JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo Invest in Teen-Focused Banking Startup Greenlight

Greenlight CEO Tim Sheehan
September 16, 2019

JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo have invested in Greenlight, the teen-focused digital banking company that provides a parent-managed debit cards for kids, the startup said Monday.

The banks' investment was part of a $54 million Series B fund raise led by Drive Capital and investors in its previous round, including TTV Capital, Live Oak Bank, and Relay Ventures.

Teen-focused fintech startups that aim to help with pocket-money management are gaining popularity. The New York-based Current is Greenlight's main competitor to date. In June, the payments unicorn Stripe led a $22.5 million fundraise for a company with a similar value proposition called Step, in which Will Smith's Dreamers fund and the rapper Nas also participated. French startups Kard and Xaalys have also entered the market this year.

Greenlight CEO Tim Sheehan explained, "It's the parent who signs up. They're the ones who have the strongest desire to teach their kids to be smart about money," whether they themselves are financially savvy or not and whether they learned their personal finance skills on their own or were taught.

"It tends to happen when the kids hit middle school that parents start signing up, because kids start to spend time away from parents with their friends," Sheehan added. There are 50 million families with a child living at home, he said of the market opportunity in the U.S.

Atlanta-based Greenlight comes with a spending account that includes a debit card and parental controls that let parents decide where exactly their kids can spend and how much. Greenlight is a subscription service that costs $4.99 per month per family, including parents and up to five kids. It also makes money from the interchange fee revenue that merchants pay the issuing banks (which Mastercard shares with Greenlight).

It also offers a savings account that includes a parent-set and parent-paid interest rate (which averages 18 percent across its users' parents, Sheehan said) and goal setting and tracking; as well as a giving account for birthday or holiday cash or for parents to set and track their kids' weekly chores and payouts.

"There are a lot of things to teach and the best way kids learn is by doing — by having to actually make the tradeoff decision between buying something in front of them right now and saving for a purchase later," Sheehan said. "Something a lot of kids learn fast is to keep all their money in savings and that way they have to make a conscious decision to move it through the spend area to go and make a purchase."

In a few months it will launch an investment account too, he added. No doubt, what Greenlight learns from that launch will be valuable for Chase. Last year Chase launched its answer to popular stock trading apps like Robinhood aimed at younger customers, an active digital investing service called You Invest. It followed up this July with the managed investment solution counterpart.

Chase has not shared any success metrics of the first product, but the company says a new survey found 32 percent of Americans consider investing to be the most intimidating financial activity; 43 percent of millennials in particular indicated they're overwhelmed and don't know where to begin and 20 percent indicated they were waiting until after they did more research.

Greenlight and its peers market themselves as "teen-focused" but the opportunity extends beyond the age group. In late 2017 Wells Fargo launched its own effort to emulate popular millennial-targeting fintech apps: a mobile-first digital bank for the "new-to-banking" customer, called Greenhouse. Its product and design heavily emphasize the personal financial management, responsibility, and saving and goal-setting features for users who aren't necessarily as new to banking as teenagers, but may not have acquired, learned, or even practiced the money management skills required for their personal success. The company has not commented on the app's success. Chase launched its own version of it a year ago, the now-defunct Finn app.

Greenlight plans to use its Series B money mostly on heavy marketing to get its name out in the world. Sheehan also said it's spending on developing more products (like investing) to add into the subscription offering.