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How We Built Ellevest

It all started with a recognition that women do not invest to the same extent that men do: that we have a “gender investing gap.” And that this gap can cost us women hundreds of thousands — or even millions — of dollars over the course of our lives.

I spent my career in the investing industry, running Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch, and began to be pretty obsessed with how we could close this gap. The more research I did, the more women told me that the investing industry today simply wasn’t working for them. This is despite lots of programs and initiatives targeted to women.

My first thinking was to take an existing “robo-advisor” (you know, the ones that let you choose one of five managed ETF portfolios) and then lay some content over the top of it. But it became clear to me that if the answer were the existing offerings and content, this investing gap would have been closed years ago.

Instead, I decided women don’t need to change. Investing needs to change.

Women don’t need to change. Investing needs to change.

So I started on a journey to rethink investing for women from the ground up. First stop: find an amazing Chief Investment Officer, who had lots of experience but could also look at the challenge in a new light. It took me a year (a whole year!) to find a CIO who could rethink investing for women. We decided our site didn’t have to be ugly, so we added a lead designer who led the redesign of Vogue.com; we know investing involves behavior change, so we brought on a product manager from Weight Watchers; we added a fintech exec and built what I believe is now the most diverse engineering team in our industry.

Our rule: we can each have an opinion, but research wins the day.

We’ve now logged 200+ hours of research and interviewed women like you in a process in which we really “co-created” Ellevest together.

But before we got there, our bad ideas abounded: I first hypothesized that women needed to go on “an emotional journey” to explore their feelings about money. Hello, long-standing, innate gender bias! I even hired a firm to build the questionnaire… and you pretty much flipped me the proverbial bird. We parted ways with that firm and moved on.

We had similarly bad ideas about pulling women together in a network, to share and learn together about money. And about quizzes that would test your financial knowledge. While women want to stay informed, you told us you’re too busy, or not interested in an investing master class.

Those were the bad ideas. What we learned from you is that you see investing (and thus growing your money) as a means to an end, rather than the end itself. The industry’s traditional goals of outperforming market indices just doesn’t resonate with you. And you see the industry jargon as a means of keeping investing out of your reach. You know intuitively that decades of hands-on investing experience, leveraged by the power of technology, is the modern approach…but that smart doesn’t have to mean ugly, jargon-laden, and unintelligible.

Mostly, you told us, you’ve got big plans in life and you want to reach your goals.

Many, many, many, many hours of work later: we’ve built something that works to get you to your life goals — or better — in the majority of market scenarios.

How we get you there:

1)   We provide you with an investment plan, in which you choose your big goals in life and a timeline for achieving them. It then shows you what you need to do (think monthly deposits).

2)   Then we do our part (think a fully customized investment plan that is invested in low-cost ETFs, to keep costs low).

3)   We monitor your portfolio daily and adjust as needed. If you fall off track, we alert you and give you action steps for getting back on track. (Yeah, this was the thing that our research showed you liked best, because it takes the pressure off of you for decoding this yourself.)

Along the way, we embraced the notion that smart can be beautiful…that we could build a site that is gorgeous and intuitive…and at the cutting edge; a marriage of investing and technology.

Our mothers told us never to brag…but they also told us never to wear white after Labor Day. So we’re just gonna say it: we have four patents pending.

Questions or thoughts? Give us a shout at Support@Ellevest.com.

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