Why I founded M1 Finance

Brian Barnes
Brian Barnes March 27, 2017
Why I founded M1 Finance

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t get warm and fuzzy feelings when you think of finance companies. Unless, perhaps, you work at one.

Because traditionally, employees of finance firms often make inordinate amounts of money while supposedly being the steward of other people’s investments. This was the revelation behind the 75-year old book “Where Are the Customers’ Yachts?” named after a character admired the boats of bankers and brokers and then asked the titular question. This paradox still rings true today.

There is a strong feeling among investors that the financial services industry has long been an industry in service of itself. While bank, fund and brokerage firms have sold the promise of expert financial management, investors who lost significant wealth in the credit crisis have chastised Wall Street as the only ones getting rich, even when things go wrong.

The story of M1 Finance is one of frustration with the status quo and the belief that I could create the finance company of the future by taking a different approach:

Rethink personal financial management to design an entirely new set of tools and services, built with the latest technologies.

My journey to create M1 happened in the most unlikely of places: my fifth-grade classroom. Our class was given the assignment to build and manage a virtual stock portfolio, with a small trophy going to whomever made the most fake dollars. I wanted any opportunity to try and beat my friends, and to a 10-year-old kid, winning a trophy sure sounded cool. I excitedly told my parents about the contest and my desire to win. Luckily for me, they had grander ambitions than a vanity prize.

My parents saw this as an opportunity to get me interested in investing and teach me the value of putting my money to work. They opened a real brokerage account in my name and let me help direct decisions in it. There was one key rule: I had to come to the table with thoughtful research on what to buy and why. They made the stakes real, and I was hooked.

Ever since buying my first stock at 10, investing became a hobby and a passion. I loved approaching potential investments as a puzzle, taking in current facts to make predictions about the future. Over time I earned – and lost – real money. The exposure to finance and investing at an early age gave me a fluency with the topic that has paid dividends (sorry, pun intended) over my life.

However, upon landing my first real job after college, I discovered that while I loved investing, I absolutely hated the process.

The reason for my frustration was clear – there were no truly good tools available to manage money.

What I was trying to do seemed relatively basic. I wanted to be able to pick my investments, and have recurring deposits automatically added to those allocations. I hated the idea of idle cash, so I wanted a platform that put all my dollars to work. Unfortunately, the seemingly simple solution just didn’t exist.

Instead, there seemed to be only a few, mediocre options on what to do with my money. I could let it sit in a checking or savings account, and forgo all the potential return. Or I could give it to a money manager. With that choice I might think, like many investors undoubtedly, of the fees that manager would charge me, even if they are only outsourcing my money to another “expert” via mutual funds, with an additional possible layer of fees.

Or, I could do it all myself with an online brokerage, manually calculating every money movement and getting hit with an insane $10 commission every time I clicked a button. And talk about ugly and hard to use: every user interface was needlessly complex and built upon aging, legacy technology.

Here I was, passionate about money management, and I couldn’t find a tool to fit my needs. That’s when I realized that if I was having trouble, everyone else would be as well.

The financial services industry has lacked any meaningful innovation for far too long, and I decided it was time for change.

I gave careful thought to the core principles of what I would consider to be the ideal solution. The interface would be modern, easy to use and intuitive. It would allow as much choice and customization as any one person felt comfortable with, but provide templates for those unsure where to start.

Someone could make their investment selections once and then have their portfolio automatically managed from then on – no one would have to manually manage everything. It would provide me the right amount of information in a digestible way, not overwhelming data sets that provide zero clarity.

This solution would be low-cost and scale perfectly as my money grew on the platform. All of my money, every cent, would be invested how I wanted. Still, my money would be available in a day’s notice if needed. These are the principles we tried to instill in M1’s first product: our automated investing platform, a comprehensive solution that allows nearly anyone to be invested.

And we’re just getting started.

M1 is a company out to change how the world manages money, allowing people from all walks of life to build and easily manage wealth. Along with a handful of like-minded employees we started out to create the absolute best financial product ever available.

We all share the same passionate commitment to transform how everyone saves and invests — and be happy doing it. In our new M1 world, it is no longer necessary to settle for anything less than complete control, nor is it acceptable to compromise your personal financial growth to suit an old and outdated investing model.

In a short period, M1 has grown to almost 20 employees working in our downtown Chicago office. We are all driven by a simple premise: affect people’s lives for the better and help them realize the potential in their hard-earned money. That was something my parents instilled in me every day, providing invaluable financial guidance that essentially started with one simple, but life-changing, homework assignment.

This is the story of M1, and yet it’s only our first chapter. I would love to hear what you think, whether you have tried M1 or not. If you’re frustrated by a financial industry that has refused to evolve and meet the consumer needs of the 21st century, or if you’re just curious to learn more, please let me know or sign up for M1 Finance with the button below.


Thanks, and let’s build the future.

Brian Barnes Signature

Brian Barnes
Founder & CEO, M1 Finance

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