Sunday, April 12, 2015

Aspiration’s Growth Shows The Appetite For More Financial Services

Defying its critics and building on the success of players like Wealthfront and Betterment, Aspiration, the new money management firm launched by Andrei Cherny, is off to a roaring start.
The company has 700 customers paying for its initial wealth management product, a portfolio of mutual funds operated by Emerald Asset Managment, a Pennsylvania-based asset management firm. In all, the company has received $2 million to manage for its clients.
That total is a fraction of Wealthfront’s $2 billion in assets, but not too shabby for a firm that’s a little less than two months into its money management.
“We basically disintermediate the financial industry and provide financial advisory products direct to the customer,” says Cherny.
Aspiration differentiates itself from other asset managers through its pay-what-you-will approach to fees, which Cherny sees as a way to bring in investors who mistrust the larger financial institutions thanks to their role in last decade’s financial crisis.
In addition to its laissez-faire approach to fees, Aspiration also includes a charitable component as part of its mission. The company gives away 10% of its revenue to charitable causes like micro-lending.
While fees are determined by the investor, there are other costs that are associated with fund management that Aspiration has to pass through to its customers. Roughly 1.72% of the company’s flagship fund assets are taken out as fees that are paid to the mutual funds that the firm has selected as part of its portfolio.
Cherny likes where Aspiration is headed. “We amassed more than 50,000 people on our waiting list and started sending out invites two months ago. We have more paying customers in our first two months, than either Wealthfront, Learnvest, or FutureAdvisor in their first year,” he says.
And the pay-what-you-wish model seems to be working, according to Cherny. “We’re actually finding that the majority of our customers are paying us the amount that is the suggested amount — or even more,” he says.
A typical Aspiration customer is under 35, making around $100,000 in annual salary, and for many of them, Aspiration is their first mutual fund. “Roughly 56% of our clients do not own a mutual fund other than the one they just purchased with Aspiration,” says Cherny.
Another 40% of them don’t even own a stock. Over 50% don’t own a mutual fund,” Cherny says. He cautions that it’s not necessarily the best idea for people and says that his company will be rolling out new products for investors to increase the diversification of their investments.
“We are bringing direct-consumer products from the best fund managers in the world to the customers who need those products,” says Cherny.

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