NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- The digital barbarians are rattling the gate.
With Goldman Sachs GC , JPMorgan Chase JPM and Morgan Stanley MS charging probably $150 million in fees to lower the IPO drawbridge for a young, cash-starved CEO named Mark Zuckerberg, it almost feels like the invulnerable Wall Street fortress of yesteryear, doesn't it?
But be honest, it's just all like the guards at Buckingham Palace -- a nice little show for the tourists.
The fact is, the digital age has little room for Wall Street. BlackRock BLK , probably the world's largest money manager, summarily dumped the supposed invulnerable trading czar, Goldman Sachs, to begin dealing on its own. And never mind New York Stock Exchange digital alternatives such as The BATS Exchange or Direct Edge. So-called dark pools -- which are nothing more than a geek who matches buyers and sellers with a PC under his desk -- are where the real growth in finance is. Volume for these trading riffs on Napster hit an all-time high this year, according to Rosenblatt Securities, which tracks the dark trend of dark pools.
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We all know what's happening. The same commoditizing forces of information overload that pulverized the publishing, product retail and porn industries are bringing the same razor-thin margins and indefensible markets to financial services.
Even as Wall Street marches its last line dance of greed over Facebook, the hungry hordes taking financial service apart will not be denied.
Here are my picks of three digital barbarians with the sharpest teeth:
BankersLab turns anybody into Ben Bernanke.
Listen up, all you chartered financial analysts and Harvard Business School grads. Wilmington, Del.-based BankersLab is building a heck of a business out of the truth with managing money. Simply memorizing a bunch of stuff from a book doesn't help you with real-world financial problems. Practice does. And BankersLab is cribbing the same kind of approach used in video games to bring real-world trial and error to fiscal managers.
Read it and weep, CFAs and MBAs: BankersLab offers simulation training for pricing a risk, managing exposure or even valuing a deal that any bright person can master.
"We've seen advances in the analytics and technology available to retail bankers," says BankersLab CEO Michelle Katics on the company site. "However, ability to strategically act with some anticipation of the future can be improved."
Which means, my fellow Ivy league Grads and CFA trainees, we probably did just spend years of our lives learning something we never needed to bother with. Doesn't that suck?
BancBox turns the tiniest business into a bank.
Once upon a time, say you wanted to move money or manage accounts or handle client finances -- you called up a bank. No more. San Mateo, Calif.-based BancBox brought the bank to every business. It has taken all the software that banks use to manage money and created an online list of application programming interfaces for most of those functions. These little APIs let me, you or anybody connect directly to the banks' fiscal software.
"We've integrated with banks so companies don't have to," CEO Sanj Goyle writes on the company website.
BancBox technology merely extends a bank's reach, Goyle says. That's certainly true -- to a point. But once a user gets hold of the programming tools that connect directly to one bank's software, its easy to connect to any bank's software.
And playing one against the other becomes child's play.
Personal Capital grinds investment management fees into a fine white powder.
Investment advisers make a nice living telling us all what do with our money. But not for much longer. Redwood City, Calif.-based Personal Capital is bringing the same race-to-the-bottom economics of Amazon AMZN to investment management. Personal Capital offers most of its customized investment advice for free, and charges -- get ready for this -- less than 1% in management fees to cover costs.
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There is real money and brains behind Personal Capital, including $25 million from Institutional Venture Partners. And Bill Harris, the ex-CEO of Intuit INTU . And If you don't think a low-cost financial services firm can't blow up by-hand financial planning, just take a look at its machine-controlled trading, risk analysis and language tools. Picking a personalized diversified portfolio really is something a computer can do.
The bottom line of the digital age is this: Financial information is just that, information. Information that becomes more common -- and more worthless -- every day.