Across Silicon Valley, the days of “pampering as a service” startups are coming to a close. As many have observed, the on-demand model for things like food delivery or laundry doesn’t have great economics behind it.
For finance technology, however, many think the boom days are just beginning. Institutions like Charles Schwab, Fidelity and Vanguard are racing to build out their “robo-adviser” offerings, automated services that manage clients’ money for them.
Wealthfront is the startup with first-mover advantage in this space. Led by tech industry veteran Adam Nash, the company is today announcing the next phase in its plan to take the wheel of its customers’ financial lives. The new features include a dashboard with detailed graphs representing the assets and liabilities in your portfolio, software/API integrations with services including Venmo and Lending Club and investment research powered by AI technology.
In a conversation with Re/code, Nash (a former exec at LinkedIn, eBay and Apple) outlined a vision for Wealthfront that sounds in tune with the Silicon Valley zeitgeist. In his words, “APIs are obviously the future.”
What he means is that companies like Facebook, Slack and Google are racing to build AI-powered tools that let users effortlessly manage everything from calendars to booking flights. Slack has even raised money specifically to invest in startups that build services that use Slack’s platform. For Wealthfront, Nash wants to see customers use the service to not only manage the money they invest with Wealthfront, but evaluate their holdings across all their finance-related services.
Initially, the big banks were skeptical of services like Wealthfront or its competitor Betterment (which just raised a boatload of cash at a $700 million valuation this week). The term “robo-advising” was deployed disdainfully, but banks quickly learned that customers who don’t like to tinker every day with their investments — including lots and lots of rich clients — were flocking to these services. Now, virtually every major financial institution has either already rolled out their own automated asset manager, or plans to sometime soon.
Nash chalks up a lot of the demand for this kind of service to millennial generation skepticism about the value of actively managing portfolios.
“[Millennials] have been through two market crashes, they don’t see that as the path to wealth,” he explained. “When I joined [Wealthfront], I said within 10 years everyone’s going to be using an automated service. It’s very clear to almost everyone that’s going to happen, and it’s happening really quickly.”
He uses a similar argument that lending startups like SoFi or Upstart deploy about building lifelong relationships with younger customers. The logic: Wealthfront is especially popular with younger people who lack the patience, inclination or means to go the traditional investment route with either an E*Trade account or a broker, and they’ll likely go to Wealthfront in the future for a lot of their financial needs or queries. Thus the push for all those integrations.
“Most of our clients are under 35. Sixty percent are under 35, and 90 percent are under 50. The average client I think at Merrill Lynch is, like, 63,” Nash added.
Customers can open an account on Wealthfront for free, and the company doesn’t charge an annual fee for people who store less than $10,000. For people investing over that amount, the company takes a .25 percent annual advisory fee. For Wealthfront users looking to opt in to the new dashboard features, here’s the link.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.