Flickr / Sonny Abesamis It's estimated that 88 million people in the US save for retirement through defined-contribution plans like 401(k)s.
You're probably patting your financially responsible self on the back for opening and contributing to your 401(k).
According to Chris Costello, however, that might not be enough.
Costello is the cofounder and CEO of blooom (yes, three o's), a 401(k) management service that won best of show at the 2014 Finovate fall conference, a trade show that unveils and highlights the latest innovations in banking and tech.
"In the 19 years I've been in this business, helping people my parents' age, I've been keenly aware that people my age have been largely shut out of the quality investment advice space for lack of a big enough account," 41-year-old Costello explains.
He says that since he left Wall Street in 2004 and started his own financial services firm, The Retirement Planning Group, the most common question he gets is, "Hey Chris, I have this 10-k-4 thing at work and I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing with it. Could you take a look and tell me what I'm supposed to do?"
"80% of the time when I'd look at their statement," Costello recalls, "I'd see that it was significantly screwed up. It would be a 29-year-old with his entire 401(k) in bond funds, or a 33-year-old with her entire account in company stock. I'd see every shape and size, but almost never an appropriate balanced, diversified allocation."
Costello isn't the only one who's detected an issue with how Americans approach their 401(k)s. CNBC reports that only 10% of account holders make a change in their investments over the course of the year, according to data from Fidelity. And an ING Direct USA survey found that 50% of American adults who have participated in employer-sponsored retirement plans abandoned them when changing jobs, contributing to the 15 million "orphaned" accounts that made up over $1 trillion in 2010.
Between the investors ignoring and abandoning accounts, it seems that many Americans could use some help getting the most from their 401(k)s.
That's why Costello and his partners started blooom, which manages your 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement account.
blooom / Finovate Blooom purposefully eschews intimidating charts and graphs for a friendlier interface.
Once users sign up, blooom first uses an algorithm to determine the most advantageous mix of available investments for the individual user. It then checks the account every 90 days.
At that 90-day mark, the user receives an email that either says the equivalent of "all good," or "we had to make some tweaks." Every few years, blooom rebalances the accounts according to the client's time horizon. As Costello points out in his Finovate presentation, a blooom client can choose not to look at his 401(k) for the next 20 years.
"We're 401(k) custodians, and employer agnostic," Costello says. "It doesn't matter where you work. All you need to have is an account and an online login."
Currently, blooom is very much a startup. The service has about 100 users and has established itself using $400,000 of the founders' own cash. They're now looking to expand and secure additional funding, and in early 2015, they plan to release iOS and Android apps to accompany the web platform.
blooom / finovate During the five-minute signup process, blooom analyzes your existing allocation and suggests a better alternative.
Right now, the service costs $10 a month if you have more than $5,000 in your account and $1 if you have less. Before the end of the year, the pricing will change to $1 a month if you have less than $20,000 in your account, and $15 if you have more. This is more expensive than other similar services like Wealthfront, which charges $25 a year to manage $20,000.
It's worth noting that although blooom falls squarely in the robo-adviser space with algorithm-based online investment platforms like Betterment and Wealthfront, other services generally don't touch 401(k)s. Investment adviser Financial Engines is the exception — the publicly traded company offers retirement account management as an employee benefit with contracted employers.
Costello explains that the dearth of 401(k)-centric services is because 401(k)s are spread among employer-selected brokerages like Fidelity and Vanguard and are therefore harder to consolidate and manage. "There's an additional layer of challenge involved in scaling up a business when you have all these institutions to work with," he says. "That's why the market hasn't been as exploited as with other models."
Although blooom is in its nascent stages, there's a pretty obvious way to figure out whether it's a service worth trying: If you don't already have professional advice, are you completely confident in your 401(k) investments? If so, nice work. If not, it might be worth $15 or less a month to be so.
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