After Waze’s success validated the power of crowd knowledge, a startup called FeeX wants to apply it to a different problem area of our lives — retirement plans.
FeeX, a company aiming to help people uncover the hidden fees they’re paying and hopefully improve their retirement investments through crowdsourced information, is launching today in the U.S. And one of the company’s founders is none other than Waze cofounder Uri Levine.
Here’s how it works: You log into FeeX, connect your IRA account, and the site presents you with a dashboard that shows how much money you’re spending in fees (as both a dollar amount and percentage). It also pulls up the retirement plans of other people who have picked less costly investment funds and lets you compare yours against theirs. Ideally, this information should help you rearrange your investments and save money.
And if you think this means that when you sign up for FeeX you are also agreeing to submit your IRA stats to the site’s database, then you are correct.
But the company assured us that it does not divulge your identity along with your financial specs and that it doesn’t even store your credentials. It apparently just takes a snapshot of how your retirement fund is doing.
Most people don’t know very much about their retirement plans and don’t even know how much they’re paying in fees — or that they’re paying fees at all. This lack of information is exactly what compelled FeeX’s team to start the company.
“What we’re doing is exposing the best kept secret in the financial industry. We think this entire [fee] industry is a direct result of a much bigger problem,” FeeX chief executive Yoav Zurel told VentureBeat by phone.
In fact, Americans pay $43 billion in hidden IRA fees every year, according to the company. There is also a serious asymmetry in the information, with the average U.S. consumer knowing far less about their IRA accounts and investments than financial institutions.
Moreover, there are traditionally two types of advisors people use to set up their funds, according to Zurel. There are fiduciary advisors who give out unbiased advice yet are often quite expensive, and cheap or free ones who are affordable because they make their money through referrals and kickbacks — not unbiased at all.
FeeX wants to be a third alternative, combining affordability (free) and vast information through the power of crowdsourcing.
It’s “leveraging the crowd and treating [the asymmetric information] as a community problem” just as it worked for Waze, added Zurel.
FeeX is not the only one to attempt to help people who lack knowledge with their investments. SigFig, a company that provides investing advice and even automates portfolio management for its customers, is also in the business of using technology as an alternative to traditional financial services. Other similar companies to SigFig include Wealthfront, Personal Capital, and LearnVest Planning.
However, one of FeeX’s challenges may be it’s more hands-off approach. Unlike the companies above, it simply provides data and some guidance in comparing different options. What should people who are completely new to retirement planning do? Who should they turn to next in order to take action? Which option is truly the best among possibly several great-looking ones?
In the past eight months, FeeX has been conducting its beta phase in Israel, where it saw great results despite the slightly different way things work over there (unlike in the U.S., users in Israel can only use FeeX’s information to negotiate better rates with their retirement fund managers, not redirect investments themselves).
In August 2013, it also raised $3 million in funding, with Blumberg Capital leading the round as we previously reported. FeeX has offices in Herzliya, Israel and New York City.
Luckily for U.S. users, in the spirit of community and making information more available, FeeX does not plan to charge for its core service, although it will eventually start releasing paid features for added convenience.
It also plans on expanding into more types of retirement plans, working with companies, and becoming “your financial friend” — or army of anonymous friends.
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