Los Angeles Times: How I Made It: He dreamed of a career in politics. Now he’s shaking up consumer banking

Los Angeles Times: How I Made It: He dreamed of a career in politics. Now he’s shaking up consumer banking

Andre Cherny, co-founder and CEO of Flourish portfolio company Aspiration, sat down with the Los Angeles Times’ Margot Roosevelt in a “How I Made It” feature to share his own journey – from politics, to Fintech – to how Aspiration’s mission is focused on the health of consumer finances, their consciences, and the planet.

Read a few of the excerpts from the spotlight below, and visit the full article here.

Cherny, who pivoted to finance from a career in politics, has raised $110 million from venture capital firms that include FullCycle, Allen & Co., Omidyar Network and Alpha Edison, along with individual investors such as Clippers coach Doc Rivers and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Aspiration reports it has 1.5 million customers in its hybrid checking-savings accounts, with 200,000 more signing up each month.

Under Aspiration’s Pay What’s Fair policy, clients sign up for a cash management account with a debit card and choose whatever fee they want to pay, even nothing. They earn 2% annual interest — more than mainstream banks pay for savings accounts. They get cash back on debit card purchases, and free ATM use worldwide.

“We only make money when our customers are wowed by what we do,” Cherny said. “The vast majority choose to pay, even when they don’t have to.”

“There are other neo-banks,” Cherny said. “But we are the only one to build products around social conscience and sustainability. It is not just marketing.”

Besides what it calls “fossil-fuel free deposits,” Aspiration gives 10% of its revenue from customers to Accion U.S. Network, a micro-lending nonprofit, and other charities. But its most unusual feature is an “Aspiration Impact Score,” which allows clients to track the social and environmental effect of their spending.

To build the algorithm, Aspiration’s data scientists combed through 75,000 data points in public filings, news accounts and corporate reports. They track 30 issues at more than 5,000 public and private companies from greenhouse gas emissions and recycling to CEO pay and worker benefits.

“You can compare CVS to Walgreens,” Cherny said. “It’s like a Fitbit for sustainable shopping. ”

Two-thirds of Aspiration’s clients are under 40. Their median annual income is $52,000. Just 6% live in the liberal enclaves of Los Angeles, New York City or the San Francisco Bay Area. “There are conscious consumers all over America,” Cherny said.

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