Millennials and Money: How Acorns Turned Shopping into Investing
How fintech startup Acorns is teaching millennials about investing
In comparison to how much effort we put into teaching young entrepreneurs how to create a profitable business, one thing that isn't talked about nearly enough is the importance of learning how to invest your money so that you hold onto what you make - and steadily grow your net worth over time.
As a millennial myself, I've had a lot of personal ups and downs teaching myself about how to properly invest my money, instead of allowing it to sit in a savings account that doesn't even return enough interest to compensate for inflation each year.
A few years ago, that need for an investment tool that was easy-to-use, reliable, and required little to no time investment on my end, led me to Acorns.
Their core product is an awesome service that connects to your checking and credit accounts, then rounds up all of your purchases to the nearest dollar, automatically investing the additional pennies into a mutual fund (based on your risk tolerance and financial goals), all behind the scenes.
The idea of "round-ups"
A “round-up” is the virtual spare change captured from rounding up a transaction to the nearest dollar. When you link a credit or debit card to your Acorns account, they track the spare change from your transactions and make it available for you to invest.
Round-ups are viewable within in the app, and you can choose which ones you would like to invest, or change your settings to automatically invest round-ups after each purchase.
Today, I got the opportunity to chat with Acorns co-founder, Jeff Cruttenden. As a millennial himself, my interview with Jeff focuses on the inception of the Acorns idea, the mission of the company, and we take a look ahead at what's to come in the future for millennials and money.
Let's get to it.
Ryan: Tell me a little about Acorns, what motivated you to start the company, and what your overall mission is.
Jeff: "We want to put the tools of wealth-making in everyone’s hands. With Acorns, anyone can use their phone to turn spare change into investment contributions. The app rounds up purchases to the nearest dollar, saving the difference in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds."
"So, if you spend $3.25 on a cappuccino, for example, the app will automatically transfer 75 cents into your Acorns investment account."
"The idea for the Acorns app grew out of conversations with classmates in college who felt investing was beyond their reach, something that was reserved for only the wealthy. Acorns is on a mission to erase the traditional barriers to investing and create a new generation of investors. The idea is anyone can invest – and that even if you start small, your balance can grow substantially over time. Wealth grows from pennies like oaks grow from Acorns."
Ryan: In a world of complicated and countless investment options, how is Acorns differentiating themselves and creating a unique value proposition to individual investors?
Jeff: "We know that people are good at shopping, but they’re often less savvy about saving and investing.
Building an app that links the two made sense."
"Most people want to go about their daily lives, not focus on investing. Having an app that automatically rounds up spare change and invests in the background of everyday life allows users to seamlessly build up their savings over time without even thinking about it."
"Moreover, Acorns takes the guesswork out of picking investments. Using simple factors like age, goals, timeframe and risk tolerance, the app will recommend one of five diversified portfolios. Each was developed with the help of Nobel Prize-winning economist Dr. Harry Markowitz."
Ryan: Who are Acorn's primary customers, and what have you done to reach that market so well?
Jeff: "Acorns is the largest and fastest-growing micro-investing app, with over 700,000 investment accounts opened in 16 months.
Nearly 75% of our investors are between the ages of 18 and 34. That’s not surprising since Acorns was a mobile-first app and was specifically designed to make it as simple as possible to start investing and to monitor and contribute to your account. It seems to have struck a chord with millennials, but, really, with anyone interested in taking simple steps to start building wealth."
"We launched Grow Magazine in January to fill a void in the market: It’s the first online personal finance publication to specifically address the financial health of millennials. And it has quickly become a voice to trust. We’ve already seen incredible traction with more than a quarter-million visits to the site in the first 30 days, and the number of readers has been increasing each week."
Ryan: What does the next five to ten years look like for Acorns?
Jeff: "I’m afraid I can’t go into too much detail here, but we’ve got some big plans. So stay tuned. Of course, we will continue to fine tune our existing product to make it even better. And we’re also looking at other pain points in the world of banking and personal finance to apply our ethos of simplicity."
"Partnerships are a big part of our roadmap. How can we encourage other institutions to co-invest in people’s futures? We’re excited to have the opportunity to help so many people start building good money habits, and real wealth, early on."