The Silicon Review
“Our goal is to close the wealth and advice gap and level the playing field for the next generation.”
Dubbed as ‘the money app for your kids’ future’, UNest is democratizing access to smart financial solutions for all families. Launched just three years ago, the company is at the forefront of revolutionizing the FinTech space.
To highlight and further understand what UNest stands for and seeks to explore in this segment, I sat down with Ksenia Yudina (founder), who serves as the company’s Chief Executive Officer.
Below is an excerpt.
Q. Please describe UNest’s mission and product?
UNest’s mission is to help parents build a better future for their kids by democratizing access to simple, affordable financial solutions. We believe that every parent, regardless of income or background, should be able to provide their children with a secure financial future.
We become a trusted partner to parents from the moment their child is born and throughout all life stages. UNest, as the money app for your kids’ future, makes it easier than ever to open a tax-advantaged investment and saving account to build a healthy nest egg for children. Anyone with a smartphone can get started in just five minutes, with no paperwork required.
Q. What are your key features? Please share an overview.
UNest vital features include access to a tax-advantaged investment account for kids that parents can open in less than five minutes, a gifting feature that allows friends and family to contribute to the child’s account for birthdays and other special occasions. AND UNest Rewards that provides parents an easy way to receive financial rewards from our brand partners.
In addition, UNest offers UNest Learn, an educational component that provides money tips around financial topics like credit cards, debt, investing, and life insurance.
All members contribute money each month into one of five advisor-guided investment portfolios based on their risk tolerance and time horizon. Portfolios consist of low-cost Vanguard funds and are rebalanced over time to become more conservative as the child ages and approaches college.
Q. How unique is UNest from competitors offering similar services?
UNest is distinguished by its singular focus on helping parents of young kids save and invest. For most UNest members, we are the first serious effort they have made to secure a solid financial future for their families. Our ability to build a deep level of trust and confidence with our members positions us perfectly to offer additional financial resources as families go through each key life stage.
In contrast to other financial solutions focused on making it easy to spend, we prioritize saving and good financial habits. This is supported by actionable financial literacy resources and a uniquely structured combination of rewards and gifting that help parents easily add valuable additional dollars into their child’s account.
Q. Can you provide us with one or two case studies describing the challenges parents were facing and how your solutions helped them overcome those challenges?
While I worked at Capital Group/American Funds helping wealthy individuals with financial advice, I realized saving for kids is a parents’ number one priority and that existing solutions are complex and expensive. I saw other financial advisors often push costly solutions that were poorly aligned with what parents needed. Meanwhile, if parents did want to open a college savings account for their kids, it required pages of complex paperwork at both ends.
Then I was also receiving many questions from my friends who graduated from top schools with large amounts of student debt and were looking for easy solutions to start saving for their kids’ college education. They were overwhelmed by the number of options, complex investing and tax implications, the long process of opening the account, and the complexities of managing it after the account was open. They all gave examples of how an app like Robinhood helped them trade, Venmo sends money, and Amazon shop without any effort. However, they struggled to find a similar solution to satisfy their number one priority, saving for their young children.
UNest has solved all of these problems by providing a mobile-first, paperless, affordable solution that helps parents open the account in five minutes, recommends the right portfolio option, and allows managing the account from parents’ fingertips. With UNest, parents of all income levels and financial backgrounds can easily access the right tool to save and invest for their children without meeting with a financial advisor.
Q. Forming and managing innovation teams is overwhelming. That said, how do you keep your decision-makers focused?
As an early-stage company, we are well aware that there is little margin for error. We must execute at a very high level to survive and thrive. To ensure we are performing as a team, we have built a culture of accountability. We believe 360 Feedback is essential for the growth of our company and employees. Our focus on 360 Feedback helps us accomplish the following: Increase self-awareness, raise accountability, clarify behaviors, promote dialogue, measure our ‘how’, and improve working relationships.
We understand that, as a startup, change is inevitable. As a result, we stay lean and flexible; if a goal no longer aligns with our mission, we kill it and move on. Committed goals are our committed objectives, such as sales and revenue, and achieved in full (100 percent) within a set time frame. The key is to ensure we have authentic communication aimed at driving performance and bidirectional feedback to evaluate progress and guide future improvement. When anyone on the team accomplishes a goal, we recognize their efforts and celebrate the collective team win.
Q. Could you describe your typical management style and the type of employee that works well with you?
At UNest, we built a culture of diversity and inclusion, and we encourage employees to take time off and recharge when necessary. Our core team of 20 consists of a 60/40 male-female split, with our team coming from three continents and various ethnic/cultural backgrounds. Everyone on the UNest team is committed to our mission of helping parents build a better future for their kids by providing guidance and access to cost-effective financial solutions.
Diversity is our strength; it has helped us attract customers from all 50 states. Building UNest was an incredibly complex task that required participation from industry thought leaders spanning across three continents. Today, we have 20 employees from leading and relevant companies like Acorns, Marqeta, Union Bank, J.P. Morgan, and Capital Group. We have been covered extensively by Forbes, WSJ, Business Insider, NY Times, U.S. News & World Report, and TechCrunch. Maintaining our company’s culture as we grow is a focus, and I take an active role in interviewing every new hire for the company and getting to know their goals.
The type of employee that works well with me is hardworking, reliable, and results-oriented. My role as a leader is always to provide support and guidance where needed, but most people that join UNest are talented and have deep domain expertise in their respective areas.
Acknowledging a team member’s accomplishments and life milestones is also an essential part of our culture. Our leadership team recently hosted a baby shower for our head of compliance. Holiday parties and team-building sessions are also commonplace. Our strong mission-driven culture and tremendous growth have helped UNest attract notable investors like Anthos Capital, Tim Draper, Northwestern Mutual, and NBA All-Star Baron Davis.
Q. Where do you stand as a company in the current market landscape? And what are you doing to stay ahead of the curve?
We are tapping into a largely underserved market of young parents. We focus on the top priority of virtually all young families and their kids. UNest plays a fundamental role in helping families build a solid financial future for their kids, starting the moment they are born and then helping them throughout every stage of their life.
UNest is distinguished from other FinTechs through its emphasis on saving and investing rather than spending. Our mission is to help families develop prudent financial habits. With this in mind, we don’t incentivize or encourage our members to spend or trade frivolously.
UNest is also differentiated through its approach to financial literacy. Rather than ‘educate’ about money, we offer our families a direct path to taking control of their finances while helping parents and their kids become more fluent and confident with their money. As part of this, we recently launched UNest Learn, an educational resource integrated into the app. It’s designed to answer money questions and help parents and kids make intelligent financial decisions. We don’t want any parent or child to feel like they are on this journey alone. UNest will be there to help them every step of the way.
Q. What new endeavors is your company currently undertaking?
We just became a Broker/Dealer, which is an important milestone for a Fintech company. Importantly, we signed a partnership agreement with PayPal and are going through the integration process to allow our members to connect their bank seamlessly via PayPal.
In addition, we recently acquired another company called KidFund to become a leader in the family savings and investing space. This acquisition added 30,000 users to our platform and enabled our first partnership with a credit union.
The acquisition of Kidfund will further accelerate UNest’s growth and deepen the company’s goal to simplify and streamline how parents save and invest for their kids’ future. Kidfund has focused on helping credit unions and other organizations strengthen the financial literacy resources and services they offer to their members. The integration will deepen UNest’s involvement with credit unions and other financial institutions.
Q. How do you plan to transform your company into a future that is unfolding before you?
At UNest, we are quickly asserting a market leadership position for financial solutions targeted at young parents. We aim to consolidate and extend this by adding new products and channels, both domestically and internationally.
Recent product updates were focused on supporting our families through financial literacy with UNest Learn. By aligning our products with financial literacy tools, we provide a direct and actionable path our families use to make intelligent financial decisions.
UNest’s growth is also being achieved through rapidly expanding programs like UNest Rewards. Through this program, parents earn rewards for the kid’s savings account when they sign up for and shop with over 100 national brands. These brands include Disney+, DoorDash, Nike, and HavenLife. The adoption rates for this program have exceeded expectations, and its popularity grows with each new brand we add.
Gifting has been another highly successful area that we recently further refined, making it easier than ever before for parents to contribute to a child’s account. We’re also planning to release UNest Legacy in the coming months, allowing parents to invest in individual stocks and cryptocurrency.
Q. Is there anything else you want us to highlight that we might have missed?
Only a few families have access to smart savings, and investment products and resources are criminal. It has led to $1.7 trillion in student debt. The effect of this is crippling for countless families. We created UNest because we wanted all parents, regardless of income or background, to build a better future for their children. Through our ground-breaking app, we democratize access to financial solutions that have typically only been available to a select few. Our goal is to close the wealth and advice gap and level the playing field for the next generation.
Ksenia Yudina | CEO
Ksenia Yudina, CFA, founder, serves as the Chief Executive Officer of UNest. Prior to founding UNest, Ksenia spent over a decade working in financial services, where she realized that the industry failed to recognize that parents’ number one priority is saving for their children. She decided to create a simple, affordable financial solution accessible to all families.
Ksenia raised a Series-A amid the pandemic from leading VCs, including Northwestern Mutual, Anthos Capital, The Artemis Fund, Group 11, Draper Dragon, Unlock, NBA All-Star Baron Davis, and Vested Ventures. She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, TechCrunch and has appeared on CNBC and Cheddar. She was named to InvestmentNews’ 40 Under 40 list.
She holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management and is a CFA charter holder.