Startup offers free financial advising

(WiseBanyan)

(WiseBanyan)

The world of financial advising is changing fast, and that’s good news for the average American. A startup called WiseBanyan claims to be the “world’s first free financial advisor” and is offering an innovative way for people to set financial goals and plan their future investments.

The company, named after the banyan tree known for strong roots, was co-founded by Herbert Moore and Vicki Zhou. After starting a separate investment advisory firm, Moore and Zhou realized that they had to turn interested customers away who couldn’t meet the typical $100,000 minimum required to make their services profitable.

“While we were being very efficient with what commercially available software that was out there, we weren’t developing our own software to scale,” Moore told Opportunity Lives.

So they decided to build WiseBanyan on their own. “We built it with the idea that high-quality financial services and financial advisory should be available to everyone,” Moore said.

So far, WiseBanyan has fulfilled that promise, offering free financial planning and investment opportunities to 13,000 clients. Although the company has only $70 million in assets under management, it is helping its clients plan toward $3 billion in “milestones,” either savings or purchase goals that clients have set on the site.

WiseBanyan makes it easy to invest. Users fill out a simple online questionnaire that helps inform the company whether they are looking to invest short-term or long-term and whether they can tolerate market volatility or want a more stable investment. After users set specific financial goals such as buying a house, paying off loans or preparing for retirement, WiseBanyan picks an optimal portfolio for them.

“By making these concepts more approachable to people, we see dramatically better user behavior,” said Moore. “We strive to be the centerpiece of a client’s financial life as they move forward.”

For many people, the confusing abbreviations and terminology can be major hindrances to investing. That’s where WiseBanyan’s easy-to-use user interface and clear advice really make a difference. And for those who want a bit more control over their investments, WiseBanyan allows some adjustments to the recommendations the company makes.

WiseBanyan has been especially popular with young people, likely because of the straightforward advice, clean mobile apps (which bring 60 percent of traffic) and, of course, zero fees.

“We’ve really found our mark with younger people and other clients starting to save for the first time, because we’re helping them jump start their financial lives,” said Moore. An impressive 75 percent of WiseBanyan’s clients are under 35 years old.

Along the way, the co-founders have faced and overcome many challenges. Building a nationally recognized investment advisory firm is no easy feat, and finding the best engineers to create and maintain the platform was a vital to the startup’s success.

Now, WiseBanyan is creating value for people around the country who want a way to plan out their financial futures without having to cough up the sizable fees and expense ratios that dominate traditional investing and financial planning. Clients can invest immediately and WiseBanyan automatically processes their trades and manages their taxes. It’s an attractive proposition, and it encourages responsibility — 71 percent of WiseBanyan clients contribute automatically to their accounts every week or month.

In the future, WiseBanyan hopes to offer additional financial products so that its clients can simplify their lives and keep everything in one place.

“If you can create an end-to-end, forward-looking client experience for someone, I think that’s a big winner,” said Moore. “For us, we think it all starts with financial planning and financial management, where people come to us, create a complete investment plan, they trust us, we do right by them, and they’ll come back for more.”

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