State of Investment Apps in Europe: Passive & Active Investors' Perspectives
The investment apps market is booming in Europe
Over the past few years, we've seen investment apps steadily populating the European market, and the trend doesn't seem to slow down. More people are interested in investing, as access to capital markets gets easier even for inexperienced users. The surge of apps like the Trade Republic, following the success stories of Robinhood and eToro, seeds a growing trend of retail investments in Europe. The wealthtech market in Europe is expected to grow at a CAGR of 14.7% from 2021 to 2028, reaching an exceptional value of $39.74bn by 2028.
But why is the European market gaining momentum right now? Discover the latest trends and future opportunities with European investment apps that offer innovative financial solutions.
The share of the European retail investors is slowly rising. Yet in Europe, unlike in the US, only a minority of citizens decide to invest
Among European countries, there are large discrepancies regarding how households manage their financial wealth. In all of Europe, except Estonia, the share of household-held assets invested in equity is far below 50%. In the UK, that number is only 10.4%, 11.4% in Germany, and 22.2% in France. In the US, that share is around 37%, highlighting a significant difference in wealth management.
Overall, a minority of Europeans invest in the stock market. Data shows that only 33% of UK citizens and 15% of Germans do so, showing sensible differences compared to the 55% of Americans in 2021. However, especially in the last two years, the number of people investing in the stock market is slowly increasing, particularly among those under 30.
In a nutshell, there are several reasons European retail investors are less active than their US counterparts.
- Europeans typically invest less in the stock market than their American counterparts due to lower disposable incomes and, on average, a lower net wealth.
- A retirement scheme in the US versus Europe leads to a fundamental difference in household-held equity investments. In the US, employees have a right to sign up for 401(k), enabling employers to allocate a percentage of the paycheck directly to the investment account of the employee. It's a company-sponsored retirement account, which brings tax advantages to the employee via reduced taxable income. It also puts the responsibility and risk of saving for retirement on the employee (which is reasonable considering the aging population and outdated pay-as-you-go system in most European countries). The growing popularity of the 401(k) scheme leads to a higher percentage of household-held equity investments.
- Market regulations in Europe (especially the EU) are stricter than in the US, making it unfavorable for retail investors to compete with funds using short-selling strategies. These regulations drove the recent US meme stock phenomenon and the wave of new investors flooding the local market.
- Europe is more fragmented, considering the number of local exchanges. These varied exchanges make the base of investors much more scattered and investing less unified, with retail orders being sent to local exchanges.
- The ETFs in Europe remain dominated by institutional investors and are hardly accessible to retail investors. Only 20% of retail investors invest in ETFs, compared to 40% in the USA. At the same time, ETFs are considered a perfect product for retail investors, given their low fees compared to mutual funds and no commission fees bundled with distribution and advisory.
Active vs. passive investors: How investment apps target different personas
Two personas of investors have been identified - active and passive (not to be mistaken with passive and active investing), which are targeted by different kinds of apps.
Active investors choose their strategy independently or semi-independently (copy-trading); they don't need handholding when constructing a portfolio (no need for robo-advisors) and, on average, have some experience and knowledge about investing. Those criteria don't exclude the investors from investing in, e.g., ETFs, considered passive investments. Generally, the apps targeting active investor personas have a vital element of social interactions such as live feeds, social trading, copy-trading but a limited educational component.
On the other side, passive investors (term used in the article) aren't proactively seeking to invest their money but rather allocate them in the account and let someone invest the funds for them such as robo-advisors. Usually, those kinds of investors are either new to the investment world or have a longer investment horizon and have instead been saving their money. The new wave of investing apps with educational and goal-focused investment elements encourages these investors to let their money work for them without taking an active position in portfolio creation. The portfolio is created based on users’ risk profiles, areas of interest, and goals.
A new wave of investment apps. There's something for everyone
To provide a holistic overview of the European investing apps landscape, we have created a market map featuring investment applications targeting both active and passive investors, with emphasis on the extra features provided (e.g., educational element, social element, crypto investing, saving features, etc.)
Disclaimer: The startups included in the map were selected by the Plug and Play team based on the following criteria:
- At least 10 employees
- And, mobile-app based.
To facilitate a more straightforward mapping of the ecosystem, we categorized the startups on their primary focus areas, even if we acknowledge that some companies may fall in more than one category. If you fulfill the criteria and we haven’t included you in the map, feel free to send an email to email@example.com.
Click here to view the Excel file with all startups represented on the market map.
Educational platform, social trading, crypto trading, and banking features being the main differentiators among investment apps
Investment apps in Europe have built a significant scale in the past couple of years on the backbone of active investors. Meanwhile, the prospective users of investing apps are more risk-averse and less savvy, seeking some encouragement to enter the investment world. The educational element included in the applications often attracts these, which can vary from a simple knowledge base. These can either be delivered by apps targeting the more active investors like Degiro or those targeting more passive users like Chip or through more interactive components like in-app pre-recorded classes and investing hints (e.g., Bux, BitPanda, or Beatvest).
These apps include a social element, turning investing into a social activity. Users can now talk with friends, learn from peers, and obtain market intelligence data in addition to purchasing and selling various securities.
The social aspect is significant for the youngest generation of investors who are around 18-35 years of age and rely more on social media and family and friends for investment advice. W22 Y Combinator graduate Pluto.markets combines investing with social media, allowing users to invest with friends and share their portfolio strategies. Shares.io is an investment tool enabling friends to pool their money, construct plans, and create group stock indexes. Well-established players in the investing space also promote social features on their platforms, such as eToro, which brands itself as, “the world’s leading social investment community.”
As European investors become more familiar with cryptocurrencies, several options for investing in crypto became available. Bitpanda bet on crypto investing back in 2014 and has now expanded to other investment commodities. The startup recently released its white-labeled version and a tailored offering to financial institutions. All major platforms allow users to invest in crypto, including Trade Republic and Scalable Capital. Revolut, the challenger bank, now enables its US-based customers to trade and send crypto from the app. New startups are launching in the space targeting passive and crypto-curious investors, such as the US-based Genie, which automates crypto trading with AI, Cryptosimple in France, and Metawealth in Germany.
After a sharp plummet in the Crypto Market in Q2 2022, followed by the stunning fall of the Terra Stablecoin and the bankruptcy of Celsius, wide instability spread across the space. Numerous layoffs affected many top players (CoinBase, Crypto.com, BlockFI), and platforms are now considering diversifying their offers, looking in the direction of stocks and commodities.
Savings and additional financial features
Some of the investing apps have successfully followed the path of super apps by delivering users features beyond simply investing. The most common are saving and roundups, enabling the creation of savings plans (Moneybox, Freetrade). Others add more complexity to that by offering bills, subscription management (Plum), or a banking-like experience with cards and payments (Vivid Money). On the other side, neobanks are expanding their offering into investing (Revolut), leveraging the existing customer base.
Another group of apps worth mentioning is driven by the mission of sustainable investing. Users can not only create an impact by investing in green companies and funds (Inyova) but also make donations on top of investing activities (Grunfin). While data shows a great interest in impact investing by retail users, not many products are yet available to service the demand. This is mainly due to difficulties in offering good opportunities for contained budgets. Nonetheless, sustainable investing apps like Circa5000 will be the pioneers of a trend that will shift notable amounts of money from standard to impact investing, a market that in Europe alone could be worth $8bn in the next three to five years.
There are few monetization models of investment apps
The most common being “commission-free” for the apps targeting active investors and transaction-fee based for passive investors. Switching from the users' perspective to a more business outlook, the main monetization models behind mapped solutions have been identified.
- Transaction/management fees: usually an annual base fee + % fee based on the investment/advisory/service (e.g., Wealthify, Money Farm)
- Subscription model: monthly 3-tier subscription varying from 1 - 20 EUR, on average 2-6 EUR (e.g., Plum, Moneybox)
- Freemium model: with basic operations being out of charge, and more often & high-value savings can be used with subscription (e.g., Beatvest, Capitana)
- Commission-free model with a fee on the market orders: (e.g., Bux, Scalable Capital)
- Mixed [subscription + commission on top of that]: (e.g., Circa5000, Grunfin)
European VCs are taking their shares into the investing app market, pouring capital into new solutions and more established players alike.
Without a doubt, the retail investors in Europe have apps to choose from whether they're looking for active trading, crypto-focused investments, long-term index investing, or saving. Still, compared to the US, the market is immature due to high fragmentation, stricter legislation, lower disposable income, the tendency for saving, retirement programs dependent on the pay-as-you-go scheme, and limited access to ETFs, a product suited for retail investors.
- In the US, the trend of retail investing took off when big brokers like Schwab or Fidelity started offering commission-free trading to their clients. The trend followed in Europe in the last few years as investment apps like TradeRepublic or eToro emerged, democratizing access to capital markets for retail investors. This can be seen as a first step to encouraging Europeans to invest their savings, experimenting with different asset classes.
- The slow rise of ETFs investments accessible to European retail investors can push a new group of passive investors into the finance world. Apps like the Trade Republic empower the trend in Europe by adding ETFs investment into their offering. While this trend has excellent potential, fundamental changes from the EU legislation’s side will be needed (e.g., MiFID II) to make ETF investments more accessible to retail customers. In a nutshell, MiFID II will limit the receipt of commissions for investment services providers, strengthening the protection of retail investors and ensuring stricter controls on products provided by investment advisors. On top of that mentioned legislation brings more transparency to the ETF market. Introducing reporting obligations on the trading venues will make it easier for investors to track the liquidity and demand of the funds. Until now, the ETFs trading volumes weren't required to be publicly disclosed.
- An aging society puts pressure on the European retirement schemes, which, besides a few exceptions (e.g., UK, Sweden, Netherlands), are still mainly dependent on the pay-as-you-go scheme and don't offer a funded pension approach. Apps that provide saving plans and embed educational elements can tackle this problem. We believe that making people aware of the imminent shortcomings of the social protection system and encouraging them to save for retirement proactively creates a massive opportunity for apps copycatting the success of the US Acorns or Wealthfront in Europe. An ongoing slowdown in the economy will accelerate the saving appetite.
- There are specific differentiators among the investment apps available today, which include UI/UX, pricing, a variety of asset classes, and features included (saving, investing, educational, or social elements).
- Given the B2C nature of the investment apps, the most important in the first place is UX and ease of use, which minimizes the effort needed to invest, providing a holistic overview of the portfolio
- Following the recent trend, we forecast the evolution of investment apps into super apps offering investments in all asset classes (including alternative investments), with additional functionalities like saving and banking
- On top of that, companies will attempt to maintain high retention rates by embedding social elements such as copy trading, live feeds, investing in groups, or gamification
- Aimed at attracting non-savvy yet prospective investors is an educational element providing knowledge but also hints at the investments. This is crucial to ensure that the educational element goes in line with the development of the investor, empowering the transition from guided to self-driven investments and creating more complex portfolios