There is a tech boom or a bubble — depending on whom you ask. And with each boom (and bubble) we see an army of financial advisers descend on Silicon Valley. This time a new kind of a financial adviser is coming to town — a software-based online adviser. Wealthfront, a Palo Alto, Calif. company that started its life as Kaching is now opening its door by giving easy tools to manage your finances.
Typically, when someone sells a company or sells stock in the company they worked for, they sign up with a financial adviser who works for a big investment bank like Goldman Sachs or Citibank. This adviser uses modern portfolio theory, asks you dozens of questions to build a risk profile and tries to tell you what is the best way for you to manage and grow your mountain of cash. Of course, you have to pay for this knowledge, typically between 1 percent to 1.5 percent of your assets. Now this isn’t open to everyone. With many of the big banks, you gotta have a few million dollars in your account. If not, you are out of luck.
But there are hundreds of people who make sizable cash when their companies go public or are sold to larger companies. From LinkedIn (s LNKD) to Pandora (s P) to, soon, Facebook, there is a growing number of folks who are looking to find better ways to manage their money. That includes engineers, product managers, designers — folks who are not senior management, founders or c-suite residents. They may not have millions, but they need financial advisor services.
Enter Wealthfront, which has its own variation of modern portfolio theory and has developed its own algorithms for assessing your risk profile. The system asks you a few questions, and gives you your profile and makes suggestions on investing based on that. And the system also allows you to see how you would have done over the years with your risk profile and allocations. The service is free if your assets are under $25,000, if they’re any higher, you pay 0.25 percent of your total assets.
The idea for this new product came after Andy Rachleff, former general partner at Benchmark Capital and now President & CEO of Wealthfront, started hearing from folks at companies like Google (s GOOG) and Facebook about the challenges of dealing with financial advisers. The company has raised almost $10 million from a virtual who’s who of venture capital industry. Rachleff, a veteran of the VC industry, heard the same thing from his investors, many of whom had companies that were either in the process of going public or being acquired.
A year ago, the company changed its focus from being a pure investment advisor to a software-based financial management platform. The new name is reflective of this new approach. Wealthfront founder Dan Carroll, who was trading stocks in his teens, says that while the initial focus is on investors from the technology sector, they will be expanding into general markets as well.
Wealthfront is just one of the many startups that are looking to use software to eliminate the middlemen even from high-touch professions such as financial advisor services. I am pretty sure we are going to see similar ideas emerge in other parts of society.