Jon Stein: Thoughts on 2020's Volatile Market

Much of what Betterment has worked toward the past 10 years has been purpose-built to endure all the worst and the best the market has to throw at us.

I started today like I imagine a lot of people around the world might have: Wondering about the latest news. Helping my wife come up with new ideas to entertain our two young daughters. Thinking about how fortunate we are to be together and healthy, and about those most vulnerable during these uncertain times. Connecting with coworkers remotely (and missing our in-person interactions).

I’ve also been thinking about my family’s and our customers’ finances. I’ve been thinking about how we all can make smart decisions to make the most of our current situation. Relatives (who are also Betterment customers) have told me brokers are calling them, saying, “Now’s the time to buy,” and “Let’s transition your portfolio,” and, to all of them I reiterate the same thing I always say: “Invest appropriately for your goals. Invest regularly. Stay the course (aka, don’t try to time the market).”

Betterment was born in the aftermath of the last financial crisis. Our vision, a smarter way to manage money for everyone, was based in no small part on what I saw during that time: Too many people making rash (often bad) financial decisions and struggling to make sense of the economic turmoil, because of a lack of good, outcome-oriented, fiduciary advice.

Much of what Betterment has been working toward over the past ten years—the services we’ve built, the products we’ve launched, the customer-outcome-obsessed company we strive to be for you—has been purpose-built for times like these, to endure all the worst and the best the market has to throw at us.

How we’re working for you in these challenging times.

Betterment has migrated to fully remote operations, and our teams are all up and running. We are fortunate that we were well prepared for this; in 2019, we opened new offices in Philadelphia and Denver and onboarded a dozen remote employees living across the country. This experience has served us well in our current environment, and made it relatively easy for us to institute a mandatory work from home policy early on.

Today, all of our team, all over the U.S., is working for you. Just like you, we have parents juggling meetings with at-home kids, and supportive teammates picking up extra work to allow those who need it to take time to care for loved ones. They’re answering your calls, building and launching our new checking account, or analyzing our trading, advice, and operations, and working hard to give you the service and advice you expect and deserve.

That we’ve seen record call volumes might be no surprise. Our call hold times have been elevated: ~30 minutes in the recent, dramatic days of market volatility. For me, this was a positive surprise. It’s longer than I’d like it to be, but better than the busy signal I might have feared after hearing about it elsewhere. Our services have remained open and up through record trading volume. We’ve harvested billions of dollars of tax losses and rebalanced hundreds of thousands of customers smartly, and tax-efficiently, working to make the most of even down days.

We’re also launching new ways to answer your questions and connect with you, including advice videos and live Q&A on platforms like Twitter and Reddit. We hear you, and we’re working as hard as we can to respond to your feedback and concerns.

“Empower people to make the most of their money so they can live better.”

That’s our mission at Betterment—the reason each of us joined and what brings us together. It’s our mission when the market is up and when it’s down.

One of the things about working at Betterment is that every single one of us is a customer as well. It means that we’re working for you, and we’re working for our families. We celebrate with you when we reach our financial goals, and we hurt with you when the markets are in turmoil.

We’re with you, working hard to help navigate spending, saving, investing, and retirement with confidence. We’ve known from the start that there will be good days and bad days in the market, as in life. We are invested in the world and with the world, in a global portfolio. As the world goes, so we go.

Smart investing is the confidence to endure.

On average and over time, being broadly and globally diversified is wise, today and every day. Historically, it has led to the most consistent returns, with the least amount of risk, of any widely available investment strategy that we have identified. Implementing it well requires discipline, smart automation, and appropriate identification of goals and time horizons.

This approach and our advice are designed to help you make smart decisions today that help you reach your goals in the long-term. Everything we do is built with the intention of helping you achieve better results than you could without us, than anyone could without us. Just as importantly, everything we do is built to help you have peace of mind.

But just because some may be better off, or more fortunate, doesn’t make anyone immune to the pain going on around us. As friends and loved ones are vulnerable or exposed and the worldwide economy goes through a rough patch, we feel it, too. Smart investing is not the absence of dark days, or the absence of fear, it’s the confidence to endure.

We will get through this, and the economy will be stronger in the long run. Things will get better, for the world, our customers, our team—and you. Invest appropriately for your goals. Invest regularly. And stay the course.

We’re here for you, should you want a hand to hold (or, better make that, a person to talk to), and we’ll get through it better, together.

Jon Stein's Cursive Signature