Podcasts

Aspiration’s Andrei Cherny: ‘We treat our customers as whole people, not just dollars and cents’

  • A lot of upstarts talk about building socially conscious financial institutions.
  • Andrei Cherny, Aspiration's founder and CEO, joins us to talk about his firm's innovative revenue model.
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There’s a lot of talk today about the financial industry becoming friendlier, more approachable and more socially conscious. Most of that has been just talk but there are a growing number of fintech firms working hard to make it happen. One of those firms is Aspiration, which was created with millennials and Generation Z in mind.

Aspirations’ Andrei Cherney has created a new type of financial institution, one with 85,000 customers who pay what they think is fair. That’s right, there’s no fee for banking or asset management. Whatever customers do decide to pay Aspiration — and 90 percent of them decide to pay some form of percentage of assets under management — 10 percent of that goes to charity.

Cherney joins us this week on the Tearsheet Podcast to talk how he sees financial services firms have let us down and what today’s customers are really looking for from a bank or asset manager. We’ll discuss Aspiration’s recently launched Impact Measurement, which scores customers’ purchases on how a company treats people and how it treats the planet.

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Below are highlights, edited for clarity, from the episode.

What does it mean when you talk about “doing well and doing good”?
It means a whole host of things. It’s about our customers and how we can help them both provide better financial outcomes in their lives, but also help make a positive difference in the world. So many of our customers come in with this profound sense of distrust of the financial industry — and in some cases, a very well earned sense of distrust.

We really think about a different business model and how we can provide an experience to our customer that sees him or her as a whole person, not just dollars and cents. So if you look at our core product, the Aspiration core bank account. It’s a hybrid checking/savings account.

On the do well side, it pays up to one percent interest, with no monthly fees or ATM fees and only a $10 minimum deposit to open the account. It also enables our customers to do good, too. A lot of our customers come to us because this account doesn’t turn around and take your deposits and put them into the Dakota Pipeline or something like that. That makes a big difference for people.

Who are your target customers?
We’re really seeing a broad cross-section of people. They’re younger: 60 percent of our customers are under 35 years old. They’re a broad cross-section economically, too. From underserved communities to the well-off, we also see a pretty even split between genders. This is a generation of people coming up that wants to exercise its purchasing power. We see our Aspiration Impact Measurement as a way of empowering them.

How does your revenue model of “Pay What is Fair” work?
There’s no compulsory fee. Our customers pay us what they think is fair for our services. When we first launched almost three years ago, it was a leap of faith that our customers would decide to pay us. When we started, we thought that we were asking our customers to put their money with an untested, online financial company. If we were asking for trust, we thought we should start by placing our trust in our customers. This trust deficit is the biggest problem facing the financial industry overall. Only 8 percent of Americans trust their financial institutions.

What is the Aspiration Impact Measurement?
This allows our customers to see their own sustainability score. With each purchase they make, they’re able to see the impact the businesses they’re shopping at are having on people and the planet. It helps them to make better decisions, taking their daily spending dollars and put them behind companies that are doing what’s right. Listen, Americans spend $36 billion a day shopping. We can wring our hands about what gets decided in Washington about the environment. It’s the $36 billion/day that is an even stronger lever than the government — it’s what companies respond to.

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