All too often, fintech companies focus on launching products without fully understanding customers’ needs. What happens when customers are at the heart of every aspect of product design? Vicki Zhou, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of WiseBanyan, has built a company that is completely product-focused, but not at the expense of its clients. As a result, WiseBanyan has seen significant growth through word of mouth referrals from its existing clients who relate to its core vision to achieve their financial goals. After hearing Vicki speak, I interviewed her to learn more about WiseBanyan’s unique and successful mission-driven approach to growth – here are her thoughts. Here are more insights on WiseBanyan’s marketing and referral strategy and my tweets from the NewFinance event.
- Founder: Vicki Zhou, Co-founder & Co-CEO (Twitter: @vickizhou1)
- Company: WiseBanyan
- Website: https://wisebanyan.com/
- Overview: WiseBanyan is a free financial advisor that builds and manages tailored investment plans to reach financial milestones, such as retirement, creating a rainy-day fund, or purchasing a home. They offer a well-diversified portfolio of exchange traded funds (ETFs) to encourage investing sooner with lower fees.
LK: How do you maximize your marketing spend as a startup?
VZ: Well, if you create a compelling business mission and care about your customers, they might sell the product for you. (Learn more about WiseBanyan’s strategic approach to marketing referrals here.)
“Too many companies don’t tie their mission to their brand and make it a key piece of their business from the beginning – then it’s hard to start. We have always focused on our mission since day one.”
LK: Tell me about WiseBanyan’s vision and mission?
VZ: WiseBanyan began with the belief that investing is a right – not a privilege.
“Our mission is to ensure everyone can achieve their financial goals, which starts by providing access to professional financial services the minute they earn their first dollar. We have had this vision at the heart of what we do since day one. While the product and brand have evolved over time, that mission was always a key piece of what we do and we always come back to that.”
LK: What is your perspective on the current investment management and financial advisor landscape?
VZ: Too many companies make you feel like you should have money in order to save and invest. We think that is counter-intuitive – everyone should be able to save. The statistics are shocking. It’s actually a dirty secret, but a majority of people don’t have enough emergency funds for retirement.
- 47% of Americans can’t come up with $400 to cover an emergency (Reference:http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/05/my-secret-shame/476415/)
- 1 in 3 Americans have less than $1,000 saved for retirement
While money and savings are more higher-level themes, our experience is that money is about people’s dreams (for safety, emergency fund, birthday gift, having a baby, sending a kid to college). People mainly think about safety, comfort and happiness – what can I do in the present to have a fulfilling life in the future?
We help them save for their dreams, big and small, starting with the first dollar. By helping people do what’s right with their money, even if it’s just a dollar, they can begin to save and invest.
LK: What makes your business unique?
VZ: While WiseBanyan may be categorized by the industry as a robo-advisor, our experience is that most people don’t care about that or even think of us that way. Our clients think of us as a place where they are saving for their goals. We are incredibly goals-focused – helping people to saving for a baby, buy their first home or car or build an emergency fund for the future. People want to have their money working for them so they can reach these goals.
“Since we focus on clients and not their assets, we have turned the traditional wealth management model on its head. The amount of assets a client has is irrelevant to our business model. Because we don’t follow an “asset gatherer” business model, we have the freedom to work with all clients regardless of their starting wealth.”
LK: How did this drive your brand strategy? Was leveraging your brand values part of your plan from the beginning or did it evolve organically?
VZ: People who use WiseBanyan feel they have a money mentor and someone who is on their side. In our view, the brand strategy isn’t the logo, any sayings or graphic animations. Our clients feel that this company is on their side. It has helped grow our brand because if people know they need an emergency fund, current users are more willing to recommend WiseBanyan to their friends, compared with other places that you might go to where you need to have $1,000 to start.
LK: Any suggestions for other startups?
VZ: Make sure you are asking these fundamental questions– what is your product? Think very hard about this – do you really know why your customers are using your product? That should help you align your product focus. You have to ask that question and be honest about it. (See more about Vicki’s perspective on being a product or marketing driven company here.)
WiseBanyan has shown that having a clear mission focused on understanding customers’ needs can drive growth and differentiate your brand, as well as your entire business model, from competitors. Creating a unique business positioning is so critical to market awareness, that those who get it right can ultimately save marketing spending by leveraging their brand awareness. Let us help you develop your business vision and story – contact us now to arrange your complimentary Strategy Session. We would be thrilled to help you grow your business.