A Virtual Financial Planner To Convince a Generation to Strategize About Their Money
Albert offers an interface people can use as a one-stop-shop for their financial planning
Yinon Ravid and Andrzej Baraniak met 15 years ago while they were freshmen at Columbia University. The pair went about their respective careers in finance – Ravid working in asset management, and Baraniak doing management consulting. But after ten years of working in finance, the two reconnected, looked around, and realized there was a discrepancy their generation was facing that needed to be addressed: people simply weren’t planning when it came to their money. “Thirty years ago, people went to physical advisors. That world has changed,” says Ravid, who co-founded the financial planning app Albert with Baraniak. “Digital natives don’t want to sit in front of a person anymore.”
The result: Nearly half of Americans say they don’t have the available cash to foot the bill on a $400 emergency expense, according to Federal Reserve data. “There is a generation of 100 million people between the ages of 20 and 40 who don’t do financial planning,” says Ravid.
He and Baraniak wanted to find a way to change that and create that same financial advising experience for people – especially those in the 20s to 40s demographic – that translated on their smartphones. To do this, they began exploring ways to digitize the process to help people think about their finances more deliberately. “If you do know what to do, it’s very difficult to take action,” says Ravid. “We had to figure out how to explain financial planning in a non-yawn-inducing way.”
Open the Albert app and its playful, lively approach is apparent. The app greets you with the message: “Meet Albert,” two cartoon eyes blinking at you from the screen. The company constantly posts cartoons and videos on social media, using the Albert character as a way to teach users financial planning skills without taking it — or themselves — too seriously.
The average user comes to Albert with a median income of $40,000 and minimal savings, says Ravid. The app helps them focus and stay organized about different parts of their financial health, from paying off debt to finding the right types of insurance. The technology Ravid and Baraniak developed brings together a user’s financial data in one place so they can manage bank accounts, credit cards, loans and investments at the same time.
Albert allows users to track daily spending, encourages saving, and offers financial advice like recommendations on how to pay off credit card debt with low-interest loans, lower credit card fees, and start a retirement plan. Because the app can track various financial accounts in one place, users most often open the app to manage their bills and expenses.
To make all these moving parts work without having to reinvent the wheel, the pair began looking at ways to partner with existing financial institutions. Part of the application that they wanted to make sure to create was a way for users to begin setting aside money towards savings. To do this, they partnered with Wells Fargo, which powers a free savings account that lives in the app and transfers money from your bank automatically, called Albert Savings. They also began working with other providers like CoverHound, which offers insurance quote comparisons and Betterment, an automated investing service that gives users investment advice.
By connecting customers with these different businesses through its interface, Albert is able to make money from the referrals it offers so that users do not have to pay for the service. “Everybody is marketing specific tools that do one thing or another,” says Ravid. “We like to focus on the way people feel about money.”
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