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Aspiration: Teaching the Middle Class to Invest Like the One Percent

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If you're worried about the WEALTH gap as well as the income gap, this is one of the first firms I've seen to try out new ideas in wealth management. Their first big concept is called Pay What Is Fair, and helps truly align the interests of investment vehicles with investors.

Great article! I believe Aspiration is onto something huge:

There’s a historic disparity between making money from investments and making money from your day job that greatly favors the former. While the U.S. government will likely engage in political battles to move the needle for day-jobbers through initiatives like minimum wage hikes or tax breaks for the middle class, there’s renewed interest in making the other side of the equation, investing, more accessible to the 99 percent.

That’s where Aspiration, a financial services company that debuted today, comes in. Founded by Democrat wunderkind turned federal fraud prosecutor and business consultant Andrei Cherny, and advised by billionaire internet entrepreneur Jeff Skoll, Aspiration is already making waves with a business model that not only allows clients to choose their own fee (or none at all) for the services the firm provides, but one that donates 10 percent of its revenue to microloans for struggling Americans.

“Millennials are used to wanting to do business with companies that aren't just about profit, but are about a larger purpose as well,” said Cherny. “That is the way they shop, that is the way people exercise their decisions in all other aspects of their lives, and that hasn't been true in investment options.” While he acknowledges that socially responsible mutual funds have existed within major financial institutions for a long time now, he also points out that “nobody has really built a retail financial company with those kinds of values.”

They're pitching it as Uber for Investment:

That's the main idea behind Aspiration, which launched its first liquid alternative mutual fund this week. (A series of other financial products are slated to follow soon.) The goal is to do to Wall Street investment houses what Uber is doing to the taxi industry or what Travelocity and Priceline did to travel agents: decentralize and expand the universe of choices for average Americans.

You need only $500 to invest in Aspiration, and you don't pay the standard 5 percent fee, as you would with a Wall Street bank; you voluntarily contribute whatever commission you think is fair, or none at all. Aspiration will donate a tenth of every dollar it earns to Accion, a group that extends microloans to lower-income Americans who want to start businesses.

All of which is, frankly, kind of crazy. Aspiration is making two very big and questionable bets of its own. The first is that people are ready to make complex investments on a website, the same way they now order groceries or pay their utility bills. The second is that, if people do invest and make a little money, they're going to be grateful and fair-minded enough to hand over a percent or two.

Lots of press ...

Wired: “This Anti-Wall Street Startup Treats Small Investors Like Multimillionaires”

Yahoo News: “Challenging inequality, the Uber way”

Business Insider: “This New Investment Firm Lets You Pay Whatever You Want For Its Service”

Good Magazine: “Teaching the Middle Class to Invest Like the One Percent”

Times of London: “A new kind of investment firm is embracing America’s middle class”

Salon: “Wall Street’s radical new rival? Why this investment firm says it’s catering to the 99 percent”

Time/Money: “A Brief History of ‘Pay What You Want’ Businesses”

Wall Street Journal: “A ‘Name Your Own Price’ Money Manager”

MarketWatch: “A money manager with a pay-what’s-fair fee structure”

Daily Alts: “Unique Alts Fund From Aspiration Lets Investors Choose Their Fee”

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