Magazine

How (and Why) Ellevest Was Built for Women

By Ellevest Team

Here at Ellevest, our mission is to get more money in the hands of women. So we built a financial services company by women, for women — essentially alone in an industry of cis white men.

Women walking, climbing stairs, reaching high. Shapes like chats and dollar bills float around. Illustration.

When we first launched our gender-aware online investing platform back in 2016, people asked, “Do women really need (or want) their own investing company?” Today, with a community of more than 3 million, tens of thousands of people using Ellevest, and more than $1.4 billion in assets under management, we get that question less often.

But Ellevest is so much more than an “initiative” for women+ and their money. We are not a pinkwashed version of your dad’s investment advisor. There is no such thing as “gender neutral” financial services or choices in an industry that was built by men, for men. Ellevest was built from the ground up using real, hard data about women’s lived realities — they get paid less, stop getting raises a whole decade earlier, live longer, pay the pink tax, have more debt, do more unpaid labor, get fewer promotions … and so on. Those realities fundamentally change what women need in order to build their best financial futures.

Here’s how we take them into account.

A gender-aware online investment platform

In Ellevest’s early days, our founders (including Chief Investment Officer Dr. Sylvia Kwan) spent hundreds of hours talking to women about what they needed, wanted, liked, and disliked; how they thought about their money and how they thought about investing. The result — call it our bread and butter — was Ellevest’s no-minimum digital investment advisor, which is now a core part of Ellevest membership

Real-life goals, not “beating the market”

Here’s the thing: Women like money. They want to earn money on their investments. But what we heard from the women we spoke to was that they’re less concerned about trying to “beat the market” or earning above-average returns. It’s much more likely that they’re investing toward a certain goal — retirement, a down payment on a house, etc — and that their biggest concern is making it as likely as possible that they’ll have enough money for that goal at the time they need it.

That’s why Ellevest’s investing platform is goal-based — we give you different recommendations for each of your goals, all designed to give you the best chance of reaching that goal. (Even if your goal is just to build wealth within a certain timeframe.)

A smarter approach to risk and confidence

There’s a stereotype that pervades the investing industry — that women are risk-averse. Many people believe this is why there’s a gender investing gap. But women aren’t risk-averse, they’re risk-aware. It’s not that women are afraid to dive into the pool — they just, understandably, want to know how deep the pool is first. (Fun fact: This propensity to slow down and think before acting actually makes women more successful investors.)

Plus, when it comes to investing, it’s well known that in order to earn outsized returns, one typically has to take outsized risks. But again, women generally aren’t as concerned with beating benchmarks — it’s all about those goals. Women told us that they want to take only as much risk as they need to in order to have the best chance of reaching their goals.

So at Ellevest, we don’t ask you how much risk you’re “comfortable” taking. (Research shows that risk tolerance questionnaires don’t really work right, anyway.) Our recommendations are based on risk capacity — what you can afford based on your goal’s timeline and target — not risk appetite.

We also give you forecasts — the information you rely on to understand how much you should invest and for how long — that show how much money you’re likely to have in 70% of market scenarios. (Other investment advisors use a standard of 50% of market scenarios. So their projections might be higher, but their level of confidence is lower. As confident as … a coin flip.)

Forecasts that use gender-specific salary curves

When you sign up to invest with Ellevest, we ask you for your gender identity.* The trajectory of women’s salaries over the course of their lives looks very, very different from men’s. Besides the fact that women are paid less to begin with, they also take more career breaks — often not by choice — which hampers their earning power. Plus, women stop getting raises a whole decade (or more) earlier than men — women’s salaries peak in their 40s, and men’s in their 50s. 

Ellevest relies on historical salary curve data from Morningstar, Inc., that takes all these factors into account. We use that data, combined with the info you tell us about your age, current salary, etc, to inform our assumptions about how much you’ll be able to contribute to your investment account every year, and how often you’ll be able to increase your contributions as you get raises.

Essentially, gender-specific salary curves are an important piece of the puzzle when we forecast investing results — forecasts which, in turn, inform our recommendations about how much you should invest and for how long. Without them, women are at a serious disadvantage in knowing whether or not they’re actually on track to reach their goals.

Retirement targets that account for women’s longer lifespans

On average, women live about five years longer than men — but retire with two-thirds as much money. That math is terrifying. In order to build lifelong financial security, women need more money for their retirement than men.

Ellevest’s Retirement goal takes this into account by giving you recommendations intended to help you invest toward a target that’s different than you might see elsewhere. We project what your salary will be the year before you retire (there’s that salary curve data coming into play again) and help you invest toward an annual retirement income of about 90% of that pre-retirement income, including social security. Your goal’s target is that number, minus taxes. (Here’s more on how we calculate it.)

Gender-lens and ESG impact investing

It didn’t take long after we launched our investing platform for the Ellevest community to come to us with a request: to help them use their financial power to make the world better. Unsurprising, considering that research shows that women want their investments to have a positive social and environmental impact. And if they were investing at the same rate as men, over $1.9 trillion (with a T!) would be flowing into responsible investments.

Enter: Ellevest Impact Portfolios, which you can choose to use in any of your investing goals. They allow you to invest for your future while investing toward a greener and more gender-equal future. Impact portfolios are invested with ESG and gender lenses, in funds that include:

  • Companies highly rated for advancing women through gender-diverse boards, senior leadership teams, and other policies and practices

  • Companies that are highly rated for their alignment with ESG criteria

  • Investments that earmark capital for women-owned or -co-owned businesses

Today, more than half of members investing with Ellevest are using impact portfolios.

An intentional approach to private wealth management

Ellevest Private Wealth Management was born out of enthusiasm — our mission resonated with so many high and ultra high net worth individuals, families, and institutions that it practically launched itself. Today, Ellevest Private Wealth is a full-service wealth management practice focused on helping you invest for financial and social returns, and it includes everything from personalized planning to dedicated investment management to executive coaching.

Best-in-class impact investing

Impact investing, as a sector, is growing quickly, but so far, many opportunities for impact investing have been surface-level and limited (or involved a lot of greenwashing). But Ellevest Private Wealth clients are on the forefront of this shift, and so are we. We’ve built a suite of opportunities that lets you pursue financial returns and invest for impact across your entire portfolio, in all three major asset classes: equities, fixed income, and private alternatives. 

Our impact equities portfolios are data-driven, customized, and powerful, allowing you to invest in companies that align with your values and move your money away from companies with harmful practices. The Ellevest Intentional Impact portfolios have a gender and racial justice lens, and the Ellevest Climate-Conscious Impact Strategy has a narrower, environment-focused lens.

On the fixed income side, the Ellevest Municipal Impact Strategy helps you invest in municipal bonds specifically screened for their impact outcomes. And our approach to private alternatives offers competitive financial returns, low correlation with equities and bonds, and a direct and positive ESG impact.

A team of advisors and professionals as mission-driven as you

We said it above, and we’ll say it again: We are not your father’s investment advisor. We understand you because we are you. We’re here because you told us you were tired of supporting the companies and institutions that have not supported you. 

The Ellevest Private Wealth team is made up of investment professionals, client services specialists, and an all-woman group of financial advisors with decades of industry experience who weren’t willing to wait for the industry to catch up, either. And when it comes to making sure your future is on track and aligned with your values, your team makes all the difference.

Accessible financial planning that actually meets womens needs

In the past, financial planning services have been pretty inaccessible — especially for the historically underserved, those who need them most. You either got financial planning services as an add-on once you’d invested tens of thousands of dollars with an institution or paid exorbitant fees. At Ellevest, anyone can work with a money coach or CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, and for any length of time — be it a one-time meeting to get help making a budget, or a full financial plan and entire year of access to a CFP® pro. Or something in between.

Our money coaches also understand women’s lives on a deep level, being women themselves. They know that women are bombarded with the lie that they’re bad with money; they know that women have more debt and less disposable income; they know women are overburdened by unpaid labor; they know that women are more likely to be the one caring for loved ones. They know. And they’ve spent their careers providing help.

Educational resources that respect you

Another thing we heard from women, during all those hours of research: They were so. tired. of being talked down to. So tired of snooty, deliberately complicated jargon. So tired of the way the financial industry has talked to women since the beginning of time.

But they also told us that they were hungry to learn more about investing and money management. And so from day one, we’ve been there. From our online Magazine filled with free resources to our Instagram community hundreds of thousands strong, plus email courses, videos, downloadable tools, and more included in membership, we have what you need to start investing quickly and then learn more as you go — minus the mansplaining.

Nothing bad happens when women have more money

In fact, what happens is the opposite: People thrive. Companies thrive. Communities thrive. So let’s get more money in the hands of women — yours, your mom’s, your sister’s, your best friend’s — everyone’s.


Disclosures

The Ellevest community includes Sallie Krawcheck’s connections on LinkedIn and Ellevest’s followers on Instagram. Numbers as of March 2022.

Non-binary is, of course, an available identity option. But while salary differences between men and women have been extensively studied, trends in the financial experiences of non-binary people aren’t clear yet. In the absence of better data specific to these groups, and because they don’t typically experience the same privileges and advantages in the workplace that cisgender men do, our investing algorithm uses women’s salary curve data to project how much non-binary and gender non-conforming people may be able to invest.

The Retirement goal is available in Ellevest Plus- and Executive-level memberships.

First, we use your current salary and our salary curve data to calculate what your income might be right before you retire. Then we estimate your future social security benefits and future tax rates using information we have today. Then, with all those things added into the mix, we calculate how much we think you’ll need to invest in order for your total retirement income (including social security) to be about 90% of your expected pre-retirement income, before taxes. Finally, we subtract out those expected taxes, to help make the target shown in your goal easier to wrap your head around. Your goal’s target doesn’t include expected inflation. Note: These numbers are estimates. You should adjust your goal’s target to accommodate your retirement needs and update it over time as your income, lifestyle, and financial needs change.

Data as of March 28, 2022.

© 2022 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Information was obtained from third-party sources, which we believe to be reliable but not guaranteed for accuracy or completeness.

The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation, or particular needs of any specific person.

The information provided should not be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice. Investing entails risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there is no assurance that the investment will provide positive performance over any period of time.

Ellevest Membership fees are as follows: Ellevest Essential is $1 per month, Ellevest Plus is $5 per month, and Ellevest Executive is $9. Other fees as described in Ellevest’s Wrap Fee Program Brochure and the Ellevest Membership Terms and Conditions Agreement will continue to apply.

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Ellevest Team

The Ellevest team is working to help women reach their financial and professional goals.