Betterment hits $3 billion AUM, blows past start-up competition

Chief executive Jon Stein says growth driven by consumer demand

Nov 5, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

By Alessandra Malito

Jon Stein
+ Zoom
Jon Stein (Bloomberg News)

Betterment has officially passed the $3 billion mark in assets under management, more than tripling its size from this time last year.

Jon Stein, chief executive of Betterment, said it's all because consumers are starting to realize the power of digital advice.

"We have built a service unlike any other, and it is a whole new way of thinking about investing," he said.

Mr. Stein said Betterment's growth has been consistent. According to historical ADVs, Betterment had about $900 million in AUM in November 2014. Six months later, the company reached $2 billion. It is now just past $3 billion in AUM.

"Those numbers are getting a lot bigger," Mr. Stein said.

In passing this milestone, Betterment has also surpassed its long-time competitor, Wealthfront, a business-to-consumer robo-adviser with $2.6 billion in AUM, according to its latest ADV. For months, the two had been neck-and-neck in assets under management.

Wealthfront did not respond to requests for comment.

Betterment's growth is affected by its numerous business models. The robo announced two additional arms to its original retail platform within the past 13 months: Betterment Institutional, which launched last October offering white-labeled services to advisers; and Betterment for Business, a 401(k) plan provider announced in September and coming out in 2016. The company did not specify assets under each arm.

Having more than one business model is one way for start-ups to remain competitive when feeling the pressure from large, established financial firms such as Charles Schwab & Co. and Vanguard, both of which launched robos this year.

Schwab's two robos, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios for retail customers and Schwab Institutional Intelligent Portfolios for advisers, hit $4.1 billion in client assets last month. Vanguard's Personal Advisor Services came out of beta in May with $17 billion in AUM. Both services include rolled-over existing client accounts.

According to numerous studies, it will take significant effort and speed on the parts of smaller robos to keep up. A Cerulli Associates study from September said robos will need to grow by 50% to 60% per year for the next six years to attain $35 billion in AUM each, the number researchers said would keep them relevant.

Betterment plans to continue differentiating itself, focusing its attention next on holistic financial advice.

"The next thing you will see from us is getting that full picture of your full financial life," Mr. Stein said. "We will be your central dashboard for all of your finances."

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