Enjoy Personal Finance content? Then you will love Sovereign Quest!
{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Obsolete

The Halloween masks and costumes have been put away for another year.

That one evening where people young and old, from all walks of life, excitedly set aside their imposter syndrome to enjoy pretending to be something they are not.

Superheroes and celebrities. A simple costume change magically confers the power to appear more than the rest of us. More attractive. More presence. More worth. An illusion of course. No mask or carefully crafted image can grant wisdom or substance. Trick or treat!

Cartoon villains and horrors of the night. Reaping untold damage and destruction, as the cloak of anonymity grants unfounded confidence. Illusion presented as fact, terrorising bystanders for as long as they believe. Duping the easily led and impressionable. Fleecing the sheeple. Separating fools from their wits, judgement, and treasures. Trick or treat!

Retailers goose their end of year results with Black Friday sales. Dumping the stock that failed to sell. Jacking up regular prices, then “discounting” them down again. Everyone loves a bargain. Trick or treat!

Carols playing on repeat and festive decorations abound. Hospitality firms switching from à la carte to overpriced set menus, the Christmas party season is here. Retailers brace for their busiest month of the year, as temporary staff feverishly work hard to gift wrap store-bought happiness. Trick or treat!

It is all part of the annual cadence.

A routine as familiar as it is comforting.

Performance appraisals now. Potentially leading to end of year bonuses later. Hope. Sometimes joy. Followed by disappointment, as the tax authorities claim the big half of any award. Trick or treat!

A few will embrace the pyrrhic victory of salary sacrifice. Taking solace in delaying the tax man his due by temporarily hiding their windfall in their pension. Attempting to offset that hollow feeling of gratification delayed by years. Perhaps decades. The taxman doesn’t care, a horror both omnipotent and immortal, he always receives his due. Eventually.

Bonus season is often followed by new beginnings. The annual employment migration that clickbait headlines are this year dramatising into a fabled “great resignation”. Employees throwing off the shackles of golden handcuffs to take control of their own destiny.

Seizing the moment to advance. Improve remuneration. Reskill. Seek adventures new. Embracing the golden opportunity presented by this once in a generation seller’s market for skills. A Christmas gift from the Brexit voters to you, as their desire to exclude “the other” produces Fortress Britannia. Resulting in skills shortages, higher wages, and inflation. Trick or treat!

In the personal finance world, Thanksgiving weekend marks the end of quality content for the year. December is traditionally full of filler posts. Retrospectives on the year just gone. Excuses made for goals unattained and resolutions missed. A flood of affiliate link laden recommendations for “books that changed my life”. All predictably followed by a short-lived burst of optimism for the new beginnings promised by the year ahead.

This week I received the first of the renewal notifications for Sovereign Quest. A personal finance aggregator and curation service that rose from the ashes when FIREhub’s fire went out.

Nearly a year in operation already. Raising some uncomfortable questions about what to do with it.

The highlight of Sovereign Quest this year has been watching 549 Personal Finance creators from around the world pick up their camera, keyboard, microphone, or pen. At the time of writing, more than 75,000 posts, podcasts episodes, and videos had appeared in the Sovereign Quest aggregated feeds. A jaw-dropping number.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know many of the talented creators. A diverse group of generous folks from all ages, locales, and stages in their financial journey. It appears I’m not alone in this, if the hundreds of thousands of views that Sovereign Quest has received is anything to go by.

One of the goals I had when starting Sovereign Quest was to sprinkle a little bit of happiness.

To start each day by highlighting the best piece of personal finance content I had recently consumed.

To provide the creator of that content with some recognition, encouragement, and possibly even a trickle of new audience members via a feature on the home page as the Champion of the Day.

How successful that goal has been met is a question best left for others. Hopefully, it has put smiles on a few faces.

The lowlight has been watching 45% of those creators give up and move on.

Personal Finance is a shallow subject area, with only a handful of genuinely different ideas to consider and discuss. Each creator arrives in their own time with a unique perspective, then journeys down a well-trodden path.

Some swiftly master the basics, their interests naturally moving on to challenges new.

Many find their newfound interest waning as quickly as it arrived. The behavioural changes required to succeed are too difficult, or the “boring” middle part of the journey proving to be exactly that: boring.

For any creator, finding their voice is a challenging task. Finding an audience is harder still.

The Sovereign Quest audience is self-selecting. Consisting of those already interested in Personal Finance. Analysing those audience behaviours reveals just how tough an ask it is to gain traction and become established. For every Banker on FIRE, Monevator, or Pete Matthew there were dozens of creators who hit publish and were greeted with the sound of crickets.

The experiencing of aggregating and curating the Personal Finance community, as opposed to simply participating within it, has been an interesting one. Observing as the community evolved.

As awareness of the service initially spread, there was a flood of requests for inclusion in the Sovereign Quest creator directory. Once the majority of established creators were included in the aggregated feeds, those requests naturally tapered off. Somewhat surprisingly, in the last couple of months, they have dried up completely.

People haven’t suddenly lost interest in Personal Finance content, but rather the mediums and market for Personal Finance content has evolved.

Platforms not included in the Sovereign Quest aggregated feeds have gained in popularity, with new creators naturally publishing where their audiences reside. The next generation of YouTubers found their audiences on Tiktok. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter degenerated into advertising riddled social media swamps favoured by grandparents, trolls, and wannabe “influencers” honing their SEO skills.

Meanwhile, the younger generation congregated on alternative platforms like Discord, Instagram, Snapchat, and Substack.

New creators expressing their thoughts in writing rather than speech are today more likely to select a newsletter publishing managed service over a legacy blogging platform, preferring baked in subscription management and monetisation options that “just work” over endlessly wrestling with a world of templates, inconsistently maintained plug-ins, and incompatible upgrades.

The focus of popular Personal Finance content has also changed.

The mantra of maximising pension contributions, investing in low-cost tracker funds, and waiting patiently has given way to breathless discussions of the instant riches promised by copy trading, meme stocks, and cryptocurrencies. Far from guaranteed. Infinitely more interesting. Capturing the imaginations of a much larger audience who are keen to get rich quick.

The popularity of buy-to-let property content has dwindled. Regulatory hurdles, predatory tax regimes, and sky-high prices have actively discouraged the time-honoured usage of privately owned leveraged real estate as a route to wealth. Few creators still publish content about buy-to-let, and fewer readers click on them.

Content written about entrepreneurial pursuits have similarly declined in both volume and popularity. There are far fewer clickbait listicles promoting dubious side hustles and seeking to get rich by writing guides about how to get rich.

Meanwhile, as the old guard shake their head in disdain and practice their “I told you so” dances for when the crypto bubble eventually bursts, crypto themed content has boomed. More than a few secretly wondering if they are the modern embodiment of the curmudgeons who back in the day sagely declared that electricity, horseless carriages, and travelling by air were all novel fads that would never catch on?

Perhaps those visionaries who predict immutable distributed ledgers, democratised ownership, and tokenisation of everything will prove to be correct (if early) in much the same way the true believers in the promise of the internet were during the dotcom boom?

Do they have a point when they observe wealth creation is increasingly occurring outside of the heavily regulated public stock exchanges, and associated index tracker funds?

Venture capital and private equity are certainly popular vehicles for those chasing higher returns than are available via publicly listed markets. Though achieving a big exit still appears to require the smart money eventually selling out to a greater fool, often via an overpriced IPO or SPAC.

Which brings me to the question of what does the future hold for Sovereign Quest?

In recent months, it has become challenging to find content worthy of being Champion of the Day.

After consuming an unhealthy volume of Personal Finance content over the year, Sovereign Quest’s weekly Buried Treasure curation newsletter has become dominated by the same dozen or so creators. A reflection of my personal biases and tastes. Perhaps this was an inevitable outcome, with the same result evident on regularly produced curations ranging from the excellent Abnormal Returns to Monevator’s always entertaining “Weekend Reading”.

I have little interest in podcasts or video content, finding both to be time-consuming mediums offering a low signal to noise ratio. This is a problem, given video creators publish far more often than those who communicate via the written word!

Nor have I much interest in pursuing the audience down the rabbit hole that is the exciting new world of crypto. This reveals a disconnect, as it is the direction both the Personal Finance audience and creators alike have enthusiastically taken to. I don’t hold a strong opinion about the future crypto, it just doesn’t interest me any more than actively trading on the stock market.

Which raises the question of whether the problem Sovereign Quest was created to solve still exists?

Is there still a viable place for a Personal Finance aggregator service, when that aggregator service offers limited coverage of fashionable topics that appear to be of most interest to the modern Personal Finance audience?

Is Sovereign Quest still doing its job of helping new creators find an audience, when it does not include content from the platforms upon which many of those newer creators publish? This is a question of technology, as few of those platforms offer a syndication capability that would allow automated aggregation to be feasible while maintaining a reasonable level of quality.

In both cases, I suspect the answer is not.

Sovereign Quest could easily continue to tick over in the background, serving up a reducing pool of aggregated content to a gradually shrinking audience. It costs little to run and requires minimal time investment. However, I long ago learned that “just because we can doesn’t mean we should“.

My concern is that in doing so, Sovereign Quest risks becoming as forward-looking and relevant as a coal mine owner or the tie manufacturers guild. Providing an increasingly blinkered and unrepresentative window into the world of Personal Finance, presented as an unfiltered aggregation of the whole. Trick or treat!

My selection bias in the form of curated creators, combined with technical challenges associated with aggregating newer content platforms, serving to produce yet another comforting echo chamber. A place where creators preach accepted dogma to the converted, and there is no place for contrarian viewpoints, innovation, or adopting new ideas.

Which is not consistent with what Sovereign Quest originally set out to do: help consumers discover new voices, and help creators build their audience.

When do fads, fashions, and trends transition into accepted conventional wisdom?

When does traditional conventional wisdom become obsolete or dangerously antiquated?


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11 Comments

  1. Impersonal Finances 27 November 2021

    Interesting questions. I still very much enjoy curated personal finance content for the main objective you state: discovering new voices in the community. Sometimes I’ll move away from a blog I read consistently and then rediscover it via Motley Fool’s All-Star money or another curated site. There’s so much content out there that it’s impossible to keep up with all but a few at once.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 28 November 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Impersonal Finances.

      I must confess I’m a bit the same. Outside of Sovereign Quest, I have a small number of blogs I follow via Feedly, and a larger number I dip in and out of a couple of times a year. A bit like catching up with former colleagues or old school friends, nice to hear what they have been up to but soon reaching the limits of my interest.

  2. Fire And Wide 29 November 2021

    Hey Indeedably.

    Fascinating to hear the ups & downs of SQ and the changing themes. I can understand you’re curious about where to take it next, if anywhere.

    I’ve personally undoubtedly benefitted from the confidence boost of being included on SQ – and the CoTD boost has always been very much appreciated when I’ve made it.

    But I have to admit, I read very few PF blogs myself, especially regularly. Occasionally I’ll binge on something new and like you said above, tend to catch up with a few old favs as/when I feel like it.

    The finance side is usually of bizarrely little interest to me but I do enjoy hearing different perspectives of how people handle the journey & where they go. It ties with something Monevator mentioned I guess about having a story to it. For me, I think it’s perhaps because that’s when they have something unique to offer. Otherwise so much out there is just the same old stuff repeated without adding any new perspective/value. Much like UK news……!

    Anyway – I just wanted to take the time to thank you for SQ so far & whatever you do next with it – even if that’s nothing at all. It’s been much apprecaited.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 29 November 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Michelle, great to hear you found a smile in SQ.

      Personal Finance is only interesting until we individually figure out how to conquer it, after which it fades into the background in much the same was central heating or door locks do… we only notice them in their absence or failure.

      The interesting thing about PF blogs is the author’s story or perspective. Is why personal journal style blogs, even if only sporadically updated, are compelling while “on a mission to educate” blogs tend to be short lived.

  3. weenie 29 November 2021

    I really appreciate the work you do on SQ – I’m happy to read the articles you include in the weekly Buried Treasure, it’s something I look forward to. When I have time, I like to check out any new bloggers on there, although it’s sad to find many not posting after only a few posts.

    Still far prefer the written word as a medium for finance stuff – podcasts are ok sparingly, vlogs a big yawnsome no-no and no, I won’t be ‘smashing that Like button’.

    I do feel that you are providing a great service and hopefully, you won’t struggle too much to get new content. However understand if it gets too much, you start wondering if it’s worth the effort any more.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 29 November 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Weenie, glad you’ve enjoyed SQ.

      I think the main challenge is I’m not swimming in the same ponds as the new creators, so they aren’t featuring on my radar. This isn’t a unique problem to SQ, /u/reckless-saving/‘s fantastic UK FI Blogger Feed list is getting shorter every month, with only a handful of new creators having been added since Easter this year. Both FIREhub’s and PersonalFinanceBlog’s blogger directories have also seen a tapering off of new entries, barely changing since SQ started a nearly year ago.

      Another example is the membership of the secret society of UK FI Bloggers. The community is on life support, with far more recovering bloggers than active ones. It has been about a year since a new member was inducted!

      In all these cases the underlying technology used to monitor/aggregate is RSS feeds, which works for most traditional blogging platforms, YouTube, and (with a bit of effort) Podcasts. Where it doesn’t work is Tiktok or Instagram or Snapchat or Discord or Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, or newsletter platforms like MailChimp (the latter is at least technically possibly, but requires a bunch of detective work that isn’t worth the effort).

      So while aggregating a diminishing list of 30/40/50 somethings muddling their way along their personal journeys serves a particular niche, it is one that is being addressed elsewhere. None of the incumbent aggregators swim in the newer channels, which creates the selection bias and filtered view I described in this post. Consequently my feeling is SQ (and the others) no longer reflect a modern perspective of Personal Finance content curation.

  4. weenie 30 November 2021

    “Where it doesn’t work is Tiktok or Instagram or Snapchat or Discord or Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn”

    Of all those, the only one I use regularly for personal finance is Twitter. Some I use for other things (FB and Linkedin), the others I don’t use at all.

    I think it’s always going to be hard to reach a target audience which is broad enough to cover the 20-somethings up to the 50-somethings.

  5. The Investor 3 December 2021

    Well I can’t answer what you should do with your service – much appreciated as it is I’m sure by many who appear in it – but I can certainly say thanks for all the mentions you’ve given to us over the year.

    I hear you on the New New Things. 🙂

    I’m actually pretty interested in cryptocurrency, but beyond my post earlier this year suggesting that perhaps all of us should consider a 1% starting allocation to Bitcoin (maybe I’d suggest splitting over ETH and SOL too now) I’m not ready to join the throng writing about it everyday/week, though I’ve zero doubt it’d boost our traffic if we did so. (@TA is getting increasingly curious, however, so we may well do a bit more).

    I like podcasts but they are a time sink. I have tried to sub in AudioBooks about 50% of my listening time in the past year or so for signal-to-noise reasons. Also I find it much harder to think/write if I listen a lot. We underestimate “Brain Downtime” time.

    I’d love to do more video and have some experience of it elsewhere. There are people giving a 12-minute recap of how their LifeStrategy fund moved 1.2% in a month who are getting 50,000 views on YouTube! If we ever decided to be more public-facing, video would probably be part of the motivation.

    Anyway keep on keeping on with the blog either way please! You have a unique voice.

    best
    TI

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 3 December 2021 — Post author

      Thanks TI.

      I find the technology underpinning crypto ecosystem interesting, in much the same way Cloudfront or AWS is interesting with regard to the internet, to a point. The storekeepers like Coinbase, the integrators like Polkadot, or the platform hosts like Ethereum or Solana.

      However, the more time I’ve spent commercially working with blockchain technologies, the more apparent it becomes that there are disheartenly few use cases which “legacy” technologies couldn’t already do as well (or in many cases better).

      Which makes crypto a fascinating study in behavioural psychology. A collection of technologies that solve a problem that (for the most part) nobody actually has, yet has been able to generate a USD$2.5tn market based on belief, hope, and the fear of missing out.

      I look forward to watching Monevator grow into a personal finance multimedia conglomerate. The mind boggles at the possibilities of a Minority Report style augmented reality/metaverse presentation medium full of exciting crypto investing tips!

  6. The Accumulator 3 December 2021

    Hi Indeedably, I’m going to play devil’s advocate.

    Channel and audience fragmentation is nothing new. Media was splintering long before you started SQ – it’s simply been foregrounded for you because of the tremendous effort you’ve put into the project.

    The tension you feel between trying to serve a niche and trying to broaden your audience is one of the biggest headaches in media – bar trying to make it pay.

    The reality is big organisations segment. Small outfits faithfully serve their niche, fold, or try their luck in new channels.

    The idea that ‘all the action’ is happening among young things on the platform de jour is only part of the story.

    In truth, the audience is scattered far and wide across a limitless fenland of channels, niches, and sub-niches.

    You write a great blog and do the community a great service with SQ.

    If ‘finding an audience’ meant pushing meme-stock tips on Insta and Tiktok I don’t think you’d do it. And nor should you.

    But you already have an audience that needs you. Stay true to your mission and find new ways to spread the word when you’re minded to experiment.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 3 December 2021 — Post author

      Thanks TA. You’re absolutely correct, consolidation and fragmentation within a market are as inevitable as the ebb and flow of the tides. This is nothing new, just from an aggregation perspective at least new to me.

      With SQ it has begun to feel like I’m wandering around amongst the tumbleweeds blowing through MySpace and FriendsReUnited, wondering where everybody went? Frothy markets spawn a legion of aspirational FIRE folk, shady investment gurus, and get-rich-quick/lifestyle design shysters. All of whom conflate luck with wisdom while, much like the contestants on those old 2000s Sarah Beeny property shows, find themselves “saved by the rising market“.

      However, for the most part they no longer come onto my radar, largely (I theorise) due to the different channels that have come to the fore as technologies and fashions gradually change.

      So I don’t believe Personal Finance is dead, aggregation serve no purpose, nor that enthusiastic amateurs sharing their knowledge have suddenly stopped raving and rambling about money. I just think SQ is increasingly not representative of those collective creative efforts.

      Fear not, I’m still enjoying writing and sharing stories here at indeedably. While that holds true, I’ll continue emptying the contents of my head onto the keyboard.

What say you?

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