Millennials Are Not Basement-Dwelling Potheads, Says Wealthfront CEO

Rey Mashayekhi
Millennials Are Not Basement-Dwelling Potheads, Says Wealthfront CEO

Contrary to popular belief, millennials are “not all sitting in their basements smoking weed all the time.”

That’s according to Wealthfront co-founder and CEO Andy Rachleff, who was joined by Venmo general manager Amit Jhawar at Fortune’s inaugural Brainstorm Finance conference in Montauk, N.Y. on Wednesday for a discussion on how today’s financial services companies are meeting the needs of their millennial customers.

As Fortune’s Jen Wieczner noted, Wealthfront’s millennial client base has a reputation for not being the most savings-conscious demographic—which would make the automated investment adviser’s recent move to hike the interest rate on its online-only cash savings account to a market-leading 2.51% a somewhat curious one.

But Rachleff was quick to describe the characterization of millennials as basement-dwelling potheads as “a false narrative.”

“They’re actually in the most productive stage of their lives [right now],” Rachleff said of the generation he described as being born between 1980 and 1995. “They’re in the wealth accumulation phase of their lives, and offering the highest [interest] rate makes it a no-brainer to engage with Wealthfront, and that’s worked out exceptionally well for us beyond our wildest expectations.”

As a generation brought up during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, millennials “are a little more wary of financial markets” and “tend to be a little more conservative” than previous generations, according to Rachleff. So Wealthfront found that “leading with an FDIC-insured, high-yield cash account was the best way to engage” with younger customers, to whom the firm is marketing what Rachleff calls a “self-driving money vision.”

Jhawar, meanwhile, gave his thoughts on Facebook’s venture into the world of cryptocurrency via Libra, which predictably has been a hot-button topic in Montauk this week. PayPal, Venmo’s parent, is among the major tech players that have signed on to partner with Facebook on deploying Libra—an interesting development, Wieczner noted, since some have already floated the idea that Libra could be a competitor of Venmo.

“We’re still trying to figure out the charter of Libra, but we’re really interested in the blockchain and technology that, when you start aggregating some of the large players in the space, can simplify financial transactions,” Jhawar said.

Contrary to competing with Facebook’s new coin, Jhawar pointed out that “the nice thing [about] being part of PayPal is that we get to piggyback on anything they do.”

“I don’t think that Venmo will be driving the strategy [with Libra], but I do think we will piggyback on anything we find successful,” he added.

But Jhawar was more skeptical about the prospect of Venmo deploying blockchain technology of its own in the near future. “I don’t foresee that, from my vantage point, at this point in time,” he said.

More must-read stories from Fortune Brainstorm Finance:

Brainstorm Finance 2019: Watch the livestream of the inaugural conference

—Bank of America CEO: “We want a cashless society

—Tala CEO: How Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency can help companies scale

—Charles Schwab CEO: Actually, we’re killing it with millennials

—Listen to our new audio briefing, Fortune 500 Daily

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