An upstart Washington, D.C., based online financial management firm has found a unique way to market to low and middle income individuals: Through their water and electric bill.

HelloWallet, which launched Monday, targets individuals that make between $20,000 and $100,000 annually. The company has already partnered with the city of San Francisco to offer wealth management services to its residents through direct mailings in their water and electric bills. HelloWallet plans to partner with other large cities nationally this year in an effort to offer personal financial management services to an array of low- and moderate-income households.

For a fee of $4 to $5 a month, HelloWallet provides pricing information and advice to individuals about 50,000 deposit products, including checking accounts, savings accounts and money market funds, at banks nationally. Matt Fellowes, HelloWallet’s founder and chief executive officer, acknowledged that there are a “ton of free sites” that provide similar information, but most are financed by banks that pay lead generation fees to the sites.

“We are independent from banks,” he said. “We want to be the intermediary between individuals and the banks and credit unions. In that role, we think that we can provide perspective, financial guidance and everyday money management.”

According to a report by Pew Charitable Trusts, over $34 billion was paid in overdraft fees last year and 80% of Americans do not have a financial advisor, specifically low and middle-income households.

Fellowes, who was a scholar at the Brookings Institution, said that the majority of low- and middle-income individuals store their money in checking and savings accounts. HelloWallet advises these individuals when they should move money into a CD or a money market fund and how much they can safely transfer.

“There were a lot of basic money management problems in the past couple of years that caused the economic turmoil,” Fellowes said. “There was a lot of wasted money because people made basic money management mistakes. Right now ... about 70% of consumers are depositing money into non-interest bearing accounts. At the end of the day, most just don’t trust banks.”

HelloWallet hopes to have 300,000 subscribers by the end of this year. It has already signed up California State University as a customer and is marketing its products to the school’s 45,000 staff and faculty members.

On Wednesday, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom announced a partnership with HelloWallet to provide independent financial guidance to the city’s residents. Fellowes said the initiative will be promoted by the city’s chamber of commerce, Pacific Gas & Electric and the San Francisco Public Utility Commission.

“All of the city’s residents that use its water will receive a bill in the next six month that will include an opportunity to take advantage of HelloWallet at a 20% discount,” he said. “The city has also bought subscription for low-income families that will distribution through the water company.”

HelloWallet plans to target 60 cities nationally where a large percentage of low-income households don’t have bank accounts.

“Financial planning is the last part of the financial services industry that doesn’t get to the mass market,” Fellowes said. “We want to give the mass market access to financial guidance. We expect to get to other cities. I was actually in a meeting [Tuesday] with another large city and we expect to roll that out soon.”


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