The Women Behind the Women-Only Robo Movement
Since the obvious question is why do women investors need a women-first, women-run robo advisor, let's get that right out of the way.
Women investors are not a niche market, of course. Women in the U.S. control around $5.1 trillion in assets according to research firm Hearts and Wallets. Women now control approximately two-thirds of the country's annual spending, according to a Pershing study done last year.
Women investors want modern tools to help them succeed financially. But the fields of finance and technology are still male-dominated. As a result, a number of female investors feel even the latest digital offerings can skew toward that bias.
Read more: What's Missing in Fintech? Oh Yeah, Women
Enter women-first robo advisors, led by its highest-profile proponent, Sallie Krawcheck, former chief executive of wealth management at Bank of America. She's now CEO of Ellevest, a venture that attracted $10 million in startup capital.
"I sort of doubt [Renttherunway.com] was ever going to be started by a guy. Nor was Birchbox. Nor was Dry Bar. And nor was Ellevest," Krawcheck wrote in a blog posted on LinkedIn last year. "And I know this, because I presented the opportunity to any number of male CEOs in financial services, who simply weren’t able to see women investors as anything but a niche market."
(Krawcheck declined to comment for this piece. Ellevest has yet to launch, but Krawcheck noted in a recent blog that the platform will cost $2 million to build.)
Krawcheck's not the only entrepreneur looking to shake up the robo industry with a female-centric robo platform. And though they may bring differing approaches, a unifying theme among all is that digital advice can provide for women investors what traditional advice chose to ignore.
'VOICING IT DIFFERENTLY'
Amanda Steinberg's robo service WorthFM is set to launch this year, but the founder of financial media company DailyWorth says one of her most daunting tasks was selling that initial concept to advertisers.
Steinberg says potential clients didn't understand the product, or they thought aloud that women weren't their audience.
Having put that experience in her rearview mirror, Steinberg says the inspiration to develop a robo wasn't based on timing or luck. According the self-professed "engineer by training," creating this service is a great joy because if every other option on the market isn't speaking to her, as an entrepreneur, she has to do something about that.
"It's about voicing it differently," Steinberg says.
WorthFM has developed a quiz that assigns clients five personality types based on their answers and advises them on their finances accordingly. WorthFM also looks to "frame investments and acting responsibly as a way to have what you want in your present and future," Steinberg adds. "It's different based on your personality."
Also up high on the list is providing investors with a more inclusive, clear-cut mode of delivery. "Being cryptic and packaging yourself a certain way works if you want to be exclusive and only serve a portion of us," she says.
'IN PLAIN ENGLISH'
Tina Powell's foray into the world of finance began three years ago not with a robo platform, but with a blog: SheCapital.
Powell had switched careers after her father passed away and her life was "thrown in a blender" for five years. A lack of planning ahead of time threw a wrench into her plans. When she came out on the other side, she had a mission.
"I wanted to teach every single person I knew online and offline, to impregnate these financial concepts," she said. "They need somebody to bridge financial advice to inspire them, to say, 'Hey look, you have to learn to delay gratification.'"
Following SheCapital's entrance into the robo space, Powell feels it's the right move for the times. Clients want 24/7 access to their accounts and their investments, from anywhere. Gone are the days when one dialed up their advisor and hoped it's a good market day or the right time.
"Automated technology allows clients to get investment communication and information on their watch," says Powell, whose client base counts not only women, but men too.
"When it comes down to addressing the needs of a client, accessibility is so important, and having things explained in plain, simple English. We want to empower women to make good decisions in their lives —that's what advice is all about."
For Laura Veras, the fact that women control more of the purse strings now than ever before drives her desire to educate and inform. The principal of Hearts and Wallets, whose professional background includes consumer products, compares financial advising options to the toothbrush aisle in your local store in that everyone's needs are different.
Just as a uniform advising style won't satisfy everyone, Veras says, neither will one type of toothbrush.
"Over the last 10 years, a lot of [investing] product manufacturers decided they were going to focus on the needs of stores, and not focus on investors," she says. "Like toothbrushes, the product manufacturer needs to know how consumers are brushing their teeth. They've lost sight of the end investor."
Veras shies away from the term robo advisor because it implies an attack on the human aspect of the investment industry, while what is being offered in truth is "more like Apple or Tesla products with their own storefronts. Different products should focus on different investors all the time, like toothbrushes."
Over time, Veras has learned what speaks to her target audience is motivation and that sense of being noticed as an individual with individual needs. This is at the forefront of what clients see when they login.
"Women feel like we have a lot of catching up to do, we feel more inexperienced than men," she says. "We ask for directions, but it doesn't make us worse drivers than men."