Helping Americans Achieve Their Dreams, One Dollar at a Time
Robo-advisor WiseBanyan is creating a way for people of all ages and financial means to save and invest their money and achieve their financial goals — starting with their first $1.
Find a banyan tree in a tropical forest and you’ll be struck by the many roots bursting from its branches and growing down toward the earth. What might start as a single branch grows into a vast network of roots over time. It’s an image Herbert Moore and Vicki Zhou were drawn to when they decided to name their New York-based financial services company WiseBanyan in 2013.
WiseBanyan operates on the premise that by starting with a single plot of money – small though it may be — and growing and investing in it over time, people can grow and vastly multiply their savings, just as the branches of a banyan tree plant itself into roots to help the tree grow bigger and stronger. Anyone can start, even with just $1, and after a year, the average WiseBanyan client has more than $5,000 with 71% of new users contributing an auto-deposit that typically varies from $5 to $500 a week.
Clients sign up for free and fill out a questionnaire that helps to provide a sense of who they are as individuals – from their level of risk aversion to their financial goals. Are they saving for a new car, first home, for their family, or for retirement? Once WiseBanyan has gathered enough information, it then creates a financial plan with a suggested amount of weekly or monthly savings to reach those goals. “It’s like having your own personal trainer, but you never have to go the gym,” say Zhou. “I like to think of us as a money mentor – we help people think about what it means to start saving earlier, but with less.”
While the average financial advisor tends to work with clients mostly over the age of 50, the average age for a new client who signs up with WiseBanyan is 29 — and more than half of its clients earn less than $60,000 a year, with 90% of users being either employed full-time, or full-time students, says Moore. “There’s this misconception that you have to trick younger people into saving,” he says. “But they want to save. They also value transparency and ease of use. What you need is a very clear value proposition.”
WiseBanyan’s value proposition is right there at the top of its homepage: “The world’s first free financial advisor. Investing should be a right – not a privilege.” Unlike traditional financial advisors who take an “asset gatherer” approach that focuses on the size of customers’ assets, WiseBanyan aims to expand the reach of financial services. “The majority of people using WiseBanyan are younger and they are first-time investors,” says Moore. “The most important thing we show our clients is the value of starting sooner rather than later.”
Three years ago, when James Morgan, a branch manager for an irrigation and landscape lighting distributor in Memphis, Tennessee first came across WiseBanyan, he hadn’t thought much about his retirement plan. At first, Morgan, 31, started setting aside $20 a week toward an investment fund through WiseBanyan. Over the past three years, he’s set the goal of saving and investing enough money to be able to retire in 25 to 30 years, a goal for which he now sets aside $300 weekly from his paycheck. “I’d always saved but I’d never done investing,” he says. “It’s definitely focused me in on long-term planning rather than living month-to-month.”
Like most users, Morgan interacts with WiseBanyan almost exclusively through an app on his phone, checking in at least twice a day to see what the markets look like and what new Facebook or blog posts WiseBanyan might have put out. He also pays for an add-on service called WiseHarvesting, which looks for tax deduction opportunities. The service costs $20 a month or less, depending on a client’s assets, and thirty percent of users opt into it, according to Moore. While most traditional financial advisors make money based on clients’ account sizes, WiseBanyan makes money off add-on products like WiseHarvesting. “We want people to be able to pay for services that they actually want, rather than prescribe a one-size-fits-all model to everyone,” says Zhou.
There are now more than 20,000 people actively saving and investing on WiseBanyan. After a year, most clients find they have more money in WiseBanyan than they do in their banking and checking accounts, says Moore. In all, people on WiseBanyan are saving more than $4 billion toward their goals. “Every dream starts with $1,” says Moore. “And WiseBanyan helps people save and invest to make those dreams come true, $1 at a time.”
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