Nearly 100 million Americans have effectively been excluded from financial services. In fact, the over 71% of U.S. households with less than $100,000 to invest are served by a small fraction of the professional investor community, according to research from Cerulli Associates. Brandon Krieg and his cofounder want to change that dynamic. Krieg is the CEO of Stash, the digital investment platform that provides opportunities for just about anyone, even those with only $5.00 to invest.

“Stash is on a mission to empower a new generation of investors, giving everyone access to financial opportunity. Investors sign up in-app or online and pick from a short list of investments curated for them. The Stash advisor helps guide investors from there, with advice, support and recommendations,” says Krieg.

Krieg’s cofounder Ed Robinson and he worked together at a large global bank where they ran global electronic trading together. They became good friends there over the two and a half years they worked together and started noticing the trend towards the increasing number of self-directed consumer finance companies.

“My entire professional life and Eddie’s as well, all of my friends that don’t work in finance have always asked me the same questions: What should I buy, when should I sell it? Questions about money. I wasn’t there to help them with it. I’m not their advisor. But they didn’t have anyone to turn to. And Eddie and I just became obsessed with this and we decided that in order to focus on it, we had to leave our jobs and research the market,” says Krieg.

The pair spent months asking people on the street about money, investing and saving. “The questions were simple: do you invest and do you save? And almost every single time, we’d hear the same thing. ‘No, I don’t invest, but I really want to. I just don’t understand it. It’s really confusing to me, so I’ll do it later.’ And that’s the key phrase here. ‘I’ll do it later.’ No one ever said to me ‘I’m never going to do it’,” says Krieg.  “This was across America from employees of financial incumbents to Uber drivers, nurses, teachers, everyone. Awesome Americans. And so now we moved on to what are we going to do to solve this problem.”

The key insight was that education was the key to customers taking action even if they took away any investment minimums. They also discovered that they needed to make investing relatable and simple, coupled with advice. The idea was to give digital advice through the Stash app on the Stash products that will help customers get diversified and dollar cost average through market cycles and help them think about long-term wealth building. Lastly, they needed a process to help customers make investing a habit because even if they dropped the minimum to $5.00 to get rid of the mental hurdle to investing, they needed to provide customers a plan for consistency to be able to make a difference in someone’s life.

“We took our clues from weight loss programs. If you need to lose 30 pounds, how are you going to do that? Well you can’t just lose 30 pounds overnight. You need to lose one pound and you need to be celebrated and feel great about it and then you need to lose two pounds. And so on and so on. The same thing goes with what we created called ‘Auto Stash.’ And now we have hundreds of thousands of people that are putting in on average $26.00 a week to save towards their goals,” says Krieg.

They initially bootstrapped the company and launched the app in October 2015. The company now has over 200 employees and boasts more than 3 million customers with strong momentum building toward the future. They built their technology platform from scratch because what they felt they needed didn’t exist at the time. Over the last three years, they’ve been continuously iterating the platform and also evolving the product to help clients in more parts of their lives. Now they offer investing, retirement, custodial for kids, insurance and banking services.

The New York-based company has attracted over $116 million in venture funding from Coatue Management, Union Square Ventures, Valar Ventures and Goodwater Capital. Most importantly, they partnered with Green Dot Bank to offer banking accounts with debit cards, no overdraft fees and a nationwide network of ATMs.

How did the co-founders divide and conquer the business through its start-up phase?  “I think we complement each other really well and we grew up on different skill sets. I grew up on the technology side of Wall Street and my co-founder has years and years of wealth management and trading and business entrepreneurial experience.  We boot strapped it with our own money because it was important to Ed and me to put our money where our mouth was effectively. But this is a pure play mass market consumer business, so it takes a lot of capital. So we decided to seek outside capital,” says Krieg.

Krieg keeps coming back to his and the company’s sense of mission. According to Krieg, 80% of people in America live paycheck to paycheck. They’re not concerned about tax loss harvesting and modern portfolio theory. They need to understand the basics and a simple way to get started. “So many people have effectively no savings – and you see the stats that always get thrown around that 50% of people in America can’t come up with $500.00 for a medical emergency. That is a reality in this country, but yet we see those same people coming to Stash and opening up accounts, diversifying, Auto-Stashing and after the first year, a good cohort of them have over $1,000.00 stashed away and its life changing,” says Krieg.

Krieg didn’t grow up wealthy by any means, but says that he didn’t truly understand the problem until he got into this business. “We’re a mission-driven company, which is one of the reasons I think we’ve attracted so many amazing people to work here is that we can be a business and do well and do good at the same time. I’ve never seen an opportunity to help this many people actually do something that at the end of the day is good for them and that’s a powerful thing to be able to say and be able to do every day. It makes us feel great,” says Krieg

Krieg grew up in New Rochelle, New York into a family in the restaurant business. They were either cooks, chefs or cook book writers. “I thought I wanted to be a chef and I discovered the hours were terrible. It was a fun hobby, but not a fun career for me,” says Krieg. Instead of the original career choice, he joined a start-up company EdgeTrade in 1998 that was sold to Knight Capital in 2008.  Krieg went on to Knight Capital as Head of Electronic Sales and then Macquarie Securities as head of Global Electronic Execution.

“Over the years, we had a lot of failures and a lot of successes. It was an incredible journey. For me, it gave me a taste of how you can really make a difference. Now I’m running a startup, but I don’t think any of this would happen without my wife, quite frankly, and she works full time too. I think my personal journey has just been about learning the power of being in control over your destiny. It takes a sense of risk, a sense of maturity, a sense of focus and I think it’s a lot about learning and the power of listening,” says Krieg.

As for the future of Stash?

“We’re just getting started. I’m not satisfied at all right now. We want to help tens of millions of people, so we think we’re early in our journey. What we’re doing is changing the course of financial services for the mass market and what we need is to stay focused on it and keep scaling to more people and more users,” says Krieg.

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