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Chicago’s M1 Finance, a consumer-focused fintech platform, reaches $1B under management

Eagle-eyed readers will recall that we mentioned M1 Finance earlier today in our look at a few trends in the fintech industry. We’re back with the firm this afternoon as it has a bit of news that’s worth discussing. Chicago-based M1 Finance announced today that it has reached the $1 billion assets under management mark,…

Eagle-eyed readers will recall that we mentioned M1 Finance earlier today in our look at a few trends in the fintech industry. We’re back with the firm this afternoon as it has a bit of news that’s worth discussing.

Chicago-based M1 Finance announced today that it has reached the $1 billion assets under management mark, or AUM. Reaching AUM thresholds provides useful milestones that we can use to track the progress of various players in the fintech and finservices worlds.

M1 is an interesting company, bringing together a number of products to form a single platform. Its hybrid nature makes comparing its AUM to other companies’ histories a bit dicey. Still, for reference, Wealthfront, a roboadvisor, announced that it started 2013 with AUM of $100 million, and closed that year with $538 million. By mid-2014, Wealthfront had $1 billion AUM. Today it has over $20 billion.

So, the numbers matter, and reaching thresholds can help us understand where a company is in its maturity cycle.

Let’s talk about M1 Finance’s AUM growth, its revenue growth and its product model. It’s a neat company with a history of efficient growth.

Growth, product

We’ll start with product, as how the company approaches its feature-set helps explain how the service is priced, which in turn helps us grok the company’s growth.

M1 is not a roboadvisor, or a simple neobank, or a lending product; it’s all three at once, providing effectively the digital equivalent of a full-service bank, admittedly in the form of an online experience instead of a brick-and-mortar outlet. M1 users can open investment accounts, checking accounts, get a debit card and borrow money against their investment portfolios; it’s a cohesive feature set.

And one that lets M1 price its products lower as a group than it could individually. During a call with M1’s CEO Brian Barnes about the company’s AUM milestone, the executive connected the company’s long-term vision to its ability to price aggressively. (All fintechs are expanding their platforms, it’s worth noting, meaning that, in time, nearly every fintech player will offer an array of services; Wealthfront, famous for its work in roboadvising, now also offers savings and borrowing capabilities.)

Barnes said that M1 has long wanted to “manage the bulk of [its users’] financial assets, not create a sort of low-friction acquisition hook” to bring in smaller-dollar accounts. This, in turn, means that M1 can have higher per-user sums on its books, which, it appears, helped the company reduce prices on a per-product basis.

Here’s Barnes connecting per-account totals to pricing:

Managing more of someone’s financial assets, and financial life, is going to be more economical. What it allows us to do is maintain lower margins per product, but have enough margin on the entire financial relationship that we can build a very sustainable durable, long-lasting business.

That’s neat! And folks with lots of money expect low fees, especially in the Robinhood-era, so the setup probably helps with attracting users.

Revenue

Summing so far, M1 runs a broad set of financial products, attracting more dollars-per-user than other companies, perhaps, which lets it charge, in its view, lower prices.

How low? Barnes told TechCrunch that his company is “building [its] business model to make 1% of assets we manage [into] top line. So every billion bucks on the platform will be 10 million dollars in recurring revenue. And it is a relatively linear relationship.” The CEO later extended the point, saying that when his firm has $10 billion in AUM, it will generate $100 million.

This means that as M1 scales, we’ll be able to know with reasonable confidence how much revenue it’s driving.

The company charges in the manner you’d expect, with incomes from loaning money, interchange and a SaaS-product called M1 Plus that lowers some fees and provides interest on checking accounts, costing $125 yearly.

Now that M1 is big enough to matter, it has to double, and then double again. We’ll know how well that’s going based on how quickly the company reaches the $2 billion mark.

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