The Consumerization of Life's Ickiest Chores Continues: LearnVest Injects Its Financial Planning Tools With Steroids

By Erin Griffith , written on September 11, 2012

From The News Desk

There are money managing tools, and then there is LearnVest. After today, the New York startup's suite of investment tools--and really, life management tools--have elevated themselves into a whole new category.

I'll put it this way--I have more than one IRA sitting around at cash, have never attached a dollar amount on my retirement goals, rarely stick to a budget for more than a few months, and I've looked at a lot of financial planning sites. This is the first one I've actually shelled out money to use. Where users log in every so often to cringe at how much they're paying in ATM fees and then avoid looking for months return, LearnVest's users log in 17 times a month on average. Seventeen times a month. To a financial planning site.

Last year LearnVest raised a $19 million Series B led by Accel Partners; today the company is unveiling what that $19 million bought. It comes in the form of a slew of updates aimed to set its budgeting, planning and tracking service apart from the competition:

1. LearnVest is now a Register Investment Advisor. Previously, with one of LearnVest's tiered paid plans, the company's team of 50 advisors could help users make a plan. But now those advisors are fiduciaries and can offer investment advice, risk tolerance analysis, and portfolio recommendations.

They do this on monthly or quarterly check-in calls that come along with LearnVest's various subscription products. Today the company made it possible for advisors and users to even share the same screen during their consultation.

2. The site's "money center" is already pretty powerful--it's shows you all financial transactions like an inbox. They're already sorted into categories, anything unidentifiable can be easily dragged, tagged, edited and dropped into its appropriate category as one would with an inbox. As of today, the money center includes a tab for priorities, where goals such as debt repayment, retirement savings, emergency savings, etc. can be set and tracked over time. The goals are established with the help of one's financial planner. Where previously LearnVest merely gave non-rich people access to financial planning tools, now the site offers intelligence on top of spending and income data.

3. LearnVest's new iPhone app is coming in October with all of this functionality.

The company's 300,000* users will welcome the expansion. By the end of the year, LearnVest expects to be the largest financial planning online, founder Alexa von Tobel says.

LearnVest is part of a larger wave of tech startups attempting to take the most annoying aspects of life and make them suck less. They're doing that by bringing the user interface and functionalities from users' favorite, non-administrative apps to less exciting categories like financial planning. LearnVest's new app and site features in particular don't look like your typical stack of financial planning spreadsheets--possibly because they were designed by, and initially for, women. The company got its start in 2009 with a focus on bringing financial planning tools to women, but found that men were increasingly using the site, so von Tobel dropped that focus. The look and feel of the site does not dumb down the content, it is simply friendly, familiar and un-intimidating.

Plenty of LearnVest's peers are consumerizing the mundane administrative aspects of life to strong success. BillGuard seamlessly checks your bank statements for fraud, fees and unwanted recurring payments. Dotloop takes the paperwork and out of the real estate industry. Bizodo automates paperwork processing. Moveline streamlines the process of hiring and coordinating with movers. Zocdoc makes getting a doctor's appointment simple.

10sheet, an online bookkeeping startup that's a recent grad of TechStars NYC, is similar to LearnVest because of the way it democratizes bookkeeping for lower income businesses. The company automates almost all bookkeeping and charges for just $89, far less than hiring a professional bookkeeper would cost a small business. LegalZoom does the same thing for legal documents, providing affordable legal services for small businesses and families online.

Similarly, LearnVest brings financial planning to users with incomes ranging from five-figure incomes all the way into the millions. The average user isn't rich enough to be able to afford a traditional financial planner, who will charge thousands of dollars just to get set up. LearnVest's offerings go up to $599 and are robust enough to include things like renter's insurance and life insurance. It's all the crap you just want someone else to handle, ready to be tackled simply and cheaply.

  • Correction: I previously noted the site had 300,000 paying users--that is actually the latest available number of total users. Further, the plans charge one-time fees, not monthly subscriptions.