Wealthsimple is wading into banking territory. The company began offering savings accounts Thursday — adding to the chorus of digital investment advisers that are broadening their product sets.
But the move toward savings accounts is more than just acquiring customers who are bargain shopping. It’s about building a relationship by growing product offerings, part of a bigger trend among robo-advisers that want to retain customers and grow in a crowded marketplace.
The Wealthsimple Smart Savings account offers 1.7 percent interest for Canadian customers and 1 percent for U.S. clients. It’s partnering with Toronto-based EQ Bank to offer the accounts in Canada, and the U.S. product is actually a treasury bond that looks and feels like a savings account. Savings account customers will get free withdrawals and transfers, and deposits count toward Wealthsimple Black, the robo’s premium service which offers human advice and VIP airport lounge access. Communications director Rachael Factor said the decision to launch the product was based on two factors: customer demand and a way to get a foot in the door for people who might not be ready for an investment account.
“We have suitability calls with clients all the time and turn clients away — those who want to be with Wealthsimple but their time horizon is too short,” she said. “We have would-be clients coming to us because they hear Wealthsimple offers a really great client experience but maybe an investment is not appropriate for them; this is a way they can get started.”
While Wealthsimple’s U.S. savings interest rates are better than most big banks, many smaller and online-only institutions offer better rates; for example, Marcus by Goldman Sachs offers a money market account at 1.5 percent and CIT Bank offers a similar product for 1.55 percent. The interest also beats most Canadian high-street banks, but there are competing products with higher rates. By adding savings accounts, it’s another way to strengthen the relationship with the customer and build loyalty.
“If Wealthsimple can do well with customers, this could make people come back [for more products] and forego a certain percentage of the interest,” said Aite senior analyst Denise Valentine. “The concept of holistic financial management is important here — the more [data] you can pull in and aggregate, the easier it becomes to show someone’s full financial picture.”
Wealthsimple isn’t alone among robo-advisers offering banking products to grow their connections among clients. Wealthfront, for instance, launched a portfolio line of credit last year to let customers borrow against their portfolios. In the past year, Wealthsimple rolled out other niche products like socially responsible and halal portfolios. Factor said the savings account was a “natural evolution” of Wealthsimple’s products, adding that the beta test that began in January generated a lot of interest. During the beta phase, 4,000 customers signed up.
Despite the launch of the savings account, Factor said becoming a bank isn’t in Wealthsimple’s short-term plans, but the company doesn’t rule out such a move in the future. In February, it raised a fresh $51 million in financing from Power Financial to expand and offer new products. It has $1.45 billion in assets under management and has more than 65,000 customers in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.