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U.S. wealthtech player Betterment is building up its assets under management. That’s because the company acquired the U.S. investment advisory business of Canada-based Wealthsimple this week.
Terms of the deal– which notably does not include Wealthsimple’s technology, employees, or operations– were not disclosed.
“As we shift our focus to our Canadian business for the time being, finding a partner for our U.S. business that shared our commitment to putting clients first was our top priority,” said Wealthsimple Co-founder and CEO Michael Katchen. “It’s been a privilege to serve our U.S. clients, and we’re confident that their investments will continue to be in good hands with Betterment.”
To find a suitable home for its U.S. accounts, Wealthsimple selected Betterment in a competitive bidding process for its strong reputation and customer-first mentality. Wealthsimple’s U.S. clients will be moved over to Betterment in June of this year.
“This was an excellent opportunity for us to grow our customer base, and we’ll continue to be aggressive in opportunities that accelerate our business goals,” said Betterment’s newly-appointed CEO Sarah Levy.
Jon Stein has long been a prominent figure in the U.S. fintech sector. Betterment, the wealthtech company he launched in 2008, has grown to help 500,000 users manage a total of $25 billion in assets.
Not only did Stein build a successful fintech company, he also helped kick off the entire wealthtech subsector within fintech. Today, the New York-based company’s founder announced he is handing over the company — and the legacy– to Sarah Kirshbaum Levy.
The move comes after Stein spent time during quarantine reflecting. He ultimately came to the realization that, as he said, “the best way to achieve our mission might be to invite a successor to lead Betterment in the next phase of growth.”
Kirshbaum Levy comes to Betterment after serving as Chief Operating Officer at Viacom Media Networks, the parent company of brands such as Nickelodeon, BET, and Comedy Central. She started working under Stein as a consultant, building out the company’s 2021 plans. Today, as Kirshbaum Levy takes the reins as CEO, she will not only guide Betterment toward a future of growth but also prepare the company to go public.
Stein will continue to hold a seat on Betterment’s board and will support Kirshbaum Levy by offering help with recruiting, investor relations, telling the company’s story, and upholding the company culture and values.
“Due to good fortune and intense effort in a most challenging year, the company has never been in a stronger position. Each line of business is reaching new heights in 2020. We’re beating targets, well-capitalized, with wind at our backs. It’s a good time to hand over the reins,” Stein concluded.
By many accounts, 2020 has been a difficult year full of events nobody could have anticipated or planned for.
As an industry, however, fintech has faired rather well. The shift to digital combined with an enhanced focus on the customer experience have benefitted banks, end users, and even fintechs themselves.
Fintech’s wealthtech subsector is no different. In fact, roboadvisory tools have evolved over the past decade with near-futuristic new features and offerings that are helping today’s consumers battle the challenges of 2020.
Here we’re taking a look at six ways roboadvisors have improved to (unknowingly) prepare for the toughest year yet.
AI has gotten smarter
Thanks to machine learning capabilities, the AI technology that powers investment strategies, forecasting, and reporting has improved significantly since roboadvisors hit their peak in 2015. Additionally, the amount of data has increased and computing power has been significantly upgraded, meaning that AI has never been smarter.
One of my favorite tools that launched this year is Personal Capital’sRecession Simulator. While many investment portfolio models offer a range of what-if scenarios, the Recession Simulator helps users illustrate the effects that historical recessions may have on their portfolio. Currently the Recession Simulator allows users to mimic returns of the DotCom crash of 2000 and the Financial Crisis of 2008.
Challenging the challengers
Last year ushered in the era of challenger banks, and roboadvisors were quick to jump on the opportunity. Three of the top roboadvisors by assets under management– Wealthfront, Betterment, and Personal Capital– all launched checking tools last year. These accounts help consumers keep all of their cash in a single, unified place and some offer tandem, high-yield savings accounts.
While many fintechs have promised to automate savings, investing, and billpay, many have been slow to deliver. Recently, however Wealthfront has made strides toward its Self-Driving Money concept. Last month the company unveiledAutopilot, the first product in its self-driving money suite. Autopilot takes clients’ savings and automatically monitors their balances and moves money around on their behalf to maximize their savings and returns.
Looking beyond retirement
While everyone hopes to save for retirement, there are plenty of other events to save for, too. Many roboadvisors have set up their platforms to enable users to save up for relatively smaller savings goals, such as a kitchen renovation, a child’s education, or a wedding.
Built for everyone
While many investment platforms cater to a variety of risk appetites, some have started to cater to new client bases, such as gig workers. Betterment, for example, launched a promotion with Steady, a gig economy workforce platform, to offer its users free financial advisory services for one year.
Updated 1/14/2020: The first big fintech acquisition of the year just crossed the headlines: Visa has agreed to acquire innovative fintech Plaid for a reported $5.3 billion in “total purchase consideration.”
“Today marks an important milestone for our company and for fintech,” company co-founder and CEO Zach Perret wrote on the Plaid blog earlier today. “What started with two founders building in a cramped conference room has become an incredible network that enables millions of consumers to interact with over 2,500 digital finance products.”
Plaid’s technology connects digital consumers with thousands of apps and services ranging from Transferwise and Betterment to Chime, Acorns, and popular payment app, Venmo. The company estimates that one in four individuals with a U.S. bank account have used Plaid to connect with thousands of developers across 11,000+ financial institutions.
Visa said the acquisition will bolster the company’s capacity to serve and reputation with fintech developers – especially when it comes to providing them with enhanced payment functionality and related value-added services. Visa also believes the acquisition will help open new business opportunities both in the U.S. and around the world.
“We are extremely excited about our acquisition of Plaid and how it enhances the growth trajectory of our business,” Visa CEO and chairman Al Kelly said. “Plaid is a leader in the fast growing fintech world with best-in-class capabilities and talent. The acquisition, combined with our many fintech efforts already underway, will position Visa to deliver even more value for developers, financial institutions, and consumers.”
Visa participated in Plaid’s Series C round in 2018, which was led by Index Ventures and Kleiner Perkins. The company raised $250 million in that funding raising effort. Plaid began the year with an acquisition of its own, purchasing account aggregation and data analytics technology provider Quovo in January of 2019. The value of that deal was not disclosed; Bloomberg reported that the sticker price for Quovo could have been as high as $200 million. Quovo, incidentally, is also a FinDEVr alum, participating in our New York developers conference in 2017.
Plaid demonstrated its technology at FinDEVrSiliconValley in 2014, demonstrating how its API for Financial Infrastructure enabled developers to leverage data quickly, efficiently, and securely power fintech applications. Headquartered in San Francisco, California and founded in 2012, Plaid had raised $310 million in funding previous to today’s announcement.
The ripples from the acquisition news are reverberating throughout the fintech community. And while some are worried about the ability of the innovative startup from San Francisco continue to drive change in the industry, others are busy heralding the news as a victory for fintech and incumbent financial services firms, alike.
Indeed, the acquisition of Plaid by Visa has put other fintechs involved in financial data on notice that they too may hear an inquiring knock on their proverbial doors. One observer on Twitter asked “Will $MA pick up Finicity now?” As of this writing, neither company has deigned to comment.
Betterment knows its clients are smart when it comes to saving for their futures. And with that well-established, financially savvy client base, the company launched a checking and savings platform this week.
The new platform is called Betterment Everyday (because what’s better than a user base that logs in every day?) and is aimed to help the company’s clients better manage their money today so that they can maximize earnings for the future.
Betterment Everyday offers savings and checking accounts, with customer deposits held at partner banks including Citi, Barclays, and Valley National. The savings accounts, available today, can earn up to 2.69% APY until the end of this year, after which will drop to 2.43% and be subject to change.
The checking product will be available later this year and comes with benefits typical of online-only banks. Users will receive a debit card issued by nbkc bank of Overland Park, Kansas, will be reimbursed for all ATM fees worldwide, will not be charged monthly maintenance fees, and do not need to maintain a minimum balance.
“As we launch Betterment Everyday, we’re starting to bring our role as your financial advisor into your everyday life, turning your daily choices and transactions into saving for the future,” said Betterment CEO Jon Stein in a blog post. “We’re building the framework for where we believe the industry can (and should) move. We believe the future is smart money management, and we’re leading the way.”
In addition to attracting new clients and refocusing existing users, the new account offerings also serve to compete with fintechs that have launched similar products in recent months. Wealthfront, SoFi, which offer high interest savings accounts boasting yields of 2.57% and 2.25%, respectively, and Acorns, which offers a debit card for a fee of $3 per month.
Last year Robinhood launched a checking account that boasted a 3% interest rate, but quietly rescinded the product after regulators from the SEC and SIPC cited lack of regulatory oversight. The startup had not consulted regulators before the proposed launch and is now working on a new version of the checking account. Today, Betterment may be in a similar situation. The company did consult regulators before this week’s launch, but, according to CNBC, has been asked to provide more information on the new offering.
Betterment CEO Jon Stein debuted the company’s MultipleGoals feature at FinovateFall 2011. Since it was founded in 2008, the company has raised a total of $275 million. Last fall, Betterment unveiled a Trust Account Opening feature that allows advisors to manage the entire process. And this year, the company was honored on the Forbes Fintech 50 list for the 4th year in a row.
“Recognition as a leading innovator in fintech is tremendous validation for the hard work we’ve done at Marqeta to open the industry up to the possibilities and opportunities of modern card issuing,” company CEO and founder Jason Gardner said. Marqeta is among the 20 companies to make its first appearance on the Forbes Fintech 50 roster.
Also earning their first appearances on Forbes Fintech 50 roster are New York based mobile investment platform Stash and San Francisco supply chain payments innovator Tradeshift.
“Very excited to be included in the 2019 Forbes Fintech 50!,” Stash tweeted once the news was released at the start of the week, “Monday = made.”
“We made the list!” Tradeshift tweeted this morning.
Summarizing this year’s selection of top fintechs, the editors noted that while 19 out of the 50 fintechs featured are unicorns with valuations of more than $1 billion, a nearly equal amount – 20 startups – are making their first showing on Forbes top fintech list. The two areas where newcomers were more prevalent, according to the editors, were payments technology and startups serving the un- and underbanked.