Elite student loan app SoFi is getting into wealth management

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer

Household debt has exceeded its previous peak during the 2008 recession and Silicon Valley startup SoFi is hoping to help Americans dig themselves out of their $12.73 trillion in debt.

SoFi, which stands for “Social Finance,” started out with student loan refinancing in 2011. It now offers mortgage loans, personal loans, and life insurance. This week, the company announced a new product, SoFi Wealth, a hybrid wealth manager that offers both automation and human financial advisors.

Wealth management was the natural next offering for its existing 300,000 members, especially given the likelihood for borrowers to use SoFi for more than one of their financial concerns, SoFi co-founder and CEO Mike Cagney told Yahoo Finance at TechCrunch Disrupt NY this week.

“Forty-five percent of the mortgages that we do are for existing members who are coming to us out of student loans or out of personal loans and looking for the opportunity to take a mortgage with us because the experience was so good,” he said.

SOFI’S 360 APPROACH TO PERSONAL FINANCE

But how can those who are overwhelmed with debt begin to think about investing in their futures? SoFi primarily targets what are colloquially referred to as HENRYs (high earners, not yet rich yet) — those who have taken loans to get through school but are earning a steady paycheck now and will continue to accrue wealth.

“We like to have people think about things across multiple phases — that they can certainly be paying down our loans,” said Cagney. “So if you refinance a loan with us and you end up saving $300 a month, why not put $150 of that toward your retirement, toward your savings or buying a home?”

“People should be thinking about saving even when they’re paying down their student loans,” he added.

Existing SoFi borrowers have an incentive to use the company’s wealth management service instead of the alternatives because they don’t pay any fees at all.

Those who aren’t part of the SoFi network can invest their first $10,000 free then 0.25% per year for any additional investments.

WEALTH MANAGEMENT 3.0?

Wealth management at large has experienced an existential shift, with a combination of computer algorithms and human advice becoming the new normal. Incumbents like Vanguard and Fidelity have boosted their automation features while upstarts like Betterment and Wealthfront have introduced human advisors to their services. SoFi is incorporating both of these approaches to appeal to its primarily young adult demographic.

Though SoFi’s members are tech-focused and savvy, they so often wish to speak to someone on the other line, according to Cagney.

“What we found with our members it that they actually wanted to talk to someone. We get around 4,000 inbound calls a day,” he said. “We felt it was important to be able to give advisors to our members with whatever questions they might have in the wealth management process.”

With student loan refinancing, personal loans, mortgage loans and now wealth management, SoFi’s offerings are successfully growing up alongside its core user.

Melody Hahm is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

Read more:
How to tackle overwhelming credit card debt
How to take control of your retail credit cards
How this 32-year-old New Yorker can get more out of her savings