Goldman Sachs sees gold in them hills…retirement hills, that is. The investment bank announced earlier this week that it was acquiring Honest Dollar, a startup that offers 401(k) retirement plans for entrepreneurs and small businesses. There are approximately 45 million Americans who do not have access to employer-sponsored retirement plans and Honest Dollar set out to address this market by providing an easy-to-register platform that is sensitive to costs carried by small businesses or individual proprietors.
A company-sponsored pension enables employers to offer workers a long-term savings and investment account that defers taxes on gains until an employee taps into it. Beyond the incentive of tax-advantaged growth, companies who offer 401(k) accounts frequently provide matching deposits in their employees’ accounts after employees make their own contributions. As more people transition to the gig economy and companies leverage an on-demand workforce, relatively few companies offer 401(k)s. Only about 14% of companies in the US provide retirement benefits to their employees, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Without these benefits, many Americans are left without any vehicle of long-term retirement savings.
Honest Dollar offers small businesses and freelancers simple and affordable retirement plans. Fees are low (starting at $8 per employee per month) and investment portfolios kept simple (just 4 Vanguard exchange-traded funds). The Austin, Texas-based startup launched in earnest last summer, when founder, William Hurley examined the behavior of early users of his company’s website. He noticed a sizeable percentage of users were leaving the site without completing registrations. “It was when we were asking for the EIN (employer identification number) that they were dropping out,” he explained to Xconomy. “The majority of them were 1099 contractors.”
Founder Hurley, who has the appearance of a young Abraham Lincoln techie, has experience building creative, technology-enabled businesses. In 2010, Hurley founded Chaotic Moon Studies, a digital studio that creates cutting edge software for brands, and sold the business to Accenture in 2014. Most recently, the studio made waves with its biotech tattoos — wearable electronic components that both look cool and also monitor your vital statistics like body temperature and heart rate. It’s this level of clever, creative thinking that Hurley infused into HonestDollar to tackle a serious financial problem: how to simplify a product and process that’s made the financial companies behind them lots of money but suffers from lack of transparency and burdensome cost structure for small businesses.
“Honest Dollar has created a simple solution to a complex retirement savings problem,” Timothy J. O’Neill and Eric S. Lane, co-heads of investment management at Goldman, said in a statement. “Together, we have the potential to help millions of people achieve their investing goals.”
For its part, Goldman has been making its own moves in the online finance space. The investment bank is investing heavily in building out its core online financial services capabilities to cater to individuals. Late last year, GS bought GE Capital Bank’s online deposit platform, bringing in $16 billion of deposits, of which $8 billion was in online deposits. It’s also been poaching top management at marketplace lenders and credit card firms to develop its own online lender. Its acquisition of Honest Dollar appears to round out a portfolio of investments and in-house development to further service Main Street, not just Wall Street.
The sponsored-retirement space is seeing its fair share of development, as well. Roboadvisor Betterment recently introduced its own 401(k) plan business aimed at the same market that Honest Dollar is targeting. Blooom, which raised $4 million in October of 2015 lead by fintech-focused venture capital firm, QED Investors, has a slightly different value proposition in the 401(k) market. Instead of going through employers who offer 401(k)s, this Kansas City-based firm works with investors. People who hold a 401(k) account can leave it at its current institution and use blooom to optimize their investing strategy without a lot of jargon and charts.