How Automation And Customer Service Made Betterment Best In Class
Joe Ziemer

Whether investing to you is somewhat an enigma or if you’re a seasoned investor, Betterment is the ultimate automated investing platform. The company has grown exponentially since it’s inception in 2008 and has gained the attention of big name firms and veteran investors.

Joe Ziemer, Betterment’s VP of Communications is to thank for much of the company’s success and status as a renowned enterprise. Joe sat down with TechDay to reveal insights into Betterment’s visibility strategy and strong brand narrative.

Part of Betterment’s success comes from it being a highly automated platform.To what extent is this marketed and what strategies do you utilize to quell the fears of those skeptical of the technology?

Automation is certainly one of the key features of the Betterment platform. Traditionally, people have manually managed their investments, which can be a very time consuming and painful process. But, we’re striving to change this for our customers via automation.

We automatically take care of things like rebalancing, reinvesting your dividends, auto depositing and much more. Basically, we don’t want you to have to think or worry about your investments.

As far as eliminating and minimizing the fears of people who are perhaps a little hesitant to embrace technology, we do make attempts in our marketing and in our site to humanize the Betterment brand. Our whole investing team comes from some of the largest institutions in financial services and we certainly leverage that expertise and highlight it.

Consumer Reports also tied us for Best In Class in the online brokerage category which was a really powerful validation for the overall Betterment experience. People would not expect a highly technology driven platform to receive a customer service award, but we’ve clearly done it quite well.

Is Betterment primarily aimed at those new to the world of investing, seasoned investors or a mixture of both? How is this specified targeted demographic reached?

It is really a mix. Betterment has no minimum so we do have customers that are just starting out and others who have 10 million dollars or more with us. For each type, we have different value propositions that drive them to ultimately choose Betterment.

For example, If you're more of a beginner investor, Betterment is enticing because we make it incredibly easy. We have picked the funds for you, we’ve recommended the asset allocation for you, we automatically go in and do the things you then don’t have to worry about. It’s a great user experience and the design is like every other technology aspect of your life as far as being really user friendly.

And if you are a higher net worth client, you probably value our tax optimization or things of that nature that typically would be very costly to have access to without Betterment.

What type of “brand voice” do you strive to create to attract your various types of clients?

We really just think in terms of what will provide the most value to the end client and most often this doesn't necessarily pertain to the amount of assets you have. Whether you have 10,000 dollars with us or 10,000,000, we’ll do tax optimizations that will benefit both types of client.

The 10 million dollar client may have always had access to this type of optimization, but it probably would have cost them about ten times what we charge for it. And for the 10 thousand dollar, client they just never would have had access. Not a chance. And we can make that resource available to them.

What is the thinking behind your content strategy in perpetuating a focused, strong brand for Betterment?

Our content strategy is certainly one avenue for us to humanize the brand and show our expertise. The content is often written either by Jon Stein, our CEO, Dan Egan, our Head of Investing or Alex Benke, our Head of Advice. We really utilize this platform as a way to demonstrate our expertise and build an increased trust with customers and potential customers.

We also do things in addition to the blog, like syndicated content and webinars where we host AMA style discussions. These are great because everyone has questions regarding financial services, but a lot of people are embarrassed to ask them. However, via our webinar people, can ask questions anonymously and receive expert advice.

What marketing efforts do you use to deter users from copy cat brands and ensure Betterment is garnering the most attention?

Being incredibly transparent and strongly conveying what our values are has helped make us one of the best options out there. Certainly if you’re doing things well and you’re growing, people are going to copy no matter what. But as long as you stay focused and continue to execute then typically you’ll be fine.

When the company launched in 2010, our CEO was onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt and he was asked, “Do you worry about the big names like Schwab, Vanguard etc entering your space?” And even back then he said something along the lines of if Betterment is successful, if this type of product resonates and grows, then without a doubt we’ll see all the incumbents enter this space and see new competitors emerge. This ultimately came true, but what we’ve seen with the incumbents making a big splash on their offerings is that it has allowed us to grow faster. The big names are raising awareness for this type of product and validating the space.

Any partnerships that have helped you grow?

Besides our core retail offering, we do have a few hundred financial advisor firms that use our platform to help manage their clients money.

For the most part, however, our success has primarily been self driven rather than a partnership with a large company.

How will Betterment continue to grow and expand as it continues on this thriving trajectory?

So earlier this year we announced “Betterment for Business” which is a 401(k) platform that is doing incredibly well.

As far as additional growth goes, you’re going to continue to see much more advice from us. For example, this year we came out with a feature called “Retire Guide” and what that does is give customers a comprehensive retirement plan that they can take action against.

You’ll also see us continue to do more on the tax optimization side to help improve our clients returns because one of the two things you can really control in investing is low fees for the funds and how much faster you pay. We’ll continue to explore opportunities where we can deliver substantial value to the end client.