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Jo Ann Barefoot explores how to create fair and inclusive consumer financial services through innovative ideas for industry and regulators

Making Hard Things Easy and Boring Things Fun with Acorns Co-founder Walter Cruttenden

Barefoot Innovation Podcast

Making Hard Things Easy and Boring Things Fun with Acorns Co-founder Walter Cruttenden

Mallory Kwiatkowski

Today’s guest is Walter Cruttenden, cofounder of Acorns and founder of the gaming company, Blast.

Walter founded Acorns with his son Jeff, the company’s CEO, and Mark Dru in 2012. Acorns offers an app that enables people to round up their purchases and channel the extra money -- the “spare change” -- into a choice of investment vehicles.

The key, Walter says, is its simplicity. It’s easy to sign up, easy to understand, and easy to use. He and Jeff had an intuition that this ease factor, combined with the small amounts of money involved, would help investors at all income levels. As with robo-advisory firms like Betterment and Wealthfront (here’s a link to our episode with Betterment CEO Jon Stein), Acorns aims to use technology to profitably reach people at lower levels of wealth than are traditionally served by wealth managers. By combining the automated investment technology with a mobile-first app, Acorns has been especially successful in attracting customers in their 20’s. And of course, the earlier in life people start to save, the more they will save over in their lifetimes. We also had a great show with Ethan Bloch, CEO of Digit, which takes a different approach to savings but grounds it in the same logic -- appealing to younger savers by keeping it all very simple.

Walter is an avid gamer, and that passion inspired him in 2017 to found a new company, based on the same ideas about easy micro-investing concept. Blast is aiming to help the world’s 2.6 billion gamers save and earn money by playing their favorite games -- as the company’s site says, “In the future, we will micro-earn in a thousand ways.”

In our conversation, Walter explains how both firms work, how they make money, and how they hope to reshape their sectors. He also shares his thinking on the financial regulatory environment, whose hurdles initially dismayed him but which he has since grown to appreciate for the stability it brings to markets.

Solidifying his claim to being a Renaissance Man, Walter is also an amateur expert on the history of the solar system. His book, Lost Star of Myth and Time, has been made into a documentary.


Link to full transcription

Comcast & NBCUniversal invest in fintech app Acorns with a deal to produce content through CNBC

Book - Lost Star of Myth and Time

Documentary - The Great Year

More on Walter Cruttenden

Walter Cruttenden is a financial services innovator. He founded Roth Capital, a leader in funding emerging growth companies, before founding E*Trade’s iBank, which became the number one provider of online IPOs prior to its sale. Walter then invented “micro-investing,” founding Acorns with his son Jeff. On the side, he founded and took public SRS Labs, an acoustics technology, before its sale, and authored the books Lost Star of Myth and Time and The Great Year Adventures with Tommy the Time-Traveling Turtle. He wrote and produced the award winning documentary The Great Year.

Cruttenden currently serves as Chairman of Acorns, sits on its Investment Committee, acts as Director of the Binary Research Institute, and is CEO of Blast, an app that turns games into micro-savings tools.

More for our Listeners

Here is my January newsletter on regulation revolution, inspired by my “world tour” at the end of last year. And here are some other recent articles. Remember to subscribe to Barefoot Innovation for the newsletter, podcast and updates, and follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. And be sure to subscribe to Barefoot Innovation on your favorite podcast platform and that you leave a 5 star review to help us grow the show.

We have great podcast episodes in the queue. We’ll have one with Steve Cohen of Basis Technology on artificial intelligence and another from Boston with Lamont Young, who’s leading digital innovation at Citizens Bank. And we’ll talk with one of the most thoughtful people in finance, Brian Brooks, General Counsel of Coinbase.  We’ll also have a special episode on Women in Fintech.

We also have three great shows coming up with Washington officials. One is with Counselor to the Secretary of the Treasury, Craig Phillips, whose team issued the Treasury fintech report last year. And we’re excited to have a second episode coming up with the Chairman of the CFTC, Chris Giancarlo, as well as one with Paul Watkins, who heads innovation at the CFPB. We recorded a show in New York this month with Brett King on his new book, Bank 4.0 (available now on Amazon). I co-wrote the regulatory chapter with him and love the book -- it’s an amazing read. And we’ll have a wonderfully entertaining and inspiring show with the CEO and innovation accelerator head of NBKC, on innovation for community banks.

Some of the places I’ll be the coming weeks are:

Vaduz Roundtable, "The Financial System 2030", February 15-17, Liechtenstein (invitation only)

The Honest Talks for AI on Regtech, February 27, New York

UNC Law's Banking Institute, March 22, Charlotte, NC

Santa Fe Group 12th Annual Shared Assessments Third Party Risk Summit, April 10-11, Washington, DC

And of course, the global summit of Innovate Finance in London, SXSW, LendIt, and the ABA’s RCC, to name a few.

I’ll hope to see you!

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The views and opinions expressed during the Barefoot Innovation podcast series are solely those of the individuals involved and do not necessarily represent those of Barefoot Innovation Group and its employees. Barefoot Innovation Group does not verify for accuracy the information contained in the podcast series. The primary purpose of this podcast series is to educate and inform.