FinTech: Bubble or Trouble

This edition of The FinTech Blog features thought leader Julian Levy, a mentor for the FinTech Innovation Lab in London and well-known advisor to investors in technology, including both venture capital and private equity firms.


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The context for FinTech in 2016-2017 requires looking back to the what happened after  2008 financial crisis when unprecedented challenges were faced by incumbents, but many pulled through by restructuring, deleveraging, shedding non-core assets, writing down assets, increasing provisions, and decreasing operating costs.

The road ahead, however, presents challenges and opportunities from new entrants, often called fintech firms, seeking to disrupt the incumbents.

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How much is at risk? According to research from Citi, 44% of the business from existing financial services companies could be taken by startups, while McKinsey estimates up to 60% could be taken by fintech firms in the coming decade.

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How much is hype?

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There are seven areas where fintech firms are challenging incumbents (including
five where it directly involves retail banking): money transfers/foreign exchange, lending, payments, aggregation, and investments.

Foreign Exchange:

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Why Now? There are multiple factors accelerating the rate of change and driving the growth of fintech startups ranging from the current wave of Digital “natives” to new technology, and other factors.

Digital Natives:

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New Technologies:

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So, what happens next? For incumbents, fear not since banks have massive scale, trusted brands, lots of data, big balance sheets, a physical network, lots of customers and in many cases, an appetite to change (as seen in deals such as the UBS/SigFig partnership, acquisitions, and accelerators, such as the FinTech Innovation Lab).

Meanwhile, the stumbles over the last year by LendingClub, OnDeck, Avant and Prosper show that the startups have plenty to learn as we look ahead to 2018.

So, where to next?

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Note: This is an abbreviated version of a longer presentation.

About the Author

Julian Levy is the founder of Ayarma that provides a range of advisory and technology due-diligence services to corporate development teams, as well as venture capital and private equity firms. Earlier he was an executive in residence at Index Ventures where he focused on enterprise technology and advised Key Capital AG on its investments in technology, infrastructure, applications leveraging machine learning and security.

Julian ran Morgan Stanley’s Technology Business Development function across EMEA and Asia after working in Equity Research for Merrill Lynch’s Equity Research team. Previously he led R&D for Merrill Lynch’s technology group in London after starting his career in engineering roles with startups, Credit Suisse and Merrill Lynch.



Q&A: RealtyMogul CEO Jilliene Helman



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Q&A with Jilliene Helman, CEO of and Michael Halloran, Publisher of The FinTech Blog

MH: What’s in one sentence?

JH: is an online real estate investing marketplace that offers individuals access to commercial real estate transactions through private offerings and an online real estate investment trust (REIT).


RM_Logo_Stacked_R_BlackMH: What can you tell me about your REIT offering?

JH: In 2016, we launched of our first commercial real estate investment trust, MogulREIT I. A REIT is a company that owns or finances real estate.

REITs give their investors the opportunity to participate in large-scale real estate transactions by purchasing shares of the company that owns or finances them. REIT Investors can enjoy regular income, potential capital appreciation, and diversification across geographies, property types, and investment types.

The launch of the REIT allowed us to continue to leverage our technology, experience, data and access to transactions to the benefit of our investors.

With a minimum investment amount of $1,000, the REIT’s primary investment objective is to pay attractive and consistent monthly distributions, to preserve and protect principal, and to offer investors a more balanced and diversified pool of commercial real estate assets nationwide.

MH: What kinds of fees do you charge for your REIT?


JH: Our REIT is a non-traded REIT, which means it is not traded on any stock exchange. Technology has enabled the removal of the middleman and, with it, the average upfront sales commissions of 7%.

MogulREIT I has no upfront selling commissions. And, where traditional non-traded REITs also include an additional 8% in organization and offering costs, MogulREIT I’s costs are significantly less. We charge 3% in combined commissions and upfront costs for MogulREIT I vs. 15%** with similar investments.

Recently, we announced that we can accept investments from self-directed Individual Retirement Accounts (SDIRAs) into our REIT and allow investors to automatically invest their dividends. This provides the possibility to compound returns and makes the REIT even more investor friendly.

Regulation will be key to the development of crowdfunding

MH: It seems like a lot of exciting changes, but for those who aren’t as familiar with, can you summarize how your business works?

JH: With our platform, the investing process is simple and can be done completely online. Investors can browse opportunities and filter by investment type, property or location. Once investors identify a transaction they have an interest in, they can review the entire diligence package and complete the entire transaction online.


MH: Some recent talk in FinTech has been on the new, limited charter “fintech” banking licenses announced recently. as I understand it was enabled by the JOBS Act, correct?

JH: Yes, the JOBS Act, signed into law in 2012, is what gave this space a push and made it all possible. Ever since, there have been many additional regulatory changes to real estate crowdfunding – further proving that the landscape is constantly developing.

Most recently, we saw changes that allowed non-accredited investors to invest in the deals that used to only be available to accredited investors. This may sound like great progress, but there’s still much more to be done.

Regulation will be key to the development of crowdfunding and it is our hope that we will see the SEC and FINRA continue to create new regulations that are more suited to how we conduct business on the internet today but still protect investors.


MH: Good luck presenting at LendIt USA 2017 and thank you for helping advance the debate and promote the role that FinTech can play in real estate finance.

JH: Thanks for letting us share our story with the potential investors and borrowers and those who follow developments in FinTech.

Jilliene Helman is the CEO and Founder of, responsible for overseeing the strategic direction and operation of the business. She is a Certified Wealth Strategist and holds Series 7, 24 and 63 licenses. Previously, she was a Vice President at Union Bank, a unit of one Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ. She has underwritten over $5 billion of real estate and holds a degree in Business Administration from Georgetown University.

Michael Halloran is the Publisher of The FinTech Blog but spends most waking hours as Head of Business Development and Partnerships for MaxMyInterest where he is responsible for the growth of the Max For Advisors program, a solution for financial advisors and their clients to earn a higher yield on cash, obtain broader FDIC coverage and automatically earn more as banks increase their rates. Previously, Michael was with Morgan Stanley where he led its strategic partnership team for the global wealth management group. He was a BA from Brown University and MBA from London Business School.


Interested in seeing Jilliene Helman speak at LendIt USA 2017? It’s not too late to register for tickets. Readers of The FinTech Blog can obtain a discount of 15% by using code FBLOG17USA when they sign up!

** A 2012 study by the Securities Litigation and Consulting Group found a mean selling commission of 7% and organization and offering expenses of 15% among the offerings it reviewed.


LendIt USA 2017



Dear Readers,

The FinTech Blog is delighted to be a Media Partner for the upcoming LendIt USA event, taking place on March 6-7 at the Javits Center in New York City.

We’re very excited to be part of the world’s biggest show in lending and fintech and encourage you to attend if you have not already registered.

As a LendIt USA media partner, we are offering readers an exclusive discount on LendIt USA 2017 passes. Use promo code FBLOG17USA to receive a 15% discount.


LendIt USA connects more than 5,000 attendees from over 40 countries who gather to share ideas, network and learn the latest in all things lending and fintech.

With eight tracks of content, including The Fintech Universe and Innovation in Lending, as well as the annual PitchIt @ LendIt startup competition, there truly is something for everyone.

Also new to 2017 is the first annual LendIt Industry Awards evening, celebrating outstanding achievement in lending and fintech.

Confirmed speakers include:

  • Richard Cordray, Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  • Brian Walter, Global Industry Leader, IBM Watson Group
  • Harit Talwar, CEO, Marcus by Goldman Sachs
  • Thomas Curry, Comptroller of the Currency
  • Patrick McHenry, Congressman, United States Congress
  • Andrea Jung, President and CEO, Grameen America

Join The FinTech Blog at LendIt USA to catch up on the latest industry trends, learn from market leaders and form key business alliances and much more.

And remember – you can now save 15% with the VIP code FBLOG17USA.

LendIt is all about connecting the online lending and fintech communities. With 350+ speakers, 2400 companies, and 1000+ investors, you can’t afford to miss it! We look forward to seeing you there.


The FinTech Blog Team

Success Story: Stash


After a break focused on hitting a few key milestones in my role at a FinTech startup, I’m back to share thoughts on FinTech for 2017 and one exciting startup in particular.

2017 vs. 2016

As my first post in 2017, let’s first look back at what I predicted for 2016: I expected a year of consolidation, which proved the case with Lending Club and layoffs at firms like Avant and Prosper and the recent capitulation at Betterment.

But consolidation isn’t always such a bad thing. In many ways, the category is doing well with Stripe adding growth capital at double the private valuation (now $10B).

Betterment Breaks Down

But first, it’s worth reviewing some recent big news from Betterment.

Betterment built a brand and a reputation for innovation, but I grew worried as gurus such as Michael Kitces pointed out the challenges to growth, high CAC and difficult to ever get to a breakeven level of scale ($40-50B AUM).


Last week, Betterment finally “blinked” at conceded it couldn’t succeed as a so-called digital wealth management company (or roboadvisor).

Nerd’s Eye View, the best blog for independent financial advisors, has great insight worth reading about Betterment, but for this first post of 2017, I’d like to focus on Stash.

Stash Springs Forward

I’ve been following a FinTech startup, Stash, which recently announced a breathtaking $25M Series B, less than a year after raising a $9M Series A round from a group of investors including a fund co-founded by Peter Thiel.

Customers choose where to invest their money, starting with as little as $5, and receive ongoing guidance. Based in New York, Stash was started in February 2015 by Wall Street veterans Brandon Krieg and Ed Robinson.


For those who don’t know them, Stash seeks to serve a new generation of investors by providing wider access to investments to less affluent investors.

I spoke with Ed intending to write about them for Money 20/20, but I’m glad I waited given its big funding round news in Q4.

Underserved Market = Competitive White Space

Stash has hit upon an underserved market with a timely and innovative offering that’s winning customers quickly. With 150,000 clients by mid-2016 after launching in 2015, Stash is well on its way to helping the underserved to invest.

Robinson came from an institutional background but has the energy of a startup CEO. He told me, “I want to be the wave of change coming to finance and serve people who are not served and new to investing.”

He’s passionate about investor education. Although Stash seeks those “who’ve never invested before or might be intimidated by investing” to invest is starting off with ridiculously low balances for those might be earning $30K or less, its goal is to grow by educating clients and helping them succeed.


complianceRobinson told me Stash was not at all put off by becoming regulated, which is surprising since a lot of FinTech firms take pains to avoid it. Smart decision by Stash.

Stash, in fact, decided early on to become a Registered Investment Adviser (RIA).


How Did Stash Grow So Rapidly?

Simple: By targeting an underserved market who can commit only to $5 minimum to get started. Stash also makes investing intuitive by offering groups of ETF’s that are “as personal as you”, such as Clean & Green or The Techie.


From a marketing standpoint, Stash has been smart at relationship marketing and word-of-mouth. Stash uses offers, such as three months fee and referral bonuses.

They do spend a fair bit on marketing which runs the gamut from online advertising, social media (e.g. Facebook), affiliate marketing, and content marketing.

From here, Stash plans to have clients move up a ladder expanding from its core product of ETFs and low pricing of $1/month to a suite of products, coupled with higher balances.

Check out Stash’s website or download its app to learn more about its mission of serving a more diverse group of investors, bringing some fun and lack of pretense to the world, as part of their mission of serving the next generation of investors.




Finovate: What You Missed


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By Gary Zimmerman, Founder & CEO, MaxMyInterest

The annual Finovate Fall conference began on September 8th at New York City’s midtown Hilton hotel. Greg Palmer, VP at Finovate, kicked off the festivities, noting that Finovate began 10 years ago – in a basement room with poor wifi.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-10-28-15-pmInitial presenters in 2006 included and Andera, both of which have since been acquired.

Many presenters at Finovate were later acquired, and it’s logical for FinTech to see considerable M&A activity, given the synergies of combining the scale of banks’ customer bases with new revenue opportunities from innovation.

The Finovate 2016 presentations included multiple apps to help banks go digital, as well as other products that weren’t specific to banking or finance but could be employed by banks.

The kick off presenter Bluescape demonstrated visual collaboration software that provides an infinite digital canvas across which employees from multiple geographies can work together in real-time to prepare a product and marketing plan.  Their platform was beautifully executed and could be used for any marketing campaign.  Like many that day, this company is more “tech” than “fin.”

Similarly impressive (but also more tech than fin) was MAPD, a big data analytics company that can crunch billions of rows of data in real-time by leveraging the power of GPU chips, historically used for processing video.  The speed at which they were able to conduct live analysis on 1.2 billion rows of NYC taxi ride data was truly impressive.


The highlight of the morning session was Sindeo, a streamlined online mortgage application experience. They claim 3x higher customer satisfaction scores than the national banks, putting them in the category of brands like Apple and Zappos.

Their demo highlighted a tech-driven, intuitive user interface with seamless back-end integrations.  The mortgage application process was quick and clean, and highly transparent.

Most impressive was its view that as a mortgage provider, they have a fiduciary responsibility to give unbiased advice, a view that resonated with me given our focus at MaxMyInterest on doing what’s best for the customer in a highly-transparent fashion.


In the afternoon session, an early stage company called Bankjoy conducted a live demo of an Amazon Alexa plugin that they built in one afternoon “last Sunday” that enabled a user to check balances, pay bills and send funds to a friend with just a few spoken commands.  Alexa was most polite and dispatched the transfers and payments with ease.

I was able to spend some time with Joe Salesky, an experienced entrepreneur who is now running CRM Next that goes beyond a typical CRM system.

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-10-33-38-pmTheir software is designed to integrate many of the back-office functions that a teller or customer service representative might complete into a streamlined interface. This eliminates screen-hopping so that customer service reps can complete tasks from a single screen through one-click automations that orchestrate processes across multiple back-end systems.

Joe claims that this can reduce the time involved in completing common tasks by up to 90%, through bidirectional integrations into more than 100 back-end systems.

Joe made the point that in the not-too-distant future, 50% of bank employees will be Millennials, who expect an intuitive UX.  For all the focus on creating beautiful user experiences on the front end, CRM Next is tackling that worthy goal on the back end.  They  have been growing quickly internationally and just set their sights set on the U.S. market.


As always, Finovate drew a great crowd of presenting companies, investors, journalists and bank executives from around the world – with their unique, strictly enforced seven minute live demo format.

The seven minute time limit was in fact imposed after Joe’s inaugural presentation at Finovate in 2007, when his demo ran more than 10 minutes.

That’s it, my time is up.

Q&A with CEO of Klarna

The following is a Q&A between Sebastian Siemiatkowski, Co-Founder and CEO of Klarna and Michael Halloran of The FinTech Blog.

MH: How was the business started for those who don’t know Klarna’s story?

SS: Klarna was founded by three classmates including myself from Stockholm who wanted to make it safer and easier to shop online.

The checkout process at the time was so complicated, and packed with lots of frustrating steps that led to people dropping out and not completing their purchases.

There has got to be an easier way, we thought. So without any prior fintech experience, we founded the company and joined an incubator. With a little bit of seed money from an angel investor, they managed to build a first version of the product and have grown to become one of the world’s largest and fastest growing payments companies.


In 2011, Sequoia Capital invested in Klarna and the company has been on an international expansion quest since then. Today, Klarna has operations in 18 countries and launched in the US late last year. More than 65,000 merchants partner with Klarna, and close to 50 million users have used the service.

MH: Tell me about decision to come to the US

SS: Klarna has always grown together with the merchants that use our services, and the decision to expand beyond Sweden came after merchants asking us to do so.

The same is true with the US, where many European merchants asked to have the same integration in the US, and US merchants asked for help with solving payments in Europe.

The US ecommerce market is huge and presents major growth opportunities for Klarna.

MH: Any lessons learned in terms of growing in so many new markets?

We’ve made mistakes in every single new market we’ve gone to, but we learn and hopefully do not repeat the mistakes. Every market is unique in the regulatory requirements, the consumers preferences and the merchant setups.

And the key lesson is that you can’t take what works in one market and just assume it’s going to work in the next. We need to tailor our product to every new market.

MH: Tell me about today’s big news you’re announcing. The Wall Street Journal calls you the company that wants you to get rid of your credit card – but you’re actually launching your first US credit product.

SS: Yes. Today, we are excited to announce the launch of Klarna’s real-time consumer financing solution for the US e-commerce market.

Klarna is launching our flexible solution together with leading players in ecommerce, like BigCommerce, Shopify, Magento, Cybersource, Demandware and OpenCart.

Signing up to finance a purchase over time, historically, has been optimized primarily for an offline environment. The online equivalent, however, has often been an ordeal.

For online consumers wishing to finance a purchase, redirects to other websites, lengthy forms, unclear information and unnecessary complexity are often the norm.

Klarna’s solution takes users less than a minute (all done on the merchant’s site!):

  1. Add what you’d like to buy to the cart.
  2. Choose Klarna at the checkout to pay over time.
  3. Enter basic top of mind information.
  4. Know instantly if you’re approved.
  5. Complete the purchase.

You can check out a video on this at

MH: It’s pretty exiting news. 
You seemed poised to grow and I saw you’re looking to hire a Head of Product in the U.S. Why the decision to be based in Ohio?

SS: As naive Swedes we would naturally have looked at SF or NYC to start with. But it turns out that the US is more than that, and thankfully our US team pointed us to alternatives.

Columbus was great for many reasons, but primarily because the talent pool is both deep and wide with Ohio State and lots of financial institutions having their offices there.

There are a lot of great merchants and we have a great partnership with the State and City. We’re about 100 people in the US right now and the vast majority are in Columbus.


Klarna’s HQ in Stockholm

MH: Can you say more about your people and culture, since our readers are often looking for new opportunities in FinTech?

SS: Engineering is our biggest division globally, but the majority of that team is based in Stockholm. We also have a big hub in Tel Aviv.

In the US, we’re right now more focused on the operational side of the business, although we do have a small product, engineering and UX team in Columbus. Klarna is at the core a product driven organisation and the role of UX/Design can’t be overstated. It affects everything we do, and our product team work together with all parts of the business.

MH: What was key to your growth, beyond innovation re: no login and password?

SS: We have one of the best regulatory and compliance teams in the world and that has been instrumental to our success. To give an example, Klarna will be the only company in the world to be able to do issuing globally – and that’s both a Product and compliance achievement.

MH: Will Klarna go to China?

SS: Nope. US & other parts of Asia are better opportunities for us, with their old and slow moving banking system. Alipay is too good. They haven’t yet cracked the European and Global markets.We hope to be able to work together with them to support that growth.

MH: What will impact of Brexit be on Klarna and FinTech in Europe?

SS: Brexit is a terribly sad thing in total, and it increases complexity for merchants and consumers across Europe. For Klarna, ironically, that’s actually a good thing, because we can help merchants and consumers solve that complexity.


MH: From a technical standpoint, what’s Klarna view on Erlang vs Python or Node.Js? 

SS: We started Klarna on Erlang, but are already working with the other frameworks you mentioned and believe they can co-exist.

MH: What’s Klarna’s take on blockchain?

SS: We’re following closely, and it will have fundamental implications on not just finance and payments but broader areas as well. But it’s not quite there yet.

MH: Looking ahead, what’s your point of view on psd2/xs2a?

SS: PSD2 will be as fundamentally important to payments in Europe as Apple’s decision to open up their app ecosystem to third party developers. It will herald a wave of new innovation to European consumers.

MH: Thanks for sharing an update on Klarna and its mission to transfer an industry that’s been slow-moving with some of your fans who read The FinTech Blog.

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Max: Multi-Bank Cash

Mac Air and Iphone for print

In addition to publishing The FinTech Blog, I lead Partnerships and Business Development at MaxMyInterest, an award-winning FinTech firm that provides a way for high net-worth individuals and their advisors to earn dramatically more on cash.

We offer a service called MAX that combines a multi-bank solution with higher yield than brick-and-mortar banks, brokerage accounts or money market funds – with broader FDIC insurance protection, and features to optimize your cash.

max-logo-registeredI’ve seen first-hand the huge role that cash plays in the multi-trillion dollar wealth management business from working in online banking and wealth management. Max is smart for clients with substantial cash – and a great product for financial advisors, who have lacked any form of compelling solution for clients seeking a better return on cash.

After the one-time setup, Max continuously monitors interest rates to make sure you’re always earning a competitive yield. It operates much like how family offices manage cash for ultra high net worth families, but is available to a broader demographic.

Max helps you manage a portfolio of online bank accounts, linked to your own existing checking/brokerage account so you don’t need to visit multiple websites to both see and manage a combined balance across multiple banks.

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With Max, funds are “waterfalled” across your accounts, so cash is always earning the highest rates.

Since Max is not a bank – and never takes custody of your funds – your money is always kept safe in your own bank accounts, held in your own name, to which you have direct access at all times.

As part of the service, Max includes a “rate following” feature, whereby if a bank were to either raise or lower its rates, your funds automatically move to the higher payer bank, while keeping you under the FDIC insurance limit.

Another benefit is the automatic cash sweep. To help prevent inadvertent build up of cash in accounts paying very little interest, Max includes an automatic cash sweep that sends cash above a target account balance to higher-interest accounts (and topping up your checking account, if your account falls below a threshold you set).

Some banks and brokerage firms offer a sweep, but sweep from one account to another at the same financial institution, and often to money market funds that don’t pay much.

Higher Yields with Lower Risk

How is Max able to deliver yield that is 10x greater than most bank accounts, and 50-100x greater than most brokerage accounts? By leveraging the costs savings associated with online banking. Yet the risk is actually lower, since the funds are FDIC insured and often spread across multiple banks vs. concentrated at a single institution.

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The yield benefit is substantial, and Max provides reporting tools to see how well you’re doing including what you’re earning versus what you might have earned at your bank.

Max also has Consolidated Tax Reporting, so you don’t need to worry about looking for your 1099-INT statements, despite having multiple banks.

Max includes time-saving features such as Intelligent Fund Transfers, so you can specify an amount to move out of your Max account, without having to know which bank:  Max is smart. It draws from your lowest earning bank account first, and does the reverse as any  funds are deposited, filling up to the FDIC limit.

Do you need a multi-bank account?

For those with little cash, Max offers features that may not make sense for its fees. Max is a smart answer for advisors to give to their clients with substantial cash. Some advisors, especially those who are not fiduciaries (or don’t focus on client’s best interest) may be tempted to leave clients in money market funds or not ask about held away cash.

Whether held away or in the brokerage account, the research shows that HNWI’s in the U.S. prefer to hold cash at significant levels, since cash drag is less of a concern given their overall financial picture, or a preference for cash as ‘dry powder’, hedging or for other reasons, such as capital calls.

Percent Cash and Yield Advantage

Max members are typically business owners, doctors or dentists, technologists, lawyers, startup founders or early employees, investment bankers, engineers and others with significant cash. While Max is open to everyone and there is no minimum balance requirement, Max members tend to hold between $50,000 and $5,000,000 in cash.

The individual FDIC insurance limit is $250,000, so Max helps people obtain broader FDIC insurance coverage by opening accounts at multiple banks and spreading funds across these accounts. Max also supports individual, joint as well as revocable trust accounts.

Max is “set it and forget it” service that makes money for you while you sleep.

Helping Advisors in a Low Yield World

One reason I joined Max was its focus on financial advisors. Many FinTech startups focus on competing for eyeballs in highly fragmented markets by giving away B2C services for free and then finding other ways to ‘monetize’ their customers, or chase business in the crowded marketplace lending or alternative lending category.

In wealth management, it’s not always about cost, and investors value their privacy and don’t want to be ‘monetized.’ I also think advisors play a key and growing role for clients with substantial investments.

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Since Max is capable of delivering an extra 0.90% of yield on cash, that’s equivalent to helping investors earn an extra 0.21% across their entire portfolios.

We’re glad to bring Max to forward-thinking advisors looking for creative solutions for their clients. Many clients are looking for smarter ways to get a better yield on their cash, and Max is a compelling solution that can boost a client’s returns on all their holdings – inclusive of cash – while enabling an advisor to provide more holistic advice.

The Future

Max is now compatible with accounts at 15 of the nation’s largest banks and brokerage firms, integrates with advisor CRM systems and, soon, portfolio accounting systems.

In the future, investors will insist on making the most of their cash in the bank. According to the RBC/Capgemini World Wealth Report, high net worth households currently keep 23.7% of their holdings in cash.

Max California


Advisors who already use Max to help their clients earn higher yield are doing their clients a great service. It won’t be long before all advisors realize that cash, the most-often-overlooked asset class, is worthy of greater attention.


Max is a new and exiting player plus an emerging aspirational brand within the upper end of financial services landscape, and offers a glimpse of future of financial services as a multi-bank world.

While only growing by word-of-mouth and referrals from advisors, individuals can sign up for Max by speaking to their advisor or via Max website at