The Silicon Review
“We demystify the previously complex process of setting up savings & investment accounts for your child’s education and other essential life stages with a paperless approach that takes less than five minutes to set up.”
UNest, an SEC-registered investment advisor, helps families save for college by investing and managing funds in The Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) accounts. The company’s intuitive and easy-to-use mobile app establishes and manages a tax-free college fund for children. The app makes it easy to set up recurring monthly contributions and to receive gifts from family and friends. UNest rewards allow brands like Disney to contribute to your child’s account as well!
The company is based in North Hollywood, California.
Interview Excerpt: Ksenia Yudina
Q. What inspired you to start UNest? Brief us about the journey so far.
The cost of education keeps going up, and student debt just reached $1.7 trillion. I graduated from UCLA Anderson with a massive student loan. I witnessed many families struggling to meet the cost of education. When I started working at Capital Group/American Funds, the largest provider of 529 college savings plans in the country, I realized that countless families did not have access to a convenient way of saving and investing for their children’s future. Plus, when my friends asked me to help them plan financially for their kids’ future education, I would send them a 15-page application form. They were seriously put off by having to do the paperwork, FedEx the documents around, etc. They were using apps like Venmo and Robinhood, so filling out long forms was alien to them. I realized that this was a category that was prime for disruption with technology. It was tough to see how a large financial institution could move quickly enough to solve the problem, so I decided to do it myself.
Q. U-Nest establishes and manages a tax-free college fund for children. Highly promising as it sounds, how effectively do you address parents’ concerns per this?
UNest demystifies the previously complex process of setting up savings plans for education and other essential life stages with a paperless approach that takes only five minutes to set up. It also includes a simple gifting feature that makes it easy for family and friends to contribute to a child’s UNest account. This feature has delighted our parents, who use it to ask friends and family to contribute to helping their children achieve their dreams rather than receiving a toy that will most likely be played with once and never seen again.
The funds saved in the UNest Investment Account for Kids can be used for any purpose related to the child. This is in contrast to 529 accounts that can be used for education exclusively. The UNest app builds a sustainable, advisor-guided investment plan that makes it easy for parents to save for their children’s future. UNest customers can open an account with as little as $25 and an average deposit of $100. UNest charges a $3 advisory fee per-child, per-month, which is far more affordable than using a traditional financial advisor. Unlike a financial advisor, UNest actively educates users via its app, website, and blog. The UNest Investment Account for Kids app also includes unique features like gifting and rewards. The app and investment account is simple to set up and manage and uses sophisticated, time-tested strategies that automatically work on a parent’s behalf. As mentioned above, it just takes five minutes to set up an ongoing, prudent investment plan for your kid’s future. The portfolio adjusts as the market changes.
The UNest Investment Account for Kids allows parents to ‘set and forget’ and let the tech do the work as you invest early with compounding returns that build your kid’s future. The company’s low-cost, diversified portfolio allocation strategy helps kids achieve their dreams.
Q. Could you describe your typical management style and the type of employee that works well with you?
Working at UNest is like being part of a family. We enjoy spending time with each other, supporting one another, but given our status as a startup, we are well aware that we must execute at a very high level because there is little margin for error. To ensure we are performing well as a team, we have built a culture of accountability. We believe 360 Feedback is essential for the growth of our company and employees.
What differentiates UNest from numerous other startups trying to disrupt fintech is that we all buy into our mission. We link goals to our team’s broader mission of helping parents build a better future for their kids by democratizing access to simple, cost-effective financial solutions.
Alignment amongst our team with that mission and clarity throughout the organization is an area of focus. We outline goals that are concise, specific, and measurable. And completion of goals must connect with our broader mission. If not, we are off base with our goals. Mission and vision provide the direction for where we need to go. Our internal goals are the roadmap for how we plan on accomplishing that vision.
Maintaining focus is critically important to our success as an organization. We have learned that too many objectives can blur our focus on what counts or distracts us into chasing the next shiny thing. To avoid this trap, we set goals from the bottom up. Employees are encouraged to create their own goals while also having specific performance goals outlined. Collaborative goal-setting is vital to our culture of personal and team accountability. Connecting every employee’s goal with how their work helps UNest accomplish its mission is essential to our success.
Q. About your plans, where do you see your company a couple of years from now?
UNest is the leading provider of financial planning, savings, and investment tools for parents to help their children achieve their dreams. Over the next few years, we will increase our leadership position by launching new products and services aligned with our vision of democratizing access to saving and investing solutions for parents. Since launching in early 2020, UNest has experienced growth levels that place it as one of the fastest-growing fintech apps of all time. The UNest app is the first to focus tightly on young parents’ financial priorities, namely to save for their children’s future. Parents using UNest have the flexibility to save for all the important life stages that their children will experience, including their college education, their first car, an apartment, or their wedding. UNest supersedes and extends well beyond the limitations of existing parent-focused solutions such as 529s and traditional savings accounts. We look forward to continuing our incredible growth and helping parents everywhere create a better future for their children.
The Visionary Leader Behind the Success of UNest
Ksenia Yudina, founder, serves as the Chief Executive Officer of UNest. She is an entrepreneur and financial expert with over 10 years of experience in the financial industry. As the founder and CEO of UNest, she has spearheaded the breakthrough fintech solution and raised funding from leading venture capital funds, including Northwestern Mutual, Anthos Capital, The Artemis Fund, Group 11, Draper Dragon, Unlock Ventures, and Vested Ventures. Ms. Yudina has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, New York Times, Forbes, Business Insider, American Banker, Inc. Magazine, USA Today, and US News & World Report. She was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ by Investment News in 2020.
Ms. Yudina received an MBA at UCLA Anderson School of Management and holds a CFA charter.