Elliott Locke: The First Wealth-building Platform for People Living Abroad

abroaden is the first wealth-building platform for people living abroad. We make it easy for expats, remote workers, & digital nomads to invest in their future, regardless of where they call home.

Tell us about yourself?

I’m originally from the United States, but I moved abroad to Belgium in 2002 for university/love. I studied business and economics then began a career in banking in Brussels. Eventually, life took me to Barcelona, where I worked in a FinTech. I’ve always been fascinated by finance, investing, and entrepreneurship, so starting this company was a natural fit.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

Growing up in the US, I always knew that investing in your retirement is key to a better life. Yet, when I started working, I quickly discovered that there weren’t any low-cost, transparent, and portable investments for regular people living abroad like me.

As I dug into it, I found that I wasn’t alone. Like others in that situation, I wound up putting it off. As the years went on, I kept coming back to the question, eventually going down the rabbit hole to find the root cause, then coming up with the idea for abroaden.

What is your magic sauce?

We’re trying to transform a corner of retail finance that has been largely insulated from technological change until now. Most existing players in this market are either targeting high net-worth individuals via individual consulting or, worse, offering opaque and unregulated offshore services.

The latter is particularly concerning as these firms sell high-fee products with steep early-exit penalties. There are plenty of tragic stories out there of hardworking individuals losing their life savings to these so-called expat advisers.

Domestic financial services companies focus entirely on a local market without giving much thought to investment portability. That creates headaches, reporting nightmares, and loss of liquidity to retail investors who move countries periodically.

With that, we decided to take a modern, transparent approach to create a robo-advisory-like service for our community. Thanks to new regulations like MiFID II and PSD2, we can deliver our value proposition in an agile and cost-effective way.

We hope to help the tens of millions of professionals working abroad in Europe build their wealth in a way that domestic retail investors take for granted.

Where do you see your company going in 5 years time?

Our goal is to help all people living and working abroad make better investments. Thanks to the common rules and regulations, Europe is a great place to start. Yet, there’s a vast world beyond the EU and UK’s borders. In five years, we would like to be operational in different corners of the globe, including Southeast Asia and the Americas.

We’re also closely watching the evolution of remote working. If the prophecies are correct, millions of people will move abroad while working for an employer back home. If that pans out, we’ll be right there to support these companies and communities in making remote work a more financially-enriching experience.

What has been your biggest setback so far?

As an early-stage FinTech startup, our number one issue is getting access to the right investors. We learned that there’s a gap between bootstrapping and (pre-)seed investors, as most angels don’t have the appetite for FinTech’s high-cost barriers.

Like the problem we’re solving for retail investors, too much of the angel capital in Europe remains locked behind borders. For example, the UK has tons of liquidity, but local investors don’t venture abroad due to incentives like SEIS. These sorts of domestic tax breaks exist across the continent, which ultimately shrinks the pool European early-stage startups can access funding from.

That said, we’re driven to be lean and have been creative in trying to overcome this barrier.

What is the next big challenge for your business?

We’re currently gearing up for our private beta here in Barcelona, where we’re based. Many of our sign-ups came from offline or localized events, and in the spirit of Paul Graham’s “do things that don’t scale” mantra.

While that works well for us in the city, reaching our audience outside the region will be a monumental challenge.

There’s a saying that FinTech companies are really just marketing firms that happen to offer financial services. I think that’s an accurate assessment. Further, we have to convince people we’ve never met to trust us with their money. While that is true for every retail FinTech, we know it’s especially poignant for us, given our dispersed audience.

Fortunately, we have some fantastic people helping and advising us with marketing. We’re convinced we can take this challenge head-on and be successful.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

We know that building and being a part of our community is key to our success. When it comes to retail financial services, there’s a lot of mistrust out there. That suspicion is even greater among expats and international remote workers who live outside their comfort zone. Plus, investing shouldn’t be for people who are already finance experts. We’re helping the 80% of the population who knows saving and building wealth is important but doesn’t want to become an expert in trading to do so.

We have a strong content game and pride ourselves on using language that speaks with our community and not down to them. We have tons of examples on our website and our Instagram, Linkedin pages, and our popular weekly newsletter. We also hang out on some subreddits where we love answering questions about finance, investing, and living abroad.

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