Keep financial services brands laser-focused, Acorns CEO says

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Noah Kerner is "perennially scared" of leaving his customers bewildered.

“Our fundamental product strategy is to make big decisions small,” Kerner, the CEO of mobile microinvesting company Acorns, said at In|Vest. “Overwhelming our customers would be the death of Acorns.”

Acorns has five products with more than 100,000 customers each and 3.7 million customers in total, Kerner said.

Its main product is a core investment account that rounds up purchases to the nearest dollar and invests that money into an exchange-traded fund. Users can also set up automatic reoccurring investments.

Its other products include:

  • Acorns Later, an automated retirement account.
  • Grow, a financial literacy product with personal finance content.
  • Found Money, a rebate based on a certain percentage of the amount of purchases made at Acorns' more than 250 partners that is put into the customer's investment account.

And in June, the company announced pre-orders for an Acorns debit card called Spend.

“I think the way the industry works today is you get a smorgasbord of things,” Kerner said. “But the question is what do I do with these things and what’s the purpose? For us the purpose is regular, everyday Americans saving and investing.”

Acorns has a web application, but more than 90% of customers interactions come through the application.

In the mobile-only world, less is more. Kerner decided not to offer users active trading, the ability to buy individual stocks or the ability to invest in nontraditional assets like cryptocurrencies.

“Those are things that we won’t do, even though we could make a lot of money doing it,” he said.

Banks such as JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo are simplifying their banking services into stand-alone apps that aim to help customers new to banking get only the products they need to save and spend well, Kerner said.

Acorns will stand out because the company’s branding is simple, he said.

“In the financial services industry at large there are lots of companies,” Kerner said. “It’s hard to remember what companies stand for; people change their brand ideas frequently to new trends and ad campaigns keep shifting. We will always be: From tiny acorns mighty oaks do grow.”

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