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CEO Jon Stein: Why I Have the Best Job In The World

Five years after we debuted Betterment at TechCrunch Disrupt, I am more excited about the future of our smarter investing technology than ever.

Articles by Jon
By Jon Stein Founder, Betterment Published May. 27, 2015
Published May. 27, 2015
5 min read

I have the best job in the world.

Five years after we debuted Betterment at TechCrunch Disrupt, I am more excited about the future of our smarter investing technology than ever (which is saying a lot, as I was pretty fired up when we launched). I feel tremendous gratitude toward those who’ve supported our mission: to build the obvious best answer to the question, “What should I do with my money?”

As we approached our fifth anniversary, and discussed what to write, we all wanted to tell the founding story, what matters to us, and how far we’ve come. But, as I started writing, I couldn’t get away from the theme of how fortunate we’ve been: hence, I have the best job. Well, all of us at Betterment have it good, maybe me most of all. Bear with me.

I’m doing what I was born to do. My polestars are efficiency, process, reliability, transparency, and equality of opportunity. Why? Because I believe these things lead to more happiness, for more people. My life’s mission is to make people happier through efficiency.

My life’s mission is to make people happier through efficiency.

In building the world’s first automated personal investment service, and in helping people set and reach their goals, we’re increasing happiness through efficiency.

I work with the best team. Maybe every founder says this, but it’s true—Betterment has the best team around. We’re a winning team, whether it’s building groundbreaking smarter technology in a highly regulated and competitive industry, hosting fintech hackathons, or running together in the Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon.

My favorite day of the year is Betterment Thanksgiving, when all our families join us for a meal to give thanks for the year we’ve had together. Without the team, we have no company. (Robo-advisors are people, too.)

It’s an amazing thing to see a group of four friends turn into a family of 20, and 20 into 100.

Thank you to my nearly 100 colleagues: engineers and engineers at heart, creative problem solvers who care about our customers, teaching me every day how we can be better.

We’re doing something that matters.

We hear all the time that people love what we do. Thank you to our customers for investing with us. We’re motivated by your feedback and we respond with product updates based on what you tell us you want to see next. We know that Betterment matters to you and that you count on us to continue getting better.

Last month, my co-founder, Eli Broverman, and I were invited to lunch at the White House Mess and to dinner the next night at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. One reason this was so exciting to me is that we’re being recognized for what we do: helping Americans save better for their goals.

Today, our customers trust us with more of their money each month ($250,000,000 new deposits last month, on a total of more than $2,200,000,000). Our accelerating growth is happening even though we don’t have the name recognition or networks of some of the old guard. We’re building trust through transparency, reliability, and alignment with our customers. That is, by caring about what matters—you.

Thank you to the thousands of you who’ve tried Betterment, referred your friends, and trusted us to serve you for decades to come.

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We get to see the future.

As we say often in the investing business, no one can predict the future. But, in a way, we’re building it.

When we started, everyone said we were crazy. “No one will use it,” they said. They were right, at first. “It’s supposed to be hard to invest,” they said. Thankfully, we saw that things were changing quickly.

Three trends led to the opportunity:

  1. Transaction costs fell to zero. Trading costs have been coming down a long time, but when it costs nothing to trade, the way you manage a portfolio should change. Now you can trade fractional shares, optimize around taxes, and rebalance when it’s most effective. “Buy and hold” made sense when transaction costs were high. (There’s a behavioral benefit, too.) Now it can cost you not to optimize, using our automated technology.
  2. Diversification costs fell to near zero. It used to be really hard to diversify appropriately. You’d hire a manager to do it, or buy an expensive mutual fund. Today, diversification is almost free, with great competitive offerings. That means the way you’d design an investing company today is different—you want your manager to be independent of the asset manufacturing side, so you get the best funds, regardless of their source. This is why Betterment is independent of the funds we offer.
  3. Defined benefits plans disappeared. We live in a world that’s dominated by defined contribution plans. The upside is fewer liabilities for employers and the government; the downside is that few people have good advice about how or how much to save. It used to be your savings were a luxury; you had a pension and Social Security benefits to support you. But today, if you want to retire comfortably, you must save and invest on your own. And there’s not enough low-cost and easily actionable advice about how to plan. That’s where Betterment is providing a solution.

Today, using our retail product, based on our principles, is the smarter way to invest any amount of money up to $10 million. Beyond that, we’d make a good core foundation for a portfolio, and our Betterment for Advisors platform is being used by an increasing number of advisors who provide complete wealth planning strategies for the wealthiest investors.

For most investors, there’s nothing better you could do than open a Betterment account and follow our advice. I say that for a number of reasons, including:

We have better advice. We use behavioral nudges in our features (Tax Impact Preview), personalized planning (RetireGuide), and optimization (Tax Loss Harvesting+) to help guide you to better outcomes.

We provide instant gratification. We do everything faster than a traditional service. We offer some of the fastest rollovers, deposits, and tax processing in the industry—you name it and we’ve optimized it. We’re the only service to offer instant deposits. We’re the only service to offer five-minute, e-signed rollovers.

We give you better service. Our customer service team provides expertise and delight. We also offer our smarter technology through financial advisors, for those who want more planning, under the Betterment for Advisors brand.

And we’re just getting started. From here, we can see further than ever before:

  • We aim to bring back the comfort of defined benefits, through smart financial engineering and dynamic, personalized, behaviorally responsive advice. We want to make decumulation as smooth as accumulation.
  • We aim to give you complete financial peace of mind in five minutes. Even on your phone, or however you access us, we’ll get you from “How should I manage my money?” to, “I’m set up with the right goals and I’m on track,” with your accounts funded, in five minutes.
  • We aim to  be the only service you need. When we launched, I said, “Betterment is the replacement for your savings account.” I was ahead of myself then, and still would be today. Yet someday, I see us being the replacement for everything you might do with your savings. Save with us, and we’ll see to it that it’s managed optimally.

Thank you to all who’ve contributed to and believe in our vision.

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