine our lists.

    • Thanks Jordan, had many of those but not tagged as Low Cost Active Alpha and some were new to me.

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