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Coming full circle After promising venture fails, entrepreneur tries again

John Michel, founder of the fintech company now known as CircleBlack.-(AARON HOUSTON)

More than a billion dollars in assets were racked up and hundreds of clients used the online wealth management service BloombergBlack LLC within its four-month run.Then, for a few, nonspecific reasons that wouldn’t explain much, the plug was pulled.

But it’s no surprise that — given the seeming promise of those figures — John Michel, the person largely responsible for the fintech venture, tried it again.

He launched what’s now referred to as CircleBlack in January 2014, decoupling from the New York-based Bloomberg LP and making some adjustments to the original product.

The fintech firm works directly with financial advisers to connect their clients with investment information. It offers a cloud-based platform that provides advisers as well as investors with a snapshot of an investment portfolio.

CircleBlack, which was in beta testing until last year, also provides updated content involving an investor’s financial relationships.

Michel, who is CEO of the company, said the products come through the advisers instead of going directly to their clients, following a different model than the original product.

“What we have realized is that, while there are people in the world who want those products direct, they want it also through their adviser, because I’m paying him or her to watch the money, but I want to feel like I’m getting a bit of knowledge from that person,” he said.

Importantly, Michel said, it is targeted content that is made to be relevant to clients.

“(A large percentage) of the market doesn’t find finance interesting, and they don’t want to spend more time than they have to on it,” he said. “But, realizing its importance, they want to spend enough time with it to feel like they’re knowledgeable and in control, especially when it comes to matters important to them.”

The company has a headquarters in Jersey City and an office in Princeton. It made the move from New York due, in part, to some tax incentives administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority in consultation with the New Jersey Division of Taxation.

There were several million dollars in investments the firm received that qualified for the Angel Investor Tax Credit Program, a 10 percent refundable tax credit on income for investments in a tech business. CircleBlack also tapped the state’s Technology Business Tax Certificate Transfer Program, which turns unused tax losses and research credits into cash.

Michel, who has long lived in the Garden State, said he’s glad to be local. And he hopes CircleBlack can continue to improve the relationship between finance professionals across the state and their clients.

“We’re having significant growth and we believe that’s benefiting the state’s investors and advisers,” he said.

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Brett Johnson

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