Young adults who are unsure of how to save their money can now panic a little less. Yet another financial service wants to manage (read: fix) how you invest your money. Unlike other robo advisors in the space, who offer investment and consulting services for different types of accounts, Blooom wants to tackle your 401(k) specifically, and charge you a flat rate to do so. Founded in 2013, the Kansas City-based company is currently seeking venture capital to create an app to compliment its online service.
Co-founders Chris Costello and Kevin Conard aren't your average "brogrammers." Before the two founded their first company, The Retirement Planning Group, in 2004, Costello worked as an advisor at UBS and Wells Fargo. While he relished the work of helping older employees map out their 401(k)s, he also noticed the lack of attention paid to the younger generation who tend to have smaller portfolios.
"It always struck me that the business model in financial services was flawed at best, and maybe even broken at worst. Everybody who gets into the business wants to work with people who have a couple million dollars to invest. Meanwhile," says Costello, "you've got tens of millions of people across the country who are either too young, or simply aren't on a path to have anywhere near those types of large assets."
Educate, don't discriminate.
He found that younger savers typically go about investing their 401(k)s all wrong. Where Blooom advises customers to diversify their allocations, for instance, many of Costello's peers (including his own sister, Annie) were siphoning off their savings into a single money market fund, thus minimizing the amount of money that can actually accrue over time.
"Screwing up your 401k doesn't discriminate," Costello says. Another major faux pas: having too much risk in your portfolio the closer you get to retirement, or investing for wealth, as opposed to income. Blooom recommends that users allocate around 80 percent of their 401(k) to stocks if they're ten years away from retirement.
At least one financial analyst agrees with the company's methods. "I think it's a really smart move [to diversify allocations]," says Sean McDermott, a financial research associate at Corporate Insight. "If you're 55-years-old, you don't want to be in all fixed income. You're not going to be able to sustain your retirement."
He's optimistic about Blooom's business model. "The advantage [is that] we're talking about a much larger potential client base. The average American invests mostly in his or her 401(k). It's everyone's financial goal to be prepared to retire."
Will Blooom be helpful for you?
For $15 a month, for all accounts over $20,000 (and $1 for accounts below), you hand over your 401(k) or 403(b) to the website, which uses an algorithm to determine how to best allocate your savings. Every 90 days, Blooom checks your account to determine whether or not to change your investment strategy.
Unlike competitors like Wealthfront or Betterment, which price according to basis points, Blooom's pricing does not depend on how much you invest; you would pay the same $15 rate for a $25,000 account as you would for a million dollar account.
The company is similar to other financial services in the sense that it attempts to communicate with consumers in a more relaxed manner. "No more pie charts, line graphs, or nausea," the site touts. And while traditional, face-to-face consulting is not available through phone or Skype, the website does offer a chat function called "Ask the CFP."
How is the company doing?
Currently, Blooom is doing alright. It clocks nearly $100 million in assets under management, with just shy of 800 registered clients. The average size of an account is around $115,000--a far cry from the millions that Costello used to deal in--and the average client age is 38. Costello puts his monthly revenue at around $8,000, for an estimated $96,000 annually.
It's worth noting that some analysts doubt whether startups offering relatively low-cost consulting and investing services can continue to be economically viable without venture capital.
As Darrin Courtney, a research director specializing in wealth management at CEB TowerGroup, said about robo-advisor WiseBanyan: "My concern for firms like this is that most of them are pretty much venture capital backed and that's how they're getting started. Long term, how does a firm like that make money?"