For the eighth stop of the nationwide Shark Tank Diversity Tour, the casting team for ABC’s Shark Tank visited Philadelphia, where entrepreneurs pitched their businesses at Cheyney University’s Center City Campus. Here, Brandon Andrews sat down with Ben Pitts, founder and CEO of myFinancialAnswers; a new financial planning technology platform.
The future is uncertain, but no matter what the future holds, being stable financially will help. How does myFinancialAnswers help users prepare for the future?
Ben Pitts: We started the company because most people have a tough time understanding what “being stable financially” really means. Personal finance encompasses a host of issues including short-term issues like paying bills and longer-term issues like saving for retirement. And there are countless issues in between like buying larger homes, paying for kids to go to college, and paying down credit card debt. myFinancialAnswers allows people to organize all of those issues into one place, measure the inherent trade-offs of those decisions, prioritize action steps, and make informed decisions. I think of what we offer as a financial road map. And just like on a road trip, if the unexpected happens, myFinancialAnswers will help you consider your detour options and get back on track.
Why do you want to help people create financial plans? What’s the myFinancialAnswers story?
BP: I moved from ultra-high net worth wealth management at Goldman Sachs to helping mass affluent Americans at Cypress Financial Planning, another company I co-own. myFinancialAnswers, for me, was the natural next step. I wanted to make sure everyday Americans could get help. Until that point, I had spent my time helping wealthy and well-off Americans make better financial decisions. It became clear to me that the financial services industry lacked quality options for hard working Americans. People like my parents—my Dad a New Jersey State employee for 30 years and my Mom an executive assistant at the church I grew up in—didn’t have great options.
So one day I decided to build the technology and business model that would allow us to focus on everyday Americans. That’s what we’re doing today.
How does myFinancialAnswers work? How can I get my finance questions answered?
BP: myFinancialAnswers is a subscription-based service. So people don’t need $1 million or $500,000 in investments to get our help. If you have a question about personal finances you can sign up at www.myfinancialanswers.com with an email address and password. It will take you about 30 minutes to get through our set up where you tell us about your financial situation—you even have the option to connect all of your financial accounts to keep the financial plan updated daily. Once you finish the set-up process you’ll get a list of recommendations that range from purchasing adequate life insurance and contributing more to retirement accounts to paying down credit card debt and refinancing your home. Most people will want to sign up for a subscription that includes one-on-one time with one of our financial planners so they can help you prioritize the recommendations. Once you pay for that subscription you can book time to speak with the planner by phone and screen share within the application. You can even maintain a relationship with the same financial planner if you wish and speak with them each year so they can help you stay on track.
Why do you believe this is the best approach to help families plan for their financial future?
BP: Personal finance is complex and requires real attention. Most of us lack the time, skills, and/or interest required to manage our financial matters well. We’re big believers that people need a little help to get and stay on track; myFinancialAnswers is a fiduciary, which means we are legally obligated to act in the customers’ best interest so our customers can rest assured we’re not trying to take advantage of them. Many, many people have been taken advantage of by financial institutions set up to sell them expensive products and we’ve built a business model purposely to avoid doing business that way. Plus, we’ve got a team that just cares about people and is passionate about financial wellness so I believe it’s a winning combination.
What’s your No. 1 piece of financial advice?
BP: We’re all unique and blanket financial advice is rarely helpful. So I think my No. 1 advice is to be like Nike and “just do it. ” Take the time to think about your financial situation. Whether you spend time doing your own research, get help from a family member, or decide to work with a firm like myFinancialAnswers, just get started. Personal finance is one of those things that is easier to get right the earlier you start and that means, if you haven’t already, you should stop avoiding it. Figure out how to take actionable next steps to get a little bit better tomorrow than you are today.
You pitched at our Philly Shark Tank casting call. What does the opportunity be appear on Season 9 of Shark Tank mean to you?
BP: The hardest part about building a financial services company is getting enough exposure. The industry is dominated by large Wall Street companies, banks, and insurance companies. Shark Tank provides a platform for smaller, newer companies that are delivering great products into the market to compete with much larger companies.
From another point of view, Shark Tank represents much of what is great in America. Things may not always be fair depending on where you grew up or who your parents are, but entrepreneurship, just like Shark Tank as well as the companies it debuts, reveal what’s possible for all of us. So whether I’m watching the show from my living room with my wife or one day pitching the Sharks, I appreciate Shark Tank for what it represents.
How do you plan to grow myFinancialAnswers in 2017?
BP: We’ve decided to focus much of our effort on building relationships with employers and the 401(k) advisers and employee benefit brokers that service them. For us, we don’t have the marketing budget of a huge Wall Street firm to attract consumers with Super Bowl commercials or radio advertising. Working with and through small- and mid-sized employers allows us the opportunity to offer our services to 50, 100, 500 employees at a time.
It also allows us to help employers accomplish their strategic goals. Employee financial wellness is at the top of the list for many HR executives and is a huge trend right now. Employees have more responsibility than ever as companies have moved from pension plans to 401(k)s and from traditional health plans to high-deductible plans. Our platform provides the proactive financial engagement and high-tech, high-touch financial coaching employees need to stay ahead.
In 2017, Values Partnerships is leading a nationwide casting tour for ABC’s Shark Tank. This casting tour is focused on to giving diverse entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their businesses and appear on the show’s ninth season. In addition to having the opportunity to audition for Shark Tank, Values Partnerships has also held discussions on access to capital, offered pitch prep sessions, and shared entrepreneurship resources with entrepreneurs from around the country, all throughout the Shark Tank Diversity Tour.