Robo adviser lays out ambitious banking plan

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SAN FRANCISCO — Days after Wealthfront said it would expand its base in robo advice into mortgages, CEO Andy Rachleff laid out an ambitious banking agenda for 2020.

By the end of the first quarter, Wealthfront aims to launch a debit card, automated bill pay and direct deposit. After the second quarter, the company anticipates it will have other automated features ready like rerouting of leftover money into clients’ investment portfolios.

“In order to figure out what you spend and save every month, that's machine deep learning. And so we use that to figure out what you spend. And then we use optimization techniques to make sure you have the right amount,” Rachleff said during an onstage interview with American Banker Editor at Large Penny Crosman at SourceMedia's In|vest West conference.

Wealthfront began offering high-interest cash accounts earlier this year

“With what we're doing, you no longer need a checking and a savings account. You have just one account,” Rachleff said. “There's no reason for two accounts — other than regulatory restrictions.”

Like other fintech executives, he boasted that the Redwood City, Calif., firm could more easily garner the trust of customers than traditional banks.

“First and foremost, we can be fairer to our customers,” Rachleff said. “Everyone hates their cable guy and everyone hates their banks.”

Days after the firm said it would expand from its base in robo advice into mortgages, Rachleff laid out an ambitious road map he describes as “self-driving money.” Wealthfront has $20 billion in its client savings and investment accounts, including more than $13 billion in assets under management.

Wealthfront is working with Green Dot to enable it to provide most services. Crosman pointed out that the Wealthfront faces competition from multiple sectors — from other fintechs or incumbent wealth managers and large banks.

Rachleff acknowledged as much while also admitting that in his prior career as a venture capitalist, he served on a board that “stupidly” turned down Netflix CEO Reed Hastings three times when he approached them with the idea for the streaming giant.

Calling Hastings “the best CEO I’ve ever encountered,” Rachleff says he hears his voice in the back of his mind all the time while leading Wealthfront.

“One of the things that I learned from Reed is you ignore your competition, because following your competition can't cause you to lead,” Rachleff said. “In technology, you can't come from behind by out-executing the leader.”

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