There is an interesting post at the A VC blog on a new type of investment approach, called Covestor Investment Management (CV.IM). [Hat tip to all the Twitter tweets that pointed to the link]. The post describes the CV.IM as:

"The world’s first retail Multi Managed account or MMA. With an MMA you can invest directly alongside professional and retail investors, managing their own money in their own account. It is a new category of Investment product that gives you access to expert managers like a hedge fund with the security and transparency of a managed account."
Basically, the system is designed such that you would have your own account, but could then choose from a number of investment managers that you want to follow. The investment managers could be in the financial industry, or more likely just an average investor like you, but possibly with more experience, and with a track record or strategy to your liking. If you choose to follow the investment manager, funds in your account are used to mimic the trades of the manager. In return, the investment manager could get some compensation for sharing his/her data, although they can also continue to share their investment ideas for free.

It seems that such a structure could have some advantages. First, the fee structure is certainly less than a mutual fund or hedge fund for following the free managers, and also much less for even those charging a following fee (listed as $120 per person per manager). The system could also end up offering a number of investment options and strategy choices for free. For aspiring investment managers, there is also the opportunity to "prove yourself" and your strategy, and make a little money in the process.

Nonetheless, there are a number of questions. While the company does have a system in place to report performance, it is not clear how much data is available, or how accurate it will be if trading data/history is introduced for new managers. It is also unclear whether or not the managers could somehow game the system, or receive an unfair advantage by front-running the followers. One of the founders did respond in the post comments section that there will be minimum liquidity restrictions to prevent some abuse, but the managers could still have an initial advantage over new followers. The minimum daily trading volumes of 10,000 shares and $50 million in market cap also seem a little low. It is also worth noting that the managers will most likely be timing their buying and selling based on what is most beneficial to them, and not necessarily your current situation, causing you to possibly incur a commission and/or tax event at an inopportune time. Such a structure could also lose the ability to take advantage of scale with regard to transactions, unless a large number of investors are already following a particular manager (scale advantages are still possible given that most of the funds will be with only a few brokers - so far TD Ameritrade and Interactive Brokers). Nonetheless, new followers would most likely have to pay higher per share fees.

Although there are still numerous questions to be answered, the idea sounds intriguing, and is certainly worth pursuing more. Check out the Covestor website to learn more.