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LearnVest Falling Short of Hype?

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Early last year, high-flying online venture LearnVest Planning said it planned to have 100 financial planners on board by the end of 2013.

So where are they all?

The firm's most recent filing with the SEC, dated Nov. 19, reports just 24 employees, 20 of whom are planners. And despite repeated calls and emails to the firm -- including one email directly to founder Alexa von Tobel -- LearnVest hasn't responded with any more recent hiring updates.

(Update Feb. 18: LearnVest's spokeswoman now says that she intended her reference to "100 planning employees" to include other workers in addition to the planners themselves. Although the ADV form has not been updated, she says the firm now has 70 additional employees, none of whom are planners.)

The LearnVest website currently shows a dozen job openings -- but only one, described as a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based sales associate, in planning. (The remainder include three technology positions, three in operations, two in marketing, one in design, one in business development and an editorial position.)


Back in July, LearnVest announced that it had closed on a $16.5 million financing round that would in part be used to open a new regional hub in Arizona; von Tobel also said she was on the verge of announcing the details of a further strategic alliance with American Express.

American Express announced in October that LearnVest would be providing content to Serve.com, its prepaid card service, which is intended for people who have little access to traditional banking services.

Public documents do show the firm is growing rapidly. A 2012 SEC filing reported eight employees and 200 clients. The most recent filing shows 2,500 clients.

And many planning firms have reported that a talent shortage is cramping hiring efforts -- although von Tobel told Financial Planning in early 2013 that planners from around the country were flooding the firm with resumes.

But the online planning space has proved challenging to some of its competitors, with one prominent player calling it quits last year after failing to meet projections.

The largest independent broker-dealer in the country, LPL Financial, shuttered NestWise, its much-hyped online venture aimed at the middle class in August -- just 16 months after launch. As a result, LPL laid off 40 employees, including former president and COO Esther Stearns.

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