The modern era of ubiquitous technologies and innovations offers us a world of opportunities. We witness miracles every day. People have never heard of rise to the level of stars in their industries by establishing and maintaining personal blogs. Unique business ideas turn into thriving companies in a couple of years with little or no starting capital. Former employees abandon their nine-to-five jobs to join the technology revolution, and some of them make it to the top, conquering His Majesty the Internet. Today let me tell you the success story and brief biography of a London-based entrepreneur who has an ambitious goal: to change the way people invest.
Sergey Sosnov is one of those people who decided to leave the safe harbor of a corporate job to start a company that improves the way how people invest in financial markets. As an Executive Director at Goldman Sachs Investment Management Division in London for over six years, Sergey managed more than $1 billion in private client funds. It was his experience of working with these high-net-worth individuals that prompted him to address their needs and existing difficulties by founding Zen Assets.
On Modern Wealth Management, or How the New Business Idea Was Born
During his career in the investment management Sergey Sosnov realized several very important truths. Although every investor is unique, there are several things they have in common. They want to see healthy returns on their money; most of the investors hate the hefty fees charged by the advisors as they eat up a considerable part of the long-awaited returns; many clients don’t like complex and unclear reporting of their investment portfolio performance, and they they didn’t have to adjust their busy schedules to meet with a financial advisor.
Sergey is convinced, that the wealth management industry could do a better job in servicing clients. The requirements of the demanding public are growing and competition among the banks and financial advisors is heating up. The only way to survive and prosper in this business environment, according to Sergey, is to truly understand your customers and make them happy with your service.
Some investors do not need financial advisors. They rely on their own expertise, discernment and intuition. However, they need to spend a lot of time researching the markets, reading news and reports before making a decision. They have to learn about investment products available for purchase and find the best broker to execute investment operations. Most people are intimidated by the mere process of decision-making. They want someone to give them a piece of advice, and someone to talk to if markets are volatile. Besides, many investors do not understand the laws and principles of the financial world – and have no incentive to dig deeper. They simply want to earn a decent return on their investments and avoid the negative effects of inflation.
Sergey Sosnov had always stayed on top of recent developments in the industry and was open to new ideas. According to the recent statistics, most investment managers fail to outperform their benchmarks. On top of that, financial advisors tend to charge unreasonably high fees to construct and manage clients’ portfolios further eroding their investment returns. Sergey decided it was time to make wealth management more investor-friendly – and that’s how he has spotted a very interesting business opportunity.
Sergey, together with his co-founders, has launched a technology-driven wealth management service for private investors – Zen Assets. The platform relies on the automated algorithms to evaluate clients’ risk tolerance and select an investment portfolio specifically tailored to the investor’s goals and type of personality. Zen Assets can be seen as a service with a completely new approach to investing because it makes professional advice more affordable than ever before. “Technology allows us to improve operational inefficiencies and eliminate many costly overheads, such as physical offices, expensive research, product selection and sales teams. We do not sponsor big sporting or social events and do not invest much in advertising. We focus a lot on online channels and leverage personal networks to build the initial client base,” Zen Assets’ CEO Sergey Sosnov says.
Sergey admits that one of the key strengths of Zen Assets is its highly skilled team. Although he runs a technology-driven business, investment advice still requires a human touch. “People on our investment committee have over 30 years of combined experience in managing clients’ money. Zen Assets has PhDs, MBAs and CFAs on board. Our Chief Investment Officer and the Head of Research have helped Zen Assets to devise its unique philosophy and are now assisting in monitoring and rebalancing clients’ portfolios. They will occasionally meet some of their customers to advise them on these portfolios,” Sergey says. Currently, despite being active technology users many people still make crucial investment decisions while face to face with their advisor. “You know, many investors still require a hand-holding but we expect this trend to change as the use of technology in investment management becomes more common-place,” Sergey explains.
Sergey Sosnov – British Gentleman and Investment Guru
Sergey’s life story began in Ukraine, one of the post-Soviet republics. He attended an English school and then Lugansk Pedagogical University, where he studied English and German languages and foreign literature. “To be honest, it wasn’t my first choice. At that time, my dream was to become a Military Interpreter, but you had to go to Kyiv to do that and my family couldn’t afford it. In the end things didn’t turn out too badly at the new Uni,” Sergey says with a smile.
However, he did not have the chance to fully embrace all the benefits of a student life, as after the first year Sergey started working part time… Although he appreciated the advantages of studying, he also had a chance to try many different things, including starting a business of his own – although in it didn’t work out.
After graduation in 1999, Sergey Sosnov became a teacher of the Business English at East Ukrainian National University. He was again surrounded by students. Teaching was a lot of fun, because most of the students were the same age as Sergey. However, he soon realized that he wanted to engage in something more dynamic and challenging.
One day, flipping through the ads page of a local newspaper, Sergey saw an article was to influence the direction his life took over the next decade. The article advertised the courses for currency dealers. Sergey liked the idea, but decided that it didn’t make sense to attend the course; he could learn a lot about finance and financial markets by going to the University Library. Regular reading allowed him to get acquainted with economics and to acquire a basic understanding of the stock market. However, Sergey realized that he needed to know more to move forward faster. Rather than attending a seminar, he decided to enroll in the Finance Department of East Ukrainian National University.
After a year, Sergey became an Intern at the local bank and after about six months later he landed a full-time position with the Ukrainian Communal Bank. In two years, he was promoted to Head of Dealing, where he transformed a division, which was always seen as a back office into a profit making operation. He enhanced revenues generated by foreign exchange and the money market division. Sergey launched a money market trading strategy, which increased transaction volume by 175% in 18 months. Besides, he also developed the proprietary trading business and used OTC derivatives (interest rate swaps, currency forwards and options) to increase the profitability and reduce risks.
Sergey decided not to stop there. He had global plans and dreamed of a career in London, New York or any other big financial centre. Once while doing some research on CFA programs he came across studying for he bumped into an article talking about MBA programs and began to think about studying. Sergey realised that this kind of program was very relevant to his aspirations and business education would allow him to achieve his goals. One of the obstacles on the way to admission was to pass the GMAT exam. After about two years of studying and four attempts to get the result he wanted, Sergey was finally admitted to the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, with a merit-based fellowship covering 50% of tuition fees. He has spent two years in Philadelphia, USA, studying, networking and applying for jobs.
While at Wharton, Sergey Sosnov wanted to get a position in the sales and trading department in one of the global investment banks. He thought this type of job would perfectly suit him in terms of rhythm and required skills. By that time, Sergey had fallen hopelessly in love with the financial markets and wanted to build a career in London. “Usually, New York works well for someone who wants to cover the United States and Latin America, whereas London is more relevant to the rest of the world including most of the Emerging Markets. I wanted to use my strengths, and the knowledge of Post Soviet countries has helped me a lot to contribute to the development and success of Goldman Sachs,” he shared with Astrum People.
Zen Assets Is Now My Life
Sergey Sosnov is one of those people who like to challenge themselves with new projects. He is passionate about new business models that can contribute to making investment management more transparent and accessible for clients. Like many of us, Sergey contributes to the society in his own way – by doing what he knows and understands best. “I really hope that one day Zen Assets will transform the industry of investment management. Our web-based platform aims to simplify the life of a regular investor, increase the level of transparency and lower the fees to a point where investing becomes much more profitable for end customers rather than investment managers and advisors,” he says.
As the Chief Executive Officer at Zen Assets, Sergey Sosnov is responsible for the overall business strategy and day-to-day operational management. He chairs the firm’s Investment Committee and interacts with the key clients, the Financial Conduct Authority and other Government bodies.
“I think a big part of our progress and future growth is dependent on the quality of our team. Each of my colleagues contributes immensely to the success of Zen Assets,” explains Sergey. “Eugene Lutsenko and Alex Kormschikov are seasoned investment professionals who manage clients’ portfolios and constantly monitor situations on the world markets. Anastasiya Shyrina is our Strategic Communications Specialist; in other words, the portrayer, guardian and enhancer of our company’s reputation and personality. Oksana Johannesson and Alex Malyshev are very strong business development and marketing practitioners who have worked for a number of technology brands. They are currently responsible for the client acquisition in Zen Assets. As a team, we are driven by the desire to democratize finance and make investors’ live less stressful,” Sergey admits.
Written by: Anastasiya Shyrina
In love with words and ideas!
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