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Betterment Assets Top $5 Billion; Firm Hires Its First CFO

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Betterment is sprinting ahead in the race for assets among independent robo-advisor firms. Assets under management at the largest independent robo-advisor now top $5 billion – five times what they were 18 months ago – and the firm has hired its first chief financial officer, Amy Shapero.

“This kind of growth is the reason why we’re attracting top talent like Amy,” said founder and CEO Jon Stein in a statement. “Amy’s deep financial and strategic experience will be valuable asset to the company.”

Shapero was previously CFO at Sailthru, an online marketing company, and before that senior vice president at DigitalGlobal, a big data analytics company. Prior to DigitalGlobal, she was CFO at fintech company Spot Trading and at Standard & Poor’s. Up until now Stein, together with Eli Broverman, co-founder and president of Betterment, have been functioning as the firm’s CFO.

Bloomberg reported that developing revenue streams will be one area she will focus on. When asked for more details about that report, Shapero emailed ThinkAdvisor that she “will be exploring areas of opportunity that will benefit our customers and deepen our relationships with them while staying true to our principles.” 

Betterment currently has 175,000 clients, with an average account balance of $29,000; the largest single account balance is $10 million. It has three business lines: retail; Betterment for Business, its 401(k) service, serving more than 150 employers; and Betterment Institutional for independent financial advisors, whose numbers top 200, according to Broverman.

Retail continues to be Betterment’s largest and oldest business line, having started in 2010, but other business lines are catching up, said Broverman in a phone interview following today’s milestone announcement. Betterment Institutional for advisors started last year and its 401(k) offering earlier this year.

He said much of the growth story in the firm’s retail business comes from growth in existing client accounts, though new customers are signing up, often through referrals.

As for new revenue streams for the company, Broverman said it’s “too soon to say,” but he noted that there would be new features, enhanced services and “monetization of opportunities” that come along. As Stein has said previously, Betterment aims to become the primary financial institution for all its clients, who are trusting the firm with more and more of their wealth, said Broverman.

That trust might have been tested on June 23, the Friday after the Brexit vote in the U.K. when Betterment delayed the start of trading on its platform for several hours because the firm, as a fiduciary with discretion over retail accounts, decided it was in the best interest of customers not to trade during those extremely volatile hours when bid-ask spreads were unusually wide. But Broverman said signups for new customers that Friday were actually 50% higher than they were on a typical Friday.

He confirmed reports that the firm is now looking into adding an alert to its app to warn customers about such events. Betterment’s usual practice is to delay trading for half an hour at the beginning and end of each trading day and during extremely volatile periods during the trading day.

Despite Betterment’s growth in assets and its roughly $700 million valuation, as a result of the $205 million that it has raised in financing in five rounds of funding, it is dwarfed by Vanguard’s digital advice platform, known as Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, which has over $40 billion in assets. Schwab’s robo offerings, which include Schwab Intelligent Portfolios for retail customers and Institutional Intelligent Portfolios for advisors, have over $7 billion in total assets.

Some analysts say that the ultimate success of Betterment will be its purchase by a larger firm. When asked about that as well whether Betterment was interested in pursuing acquisitions or an IPO, Shapero emailed that Stein and Broverman “have long spoken about their desire to be a public company and that is the goal we are moving toward.”

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