Robo-Adviser Betterment Sees $700 Million Valuation After New Round of Funding

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Robo-Adviser Betterment Hits $700M Valuation

Online financial adviser Betterment LLC has secured $100 million in new funding that has boosted the company's valuation by 55 percent. 

The round was led by Investment AB Kinnevik, a Swedish investment firm, and sees the so-called robo-adviser's valuation rise to $700 million, compared to $450 million from a previous fundraising in February of 2015, according to research firm CB Insights. The move has also doubled the firm's total funding, which now sits at $205 million.

The fundraising comes as some of the biggest startups in Silicon Valley are seeing their valuations cut by fund managers such as Fidelity Investments, while a number of venture capital firms have paused further investment amid the dropping price tags. Fintech, while not immune to the slowdown, has weathered the storm better than some other industries as investors seek to capitalize on continued change in the finance industry and in the case of robo-advisers, a generation that is just starting to think about saving for retirement. According to a recent report from KPMG International and CB Insights, funding for this space hit a record last year, rising more than 100 percent from 2014.

"The environment then was completely different [the last time we raised]," Jon Stein, Betterment's co-founder and CEO, said in a phone interview. "At that time, we might have been able to push for a higher valuation but we went with a partner and price we were comfortable with. This round, the market had turned, and I think what helped us is that we emerged as the clear leader in this space."

Kinnevik has built a coffer of nearly $1 billion in cash that it's looking to put to work around the globe after selling its 31-percent stake in Russian classifieds site Avito for $864 million in December, Kinnevik's Chief Executive Officer Lorenzo Grabau said in an interview. It's broadening its pitch to U.S. startups looking for long-term capital, but is taking a measured approach to the market, he said.

"Clearly we're a very international company," Grabau said. "We are not in the deal business, we are not looking to build a portfolio of 30 companies like a fund."

Robo-advisers seek to use new technology to offer better returns than traditional financial advisers. 

Betterment is the largest independent robo-adviser based on assets under management with nearly $4 billion in customer funds reported compared to $3 billion at Wealthfront and $2.1 billion at Personal Capital. In terms of valuations, Betterment is tied with Wealthfront at $700 million, while Personal Capital's valuation has not been made public. 

While Betterment's $4 billion in customer funds is a far cry from the traditional players such as Vanguard and Charles Schwab, it is substantially higher than the $1.1 billion it had just 15 months ago. Both Vanguard and Schwab have launched their own robo-advisers to compete with startups like Betterment, threatening pressure on startup competitors.

"A benefit Betterment and Wealthfront have over Vanguard and Schwab are much lower minimum investments of $0 for Betterment and $500 for Wealthfront vs $5,000 for Schwab and $50,000 for Vanguard," Jessica Rabe, an analyst at brokerage firm Covergex said in a phone interview. "The former two understand that disruption happens at the low end of a market. So they are taking a longer-term view by serving overlooked cohorts–they may not have much money to invest now, but will likely in the future and will already be clients of Wealthfront and Betterment when they do."

(An earlier version of this story misstated Wealthfront's assets under management due to an error on the company's website.)
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