Companies increasingly recognize that one of the greatest stresses for their employees is financial wellness. Even at innovative tech startups, people typically bump up against the limits of how much they know about wealth management pretty fast.
But providing financial education to a workforce, which has become increasingly common, is largely useless as most employees will tell you. The information can be hard to navigate, and it’s often not personalized in a way that addresses an employee’s circumstance and goals, which change over time depending on whether they are a recent graduate, getting married or even eyeing retirement.
It’s why so many employed people look to outside apps to both better understand their financial picture and to actually manage it.
It’s also a missed opportunity, according to a growing number of founders who are working to convince employers to move beyond education and instead offer automated financial planning (with a dash of human involvement) as an employee perk.
Their understandable argument: While offering benefits around fertility, family planning, and mental health are wonderful, companies are missing out on the chance to address the very top priority for their employees, which is how to avoid financial trouble.
Freshly backed by $12 million in funding led by Felicis Ventures, with participation from General Catalyst, Founders Fund and early Stripe employee Lachy Groom, among others, Origin wants to become the place where employees can track financial milestones, get professional advice from licensed financial planners, and take action, whether it be paying down student debt, building emergency savings or finding the right home and automotive insurance.
Currently staffed by 32 employees, six are financial planners, and they can handle the unique circumstances of “mid thousands of people,” says Watson, who notes that after an employee initially sets up a plan, much can be automated until a life event changes the picture.
“If you use just the tech, you’re only getting limited information,” he says, adding that access to Origin’s planners is “unlimited.”
The company already has 15 customers with between 250 and 5,000 employees, including the social network NextDoor; the cloud communications and collaboration software platform Fuze; and Therabody, whose Theragun therapy tool is used by pro athletes and trainers to pulverize their aching muscles.
All are paying $6 per employee per month because it doesn’t matter how much employees are making, says Watson. “The thing about financial stress is that it impacts everyone pretty evenly. The greater your income, the more stuff you buy.”
Considering that employees spend an estimated two to four hours each week dealing with their personal finances, an offering like Origin’s seems like a no-brainer for employers looking to both improve employee productivity and employee retention.
Indeed, the only thing holding back such offerings earlier in time were the kind of open banking APIs that exist today.
Now, the biggest challenge for Origin is to capture employers’ attention ahead of the competition. For example, another startup that’s also developing financial planning services as an employee perk is Northstar, founded by Red Swan Ventures investor Will Peng. More established players like Betterment that have long catered to individual investors are also focusing more on building up ties to employers that can use their offerings as an employee resource.
Either way, the trend is a positive one for employees, who are right now living through an economic roller coaster and could more generally use a lot more help with both staying afloat and saving for the future.
“Everyone struggles with finances,” says Watson, who worked in high-yield credit trading at Citi in New York before moving to San Francisco to start his last company. “I’m supposed to understand this stuff, and it’s complicated for me.”