GoalMine Looks to Level the Investing Field

If starting to invest was more like opening an eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) account rather than trying to file complicated tax returns in Swahili, more people would probably do it.

At least, that’s what the people behind GoalMine are hoping.

With just $25, even beginner investors can start saving for their life goals: buying a house, college for kids, retiring by the age of 50, and so on. The idea for GoalMine was born in 2008 before the financial meltdown; after securing regulatory approvals, building out the platform, and testing the product, GoalMine launched in November 2010. The company is hoping to appeal more to the “investing underserved” – those people who may have direct deposit, and checking accounts, but never dreamed of having a brokerage account or mutual fund. 

“We are America and we have the right to invest on a level playing field, even if we don’t make six figures … It’s about inclusion,” said Rimmy Malhotra, board member, CIO and general manager of GoalMine. “The world of investing … is built purposefully to be confusing, full of jargon, and exclusive. That’s why the Merrill Lynches of the world will tell you ‘you need a broker. You need an adviser. You can’t do this by yourself.’ That’s BS … our customers are not financial experts, but they’re experts in their own lives.”

Come to GoalMine with $25 and a goal – say, to buy a home. GoalMine will ask a series of questions such as: where you want to live, how many bedrooms, etc… to provide an estimate of how much you will need to save. It will then advise you on what steps you can take and what types of accounts or funds to invest in to reach your goal by your time frame– such as an FDIC savings account, or another type of fund. The funds are matched with your goals. Every week or month, GoalMine will withdraw a set amount from your bank account and deposit it into your investments. Investors can invest toward several goals at once – house, college, holiday gifts, vacation. And it doesn’t have to be a big chunk of your paycheck, many GoalMine investors put small amounts – such as $3 - away every day or week. But it adds up over time.

“I think it’s an excellent opportunity for the novice investor to save for important goals,” said Peter Lawrence of Canajoharie, N.Y.

GoalMine users can share their goals on Facebook or other pages allowing friends and family to contribute directly to their goal. GoalMine gift cards will be available in some large retailers early next year, allowing consumers to give a college fund gift card --what Malhotra likened to a modern-day savings fund.

Peter and his wife, Kim, are currently saving for their 7-year-old daughter’s college fund; they also invest in some mutual funds for retirement. “With interest rates for traditional savings accounts, it is something I would love to do with my daughter - a great way to teach her to save,” Lawrence continued. “We currently are saving for Caitlynn’s education, and I think this would be a great way for family members to contribute at special occasions.”

GoalMine is also working on mobile apps for the iPhone and Android to help investors turn everyday spending decisions into investment opportunities.

The “instant investment” app – referred to by GoalMine as “Weight Watchers for Money” is in private beta and expected to be available in three to four months. It allows you to make a pledge, like only spend $10 a week on Starbucks, or brown bag your lunch twice a week.

If your phone is GPS-enabled, it can remind you of your pledge when you’re in a specific place, such as your neighborhood Starbucks (NYSE:SBUX). If you’re walking into Starbucks to get a caffeine fix that would exceed your $10-a-week limit, an alarm will go off on your phone, giving you the option to “invest now” that $4.50 you were about to spend on a grande caffe latte.

You will even be able to program pictures, say, of your kids if saving for their college fund is your goal. That way, whenever you’re about to exceed your set spending limits, a picture of them pops up on your phone as the alarm sounds.

GoalMine is “using behavioral economics, making it simple, making it actionable,” Malhotra said. “There’s a difference in saying, ‘I’m going to put away $100 a month’ and saying, ‘I’m going to skip my latte three days a week. There’s not a lot of pain in any given day.”

The second app, still in development and at least six months away from market, entails GoalMine partnering with major credit card companies and other corporations. Using Starbucks as an example again, in this app, if an investor goes to Starbucks five times a month, the fifth time, if your coffee was $4.50, Starbucks will round up to the nearest dollar and put the remainder into your chosen investment fund. It would ideally work similar to Bank of America’s (NYSE:BAC)“Keep the Change” program, allowing investors to steadily save up, and also encourages customer loyalty to that company. 

Although GoalMine doesn’t disclose how many users have signed up, it said its customers have committed around $15 million in their goals. The company is banking on the hope that its low cost and simplicity will be its biggest selling points.

“Simplicity is our value proposition,” Malhotra said.