Clem Chambers, the CEO of ADVFN and the CEO of Online Blockchain plc was kind enough to talk with Valuewalk about the success of his investment website. Below is a lightly edited Q&A between Clem and our editor.
Can you tell us about your background?
I started in the software industry over thirty-six years ago and was a pioneer of computer games, massively multiplayer games, multimedia and the internet. I founded internet company Online plc in 1990, which incubated stocks and shares (and now crypto) website ADVFN. My father was a commodity speculator and because of him I acquired an early interest in the financial markets. I’m a value investor at heart.
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Alongside ADVFN, I’m CEO of Online Blockchain plc, which is the UK's leading blockchain research and development company (Online plc changed its name at the end of 2017 to reflect its new direction).
I’m a senior contributor at Forbes and cover global finance, economics and investing for a number of other global publications. I’m author of the Amazon No.1 Bestseller 101 Ways to Pick Stock Market Winners as well as a number of other investing books; I also write financial fiction.
What about your company?
ADVFN was established in the last quarter of 1999 and floated on the London Stock Exchange’s AIM market in March 2000 at the peak of the dot com bubble. A core objective of the site was, and remains, to level the playing field for retail investors by providing access to information that was previously the preserve of professional investors and traders (ADVFN was the first in the UK to bring Level 2 data to retail investors).
ADVFN has grown from being a virtually UK-only site to one which operates in markets across the world providing market-leading financial tools and data. It is the award-winning destination of choice for global retail investors.
How did you become CEO of one of the biggest financial platforms?
I originally came into the company as Marketing Director. I took ADVFN through the float, raised additional money and took responsibility for site development and I became CEO in 2002.
What inspired you to bring ADVFN public?
We wanted to become a market leader, which meant investing in product development, and wanted to expand the business on a global scale; we achieved both.
Our users are traders and investors and understand the workings and the value of the company. The quality of the site itself was the best IR possible and we had a solid base of ready-made investors.
You had your IPO in March 2000 at the very height of the dot-com bubble, what was that like for you?
It was a difficult period and so many household dotcom names succumbed. We did a number of equity raises to keep us afloat following the IPO. We built it and they came in droves; the company – with a lot of hard work, dedication and team effort - survived and prospered.
What are your revenue drivers?
Advertising and subscriptions. Many of ADVFN’s services are free, but the real-time data and advanced, premium products - which a big chunk of our userbase require - are paid for.
There are a lot of eyeballs on ADVFN so we’re a very enticing proposition for advertisers.
We have a broad product matrix and operate globally so we are well diversified.
ADVFN has a billion page-views a year. To say that’s impressive, is an understatement. How do you get your readers?
We were the first to make professional-quality data accessible to everyone in the UK, which drew a big crowd who were denied access to the likes of Bloomberg terminals and Reuters Market Data System.
We’ve continuously added products, asset classes, tools, data and territories to our portfolio which has constantly broadened the site’s appeal. We have a loyal registered userbase; once registered with us they return frequently.
Aside from that, excellent SEO with number one results on keyword searches on Google.
What can visitors gain from reading ADVFN?
Visitors are equipped with everything they need to understand what’s going on in the global markets and make informed trading and investing decisions.
They have access to market-leading financial tools and data, information and educational content; a lot of which is free. The site has real-time stocks and crypto prices, an array of news feeds, customisable charting packages with a plethora of analysis tools and indicators, portfolio management, monitor lists, financials (fundamentals), data from a host of global stock exchanges and Level 2 – the list goes on. They can also access ADVFN’s award-winning mobile offering.
Our financial bulletin boards, which are amongst the most active in the world, are the place where people go to get the inside track on market sentiment.
We have many unique products on the site such as ‘Follow Feed.’ This is a hugely popular tool, which provides essential market insights by keeping track of the stocks and cryptos investors select (‘follow’). It alerts them to key events such as price breakouts, unusual price action, high volume trades, order book activity, news and announcements and forum comments as they happen in a rolling ‘Follow Feed’ timeline. I use it every day and it’s the first thing I check in the morning.
ADVFN also has an extremely comprehensive cryptocurrency offering, which has won Cryptocurrency Platform of the Year in 2019 and 2020 from two different awards programmes.
Is ADVFN meant for investors or traders?
Both. We are a broad church and cater for traders and investors across the spectrum.
You have made some acquisitions along the way. Has that been an important aspect of your business?
We acquired InvestorsHub.com 14 years ago as it had a very strong foothold in the North American market with very high page views a month. It was extremely complementary to ADVFN’s business model, hosting large investor communities and providing a robust environment for stock information and investor discussion. It doubled our already high traffic, and this gave plenty of scope for revenue and growth in the US and Canada.
ADVFN bought stock brokerages TSCTrade and Throgmorton Street Capital in July 2009. The former is a traditional telephone-based execution-only stockbroking service and the latter is a boutique corporate broker. This completes ADVFN’s offering.
Where is the ADVFN audience located?
The US is our biggest market, then it’s the UK followed by Brazil. Brazil is a very large market in any case, but we also have a joint venture in this territory. Within Europe, Italy is our biggest market. We have lots of geographic and language targeted websites.
How has the growth of crypto trading played into your strategy?
We have a huge audience of traders and investors, who are always keen to learn about new opportunities. We saw the potential in the crypto space very early on in the curve and took a two-pronged approach.
Firstly, we built a dedicated cryptocurrency channel on the ADVFN platform. Our crypto section covers over 6000 cryptocurrencies, connects to all of the top global cryptocurrency exchanges for trading data and has an extensive package of charts, streaming data, news and toplists for thousands of mineable/non-mineable and listed/unlisted coins and tokens. It also alerts users to new cryptocurrencies entering the market. We offer The Crypto Trader newsletter, which features tutorials, the latest crypto news and analysis, and investment ideas.
Alongside this, ADVFN partnered with Online Blockchain plc (OBC), which specialises in developing products in the blockchain space and incubating exciting cryptocurrency start-ups (OBC has an 18% stake in ADVFN). The two companies created the social media cryptocurrency PlusOneCoin, which launched in 2017. This crypto allows users to interact with, upvote and amplify content they deem valuable, and reward its creator; it is used by hundreds of thousands of ADVFN’s userbase.
All registered ADVFN and InvestorsHub users receive a PlusOneCoin wallet where they can deposit their PLUS1 coins. The crypto can be traded on several exchanges outside of ADVFN and therefore has a real-world monetary value. PLUS1 and the associated wallet continues to introduce and educate our extensive and savvy user base about cryptocurrency, blockchain mining and other aspects of the sector. It is an additional revenue driver for us.
What about new regulations like MFID or UK post Brexit?
Brexit, new regulations… pffffttt. The world’s changed so much, Brexit is just a detail.
What do you see over the next five years for ADVFN?
The post-Covid world is hard to predict but without doubt the world’s stock markets will still be trading away and more than ever investors and traders will need the best information at their fingertips.
The world has always had great political leaders, for better or ill, but the modern world of progress is predicated on functioning markets. As such, markets will be key to the recovery from what looks to be a historic depression and a significant period of global economic and social disarray. It is bracing for us to be part of that engine of recovery.