Christmas in February


When it comes to Christmas, our daughter creates a Google Sheet with over a hundred wishes that she sends to the grandparents around Thanksgiving. Our son, on the other hand, claims disinterest in such worldly pursuits, until three or four days before the big day. Then, suddenly, he’s full of ideas, much to everybody but Santa’s chagrin. I have a wishlist, too, but it’s for startups that we can invest in that will make us money by virtue of making life better for millions of everyday people. Because Amazon hasn’t figured out how to ship startups overnight (despite AWS’s big contributions in that direction), I’m sharing my list early. In no particular order:

Autonomous PFM. As far as I can tell, Scott Cook invented the Personal Financial Management (PFM) category and, through innovation and acquisition, still owns it to this day. From Quicken to Mint, and now to Credit Karma, Intuit has provided American consumers with some of the best tools for understanding and tracking our financial vicissitudes. While all these tools, and their peers, are constantly getting better, they lack an essential — and inevitable — quality: autonomy.

I’m not the first to wish for this, nor will I be the last, but my wish is for the financial equivalent of a self-driving car. Level 5 will take some time, but all the technology exists to create Tesla’s auto-pilot for money today. Digit-as-a-Service. What’s harder than the tech is the trust. I would love to back a startup that will make creating trust a deliberate product strategy. Only such an entity could earn the right to engage its customers in a limited power of attorney agreement with which to optimize savings or buy and renew insurance. After all, most of us are more interested in just having our money work for us, versus working our money.

Tax Time Transformation. Our friend and former CEO of H&R Block Mark Ernst inspired this wish. No one likes taxes: not the paying of them; not the preparing for them. Can someone figure out how to transform the sting of tax prep into the delight of financial insight — and combined with the Autonomous PFM, financial action? Tax time is a forcing function, making almost everyone in America organize their finances (even many illegal immigrants without a Social Security Number do have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and pay taxes). Why can’t all that work yield more than a Form 1040 and a refund check if you’re lucky? The data is there to advise on everything, from how to earn more money to how much you should be saving (for rainy day, kids’ college and retirement), and even suggesting the appropriate life insurance policy for those with dependents based on their lifestyle. April 15th? I can’t wait!

Alt Investing for the Rest of Us. One of the largest gaps in financial health is in our long-term savings. Despite Social Security and the massive index investing industry, around half of the population doesn’t have enough retirement savings to live much above poverty from age 65 to that ever-further-off last breath. Thanks to the Vanguards of the world, there are low-cost, easy-entry, beta-seeking investment solutions for nearly everyone who wants them. But 5% per year on average over the long haul won’t get enough people enough capital to retire. The wealthy have become wealthier, in part, by their access to alpha: hedge funds, private equity, real estate, etc. What I want is an alternative investment platform with access to the best alpha strategies (including crypto), but in small bites. And, since you asked, ideally, I’d like it as a part of a broader long-term investment platform, so as to constrain exposure to loss. Something to prevent the inevitable headline: “Minnesota family lost all after investing in a hedge fund which shorted GameStop.”

What’s on your wish list?

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