Wealthfront: The Antidote to the Wealth Management Zombies

By Sarah Lacy , written on January 16, 2012

From The News Desk


Like Zombies single-mindedly trolling an apocalyptic wasteland for brains, the wealth managers are coming. They're staggering all over Silicon Valley with dollar signs in their sunken, dead eyes, muttering, "New millionaires."

There is an interesting cultural clash between Wall Street and Silicon Valley-- two ecosystems that speak fundamentally different languages but need each other to survive nonetheless. There's the pressure between CEOs wanting to build a company for the long term and Wall Street obsessing quarter-to-quarter. And there's Wall Street's general derision of founders who want to "change the world" not just make billions and sit on a beach.

But the part of Wall Street that Valley entrepreneurs may hate the most is the army of wealth management experts that come out of nowhere once there's a whiff of an exit. It's a brute force attack of pitches. And the more you make-- the bigger the onslaught of zombies. Wave-after-wave-after-wave of emails and calls starting "Dear (fill-in-the-blank), Congratulations on the success of (fill-in-the-blank)!...."

And the New York Times reports that this time, the firms are hiring up in Northern California, planning on being more aggressive, leveraging social media to attack you on even more fronts. “Someone’s going to capture this wealth,” said Derek Fowler, a wealth adviser at Morgan Stanley told the Times gleefully. “We just want to make sure we’re out there.” (I'm pretty sure he added, "Braaaaaiiinnnnsssss.")

And the worst part is, newly minted millionaires actually need money management, so invariably the zombies are rewarded. As any zombie aficionado knows, that only brings more zombies.

Really, it's just awful.

How do I know? Not because I've ever made millions. But back when I outed how much Tony Hsieh made from Zappos, he decided to exact revenge. He set an outgoing email and voice mail saying that I was handling all his investments. He gave out my contact info and added that I really preferred phones calls and in person visits to email pitches. (If you want to go this route, I was going to suggest taking your revenge out on Jack McKenna instead of me. But his author page has disappeared from TechCrunch. Has Jack quit too?)

But there's another way to combat the zombies: Manage your new riches on Wealthfront instead. Last December, the site launched a new Online Investment Advisor aimed at precisely this audience.

I've long been bullish on Wealthfront, because I like the company's long-term focus and its emphasis on killing middlemen who extract ridiculous and hard-to-understand fees. Sooner or later the Internet has to disrupt the finance world, beyond just facilitating stock trades. It's one of the last industries to fall.

The question is whether Wealthfront will be another pioneer with arrows in its back or a big winner. This year and this new product direction will be the company's big test. If anyone is going to take the chance on a radically new way to manage money, it'll be Valley insiders who tend to trust the Web and loathe the zombies.

To that end, it doesn't hurt that Wealthfront is funded by the same Valley elites that fund all those companies going public, including partners from Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark Capital, Index Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

(Disclosure: We are funded by them too, but as writers, we have no wealth to manage.)

Original zombie photo by Daniel Hollister; used under Creative Commons Attribution license.