Choosing from the hundreds of saving and investment products available can be daunting, but fintech startup My Treasury makes it easy for South Africans. From the My Treasury website users can fill in a couple of questions pertaining to their saving range and required liquidity and the platform, through a complex algorithm, scours 670 different savings rates across eight institutions to find the best rates based on unique user needs.
Rubenstein said that the idea for My Treasury began after he sold shares in a listed property company and struggled to find the right bank account in which to deposit his earnings. He assumed it would be a relatively straightforward process, but there was no efficient way to compare the hundreds of rates on the market and to know which account would both meet his savings requirements and offer the best returns.
“Eventually, I made a more or less arbitrary decision and put the money in an account that seemed attractive,” says Rubenstein.
“A week later, my private banker at a rival bank informed him he could have gotten a better rate and better liquidity with one of their products. So the idea for the My Treasury Savings Optimiser was born from a personal need to find the best savings account, and from a realisation that all South Africans would benefit from the savings space becoming more transparent and competitive.”
He called on old friends to help him realise the idea.
“Simon had a background in journalism and online marketing, and Michael had recently returned to South Africa from a 5-year stint in asset management in London. They immediately saw the potential of the idea and My Treasury was born,” says Rubenstein.
My Treasury is beautifully simple for users but masks a lot of complexity behind the scenes. It’s also a relatively new concept in the South African market.
“There are so many moving parts to coordinate,” says Shear.
“In a corporate, there are other divisions that you can rely on to provide auxiliary support, whether legal, compliance, IT or something else. But in a startup, you have to do it all yourself and learn quickly. We needed to constantly work to coordinate tech, user experience, regulatory considerations and business decisions. We had a detailed vision of what the site should look like but getting our developers to translating this into a working tool took much longer and was much more frustrating than we expected.”
Fortunately, another surprise came in the form of droves of users taking to the service.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the response. We have received wide press coverage, even being featured on CNN. We knew the service would be helpful, but we weren’t expecting so many users of our website to reach out to us to express their appreciation for the service,” says Shear.
“The lesson seems to be that South Africans want independent, transparent sources of information to help them make better consumer decisions. Nobody wants to be taken for a sucker and not get higher returns on the savings because of a lack of information. People often feels as if financial products are designed to bamboozle. My Treasury aims to make saving simpler and clearer for everyone.”
While the industry has been slow to the digital era, Rubenstein says that South African investors have always been switched on.
“More people are starting to realise that disruption is a fact of our technology-driven economy and that the smart money's on staying ahead of the curve,” he explains.
“We think the savings and investment space in South Africa is ripe for such a shake-up. People are frustrated with their bankers and brokers, who hide behind financial complexity and are failing to deliver them reasonable net returns, after fees, on their savings. We think there is major scope for tools like My Treasury that empower people to become more actively engaged in managing their own wealth.”
A challenge that faces many startups in the fintech space is regulation - something that is often left until too late. This is where the founders of My Treasury had an advantage thanks to their backgrounds in financial services.
Says Kransdorff, “With team members who had worked in the financial services and communication sectors before, we understood the importance of compliance.”
“There are two regulatory aspects we had to consider, protection of private information and regulations around financial services. The first is fairly straightforward. We keep user information private and our service complies with POPI. Financial services regulation, however, is more complex. We are not a financial services provider; My Treasury is a source of consumer information. But we thought it important to take expert advice on how to objectively and independently communicate the relevant consumer information so we remain within the ambit of existing legislation.”
Rubenstein adds that while the fintech space is challenging, one pleasant surprise is the camaraderie of the industry.
“Coming from the zero-sum world of investment banks and asset managers, this was a huge surprise. Entrepreneurs are eager to share knowledge and ideas and are always looking for opportunities to collaborate. Hubs like AlphaCode are great not only to learn from people who have already worked on the very problems you might be grappling with but because other people’s enthusiasm is infectious.”