Online lender SoFi is rounding out its suite of financial services and wading deeper into wealth and asset management, with an online brokerage that is now widely available and a suite of exchange-traded funds set to debut this year.
The company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday to launch four SoFi-branded ETFs this year. Two of them, the SoFi 500 ETF (SFY) and SoFi Next 500 ETF (SFYX), will be fee-free until March 27, 2020 ー they carry a 0.19 percent management fee that their investment advisor has agreed to waive for the first year.
SoFi is the latest fintech company to try to make a zero-fee splash in a market dominated by long-established legacy giants — like Vanguard and BlackRock's iShares in this case. But CEO Anthony Noto maintained it’s not just a marketing scheme to lure high-earning, but underinvested potential customers.
“The offering we have today is meant to be the offering — it’s not introductory, and it’s built on a five-year plan,” Noto told a group of reporters on Tuesday morning.
The offering will sit under the SoFi Invest umbrella, which was made widely available to the general public Tuesday and to which SoFi plans to add cryptocurrency trading as soon as the second quarter through a partnership with Coinbase, Noto said.
“Invest and Money will both uniquely bring in new members that we wouldn’t have brought in through the lending products. Within Invest it’s hard to know if it’s going to be stocks, robo, ETFs or cryptocurrency. We know our members and nonmembers that fit our target want those different elements," Noto said.
SoFi Invest is a free consumer investing service that offers stocks, ETFs, and robo-advising accompanied by newsy and educational content.
Noto took the wheel at SoFi exactly one year ago, when the company was still a student loan refinancing brand battling the sex scandal that led to then-CEO Mike Cagney’s dramatic exit. In the past year the company has expanded — and shifted to a mobile-first strategy. It launched the Invest offering, a beta version of its personal finance manager and SoFi Money, a fee-free bank account with a 2.25 percent interest rate. It plans to roll out a credit card, joint accounts, savings vaults, and roundups this year. And in addition to its current life insurance offering, through a partnership with Ladder, SoFi also plans to expand that to apartment insurance, car insurance, and more under the SoFi Protect umbrella, Noto said.
The company also hired 12 new executive leaders.
But 2019 is about “not just what we build, but how it works,” Noto said, in front of a slide introducing “The New SoFi.” Specifically, it’s not just about the product rollouts, but about the membership and social experiences the company offers, like social events and career coaching sessions though a partnership with Korn Ferry.
Noto said SoFi has specific partnership strategy and ambitions on the horizon, but none involve mergers and acquisitions. He noted that the fintech industry is still in its “formation phase” of the investment cycle. He also said while in the long term SoFi strives to become a public company, an IPO is not a 2019 priority.
The company’s product expansion is on trend with fintech companies that made their mark in the great unbundling of financial services and are now rebuilding them, thanks in large part to the high cost of customer acquisition.
“This is a great example of brand extension and SoFi can onboard wealth management customers at significantly lower onboarding costs than other robos which must acquire customers from scratch,” said April Rudin, chief executive and founder of wealth marketing strategy firm The Rudin Group.
“It is smart business and expected that SoFi would extend its play into wealth management services for its millennials borrowers. This cohort clearly needs wealth management advice and more financial literacy education.”
Noto said one reason there hasn’t been a “broad-based” company in financial services ーlike in retail or travel, for example ー is due to the amount of capital required to operate. Many companies have launched individual products and achieved great success with it but haven’t expanded, which usually leads to M&A deals.
“We have a strategy where the success of one product will help drive the success of the next product, both directly and indirectly,” he said. “We are seeing the behavior from opening an account, funding an account, direct deposit and then spending — that’s the path we want to see… You can imagine us adding rewards programs overtime and economic opportunities with merchants.”