Jon Stein is Founder & CEO of Betterment, an automated investing service based in New York, NY. We are an SEC-registered investment advisor and our broker-dealer is a member of FINRA/SIPC.
How did you get into the tech industry?
It was ultimately an accident, really. When I graduated college, no one was going into tech because it was the tech downturn. Fast forward a few years later, I became really good at excel and then quickly realized that if you can get extremely advanced with excel, it is basically a programming language. I knew from my experience with excel that I could teach myself to program, so I did exactly that.
Tell us about Betterment. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
Betterment is the largest, fastest-growing automated investing service, helping people to better manage, protect, and grow their wealth through smarter technology. The service offers a globally diversified portfolio of ETFs, designed to help provide you with the best possible expected returns for retirement planning, building wealth, and other savings goals. Betterment is a CNBC Disruptor 50 and Webby award winner and has been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal. Betterment helps people to achieve a smarter financial future with minimal effort and at a fraction of the cost of traditional financial services.
Determination of largest automated investment service reflects Betterment LLC's distinction of having the most clients, based on Betterment's review of client numbers self-reported in the SEC's Form ADV, across Betterment's survey of RIA automated investment services. Determination of fastest growing automated investment service reflects Betterment LLC's distinction of obtaining the largest number of new clients since January 1, 2014, based on Betterment's review of self-reported in the SEC's Form ADV, across Betterment's survey of automated investing services.
The problem in the financial industry inspired Betterment.The problem I saw was that companies (banks, brokerages, etc.) were not thoughtful about how to deliver the best products or be aligned for their customers. At Betterment, we want to be the obvious answer to the question "What should I do with my money?" It should be a resounding "Put it at Betterment." We want to be everyone’s investment manager.
What strategic partnerships have you implemented that have attributed to Betterment's success?
Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services: Betterment has formed a strategic alliance with Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, which is Fidelity’s business unit that provides a comprehensive custody platform, brokerage services, trading capabilities and practice management and consulting to nearly 3,000 registered investment advisor (RIA) firms. Betterment Institutional is now one of the practice management solutions Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services offers to its RIA clients and prospects.
We’ve also partnered with a few other companies including Google where we’ve been endorsed as an ideal solution for their employees’ investing needs.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
The automated investment service space continue to grow rapidly. When we started Betterment a little over four years ago, our industry did not even exist. We’re now servicing nearly 50k customers and there is a sense of inevitably that millions of consumers will be using these types of products.
We are continuing to improve our platform by using technology to automate tasks and building accessible and delightful user experiences that offer sophisticated portfolio management practices.
To those whom much is given, much is expected
Investing made better through smarter technology
Your greatest success as founder of Betterment? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
My greatest success as founder of Betterment is where we currently are today. We have nearly 50,000 customers in the United States and manage over $900 million in AUM. The smart, passionate, innovative people I am surrounded by everyday here at Betterment have made that possible.
One of the most difficult moments for me was back in 2007 before we launched. Our CTO at the time, who was also my roommate from college, left for business school in London. After him being away for sometime it became nearly impossible to work together long distance and we both knew the day was coming where he would have to leave Betterment. It was a very dark day in Betterment land, I actually remember taking a walk with our current co-founder and COO, Eli Broverman, around NYC contemplating the future and what we were going to do. Finding a replacement was not as easy as we thought when you are talking about a high-level position at an early-stage company. However, I learned that anything is possible and its is never as dark as it seems and things are never as good as they seem. A startup is a roller coaster, just hang on through the ups and downs.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Make it real as quickly as possible, do the things to build the minimum viable product, (print business cards, set up your email, get an office, etc.) build the thing that you're talking to people about. Don't just build a business plan, make it real so people can react to it and give you real feedback.
Favorite travel destination?
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Drink: Gin & Tonic
What literature is on your bed stand?
Peter Thiel's Zero to One
Alex Stone's Fooling Houdini
Role model - business and personal?
Business & Personal : Grandfather, Gordon Babcock; Chuck Schwab
Daughter, Sasha Stein; Gardening; Sailing; Skiing; Travel
Most interesting headline you've read this week?
"Betterment Takes On the Wall St Establishment"
What's next for Betterment?
We have recently launched Betterment Institutional so we will continue to grow that side of our business as well as focus on the retail side. We are continuing to take a deeper look into behavioral finance as we want to continue to learn from our customers and to inform them so that we get to a zero behavioral gap.
Jon is an engineer. An engineer who majored in economics at Harvard, studied finance at Columbia Business School, and became a Chartered Financial Analyst charterholder just for the hell of it.
For years he consulted the biggest financial institutions on Wall Street on risk management, product design, and investing strategy. But he wasn't satisfied by "helping the big banks to make more money," so he set out to play for the other team: to build powerful and intuitive advice services for consumers.
Having become adept at finance, he wondered, "Why is it so annoyingly time-consuming and computationally intense to optimize my own savings and investments?" And so he built Betterment.
Jon is passionate about fixing and building. In his spare time he likes to play at carpentry, electrical work, motorcycle repair, plumbing, gardening – or just browse at Home Depot. He taught himself to code so he could build the first version of the Betterment website and write the trading and rebalancing algorithms.