3 Ways to Autopilot Your Investments via Your Spending (Overseas)

Written by Adriano Hoelzle, edited by Jackie Tan. This article is a part of a special series by fundMyLife content marketing interns from QLC.io

Editor Note: In the age of technological advancements, new innovative ways for millennials to manage their finances have emerged. In this article, our intern Adriano introduces three different cool apps. Caveat – it’s not found in Singapore yet, but we sure hope it comes to our shores!

Saving money is hard…or is it?

You, me, and probably most people you know have at least once heard about the importance of saving money for the future.  But let’s face it, this isn’t something that we do on a regular basis. Even if we do, it requires a certain level of discipline that’s extremely difficult to maintain. Unfortunately, this lack of discipline can and probably will have a damaging effect on one’s financial future down the line.

Cash usage in payments has decreased significantly over the last decade

Nevertheless, there are 3 very simple, automatic, and effortless ways in which you can start to save and create that pot of gold, all via apps*! They’re not in Singapore yet but they can be on your radar when you go overseas.

Acorns (https://www.acorns.com/)

The first one is called Acorns and is available from both Apple and Google App Stores. This micro-investing app comes into play with the idea of “round-up investing”. Based on today’s cashless trend, the average Australian uses card and cashless payments for about 62% of transactions per week (8/13) (RAB, 2016). This app taps into this significant trend by automatically rounding up your transaction to the nearest whole dollar. For example, if your grocery bill is $10.47, the app will automatically activate and invest the remaining $0.53 into your Acorns account and use that money to invest in the Australian, American, European, or Asian markets.

A screenshot of the Acorns app

The Math

To put things into perspective, 32 transactions per month with an average rounding dollar amount of $0.50 is $16 a month or $192 per year. That might not seem like a lot to start with but the app also gives you the option to set up payments from your bank account into your micro-investment account, or to deposit lump sums as well. If you decide to invest a minimum amount after each payday, let’s say $5 per week or $20 per month, that would add another $240 per year into your account. This would bring it to a theoretical total of $432 and that’s with almost no additional effort on your part.

Acorns gives you the option to choose from 6 Exchanged Traded Funds (ETF’s) portfolios. ETFs are investment funds that track a specified basket of assets or index and are bought and sold on the public exchanges. Depending on your risk appetite and investment horizon you can choose from:

  1. Conservative,
  2. Moderately Conservative,
  3. Moderate,
  4. Moderate Aggressive,
  5. Aggressive, and
  6. Emerald Portfolios.

Each portfolio has a specific proportion of each dollar received in the account as to where to invest. The image provides a breakdown of the allocation under the “Aggressive Portfolio”.

The company claims that Dr. Harry Markowitz, the Nobel Laureate and the Father of Modern Portfolio Theory, is the one designing their portfolios. Impressive.

A comparison of allocation of your money in an example portfolio

According to their website, returns will not exceed 10% p.a. While it sounds like a bad thing, when you compare Acorns’ results to global market indices returns over the last 5 years –S&P 500 returned +11.9%, Dow Jones +10.8%, ASX 200 + 11.11%, and the FTSE 100 +5.13% – Acorns isn’t too far away from the market itself. (Yahoo Finance 2017)

Fees

When it comes to fees, Acorns will only charge you $15 p.a for accounts below $5k and a fee of 0.275% p.a for accounts above that value. For example, the price of Vanguard’s US Total Market ETF (the first company ever to launch an ETF fund) is 0.05% and some managed funds will charge a fee usually over 1% (some 20 times more expensive). In the end, the less you pay out in fees, the faster your pot of gold will grow!

However, Acorns cannot be treated as retirement account. It’s a taxable investment account, which means you’ll have to pay taxes on your earnings if you withdraw money from your Acorns account. Superannuation funds (the Australian version of our CPF), which have tax free and employer matching contributions features, should be used for such long-term goals.

Ideally, it should only be used to save and invest some of your money. It might also not grow as fast if you do not use your card as often or do not set up any additional payments. Even though Acorns has its drawbacks, it is the ONLY smartphone app in Australia that offers an automatic, diversified, and easy way to both save and invest your money at the same time!

Qapital (https://www.qapital.com/)

Where Acorns had only the “Round-Up” Savings approach, Qapital incorporates customized rules, goals, and the fun of “If This Then That” approach into its savings strategy.

An example of the IFFFT aspect of Qapital. It’s set up such that the app automatically saves when the user posts on Facebook.

The app is also available for download from the Apple or Google Store. The way Qapital work is also very simple, but it does require a little bit of initial work. When setting up your account and linking your checking account with the Qapital account, you would be asked to include any goals that you want to be saving for or rules that would you like to put in place as “triggers” to save money. There are some rules suggested, such as:

  • The Round Up Rule: Automatically save money when you buy something
  • The Spend Less Rule: Save the difference when you spend less than your budget on a specific activity, e.g., spend less than $30.00 with Uber during the week and save the difference
  • Guilt Pleasure Rule: Save a certain amount when you spend at a specific store
  • Set & Forget Rule: Save a specific amount every day, week, or month
  • Freelancer Rule: Set aside a certain percentage for taxes when you get paid

After choosing your rules or customizing your own, a goal will need to be assigned for that specific rule, such as getting a “Car”, “House Down Payment”, or “Vacation”. To make things even more entertaining, the app lets you create a “Shared Goal” team with other users. Each account will be individual, but the current savings amount and the goal target will be available for your team to see it. It’s a nice way to keep track and create peer pressure on your financial goals.

IF This, Then That

IFTTT: IF This, Then That.

Nevertheless, Qapital innovates the way millennials engage investing on a daily basis. The app connects with the platform “IF This, Then That” (IFTTT) for flexibility, customization, and creativity. The platform has more than 200 participants, e.g., Nike, Youtube, Google, BMW, and Spotify. This allows the user to create a chain of conditional events that could be used to increase his savings. It doesn’t have to be ordinary events such as “Take 5% of my payment and deposit it into my savings”. Just imagine setting up something like “Whenever it rains, put $10 into my Qapital account” or “Save $5 every time I post a photo on Facebook”.  It makes savings fun, automatic, easy, and creative.

The Qapital app makes transfers twice per week, a minimum of eight per month, or 96 per year. Now that’s a lot more than what any of us would remember or could even be bothered to do so accurately. In this way, the Qapital app is a great way to maximize savings in a short period of time.

Fees

The best part, it is all FREE. The platform makes money by accruing interest on customer’s savings.

To give peace of mind for its savers it uses a FDIC-insured account with Well Fargo’s, the US Bank. What this means is that, up to $250,000 of your money plus any interest is covered by the US Government if the account or bank fails.  At the moment, the company is trying to incorporate international banks into its business, but for the time being, only accounts created with US banks or credit unions are able to participate.

Nevertheless, Qapital is a very innovative and creative way to save money. If you have a bank account from a US company, don’t waste your time, get on board, be creative, and start to create your own effortless savings.

Digit (https://digit.co/)

Another app that’s also available from Apple or Google Play store is Digit. However, it is a bit different from both of the previous apps. This is a “smart app”, in the sense that after linking your bank account to it, the app will analyse your spending and revenue generation patterns and will withdraw small amounts of money that it thinks you won’t need to use. That amount then goes straight into your Digit savings account. A completely passive way to save money!

A screenshot of the Digit app, showing the algorithmically determined amount of money funnelled into the account

Over time the app will develop an algorithm that understands your account. A typical account, according to their website, will have between $2 to $17 to withdraw every 2 to 3 days. However, the user also has the chance to change such settings. You can communicate with the app via text messages, and give it orders such as “Save More or Save Less” or send “Goalmojis” of what you are planning to save for, such as rent or a vacation. The app will then adapt its savings pattern. The idea is for you to hardly realize that any money has been taken away from your account, but in the medium and long run, these small amounts accumulate to something substantial. The app also lets you withdraw money by simply texting “Withdraw”, or stop temporary deposits with a “Pause” text.

The Math

Digit automatically saves for you based on your goals that you tell it using a chatbot interface

Let’s put the numbers into perspective. We assume that an average of $9 is taken away from your account every 3 days. After a month, you should expect to have $90 into your savings account and after one year, around $1080 – all thanks to a clever algorithm. If your objective was to save for something more expensive, your savings could be reaching $200 a month or well above $2500 per year depending on your instructions. But once again, this is just a theoretical scenario which depends on regular spending patterns.

Take for example a person that has an emergency fund into its checking account. The algorithm will detect that money as an “unused” fund and will slowly reduce that amount through its automatic savings. Another scenario would be somebody that uses the same account for more expensive purchases, such as furniture or travels. Uncommon purchases might create an imbalance within the app’s algorithm and might cause it not to effectively save money or save more than what it should.

However, Digit also guarantees that it will not cause you to go overdraft or incur any additional fees from your bank but if it does, it will reimburse the fees for up to 2 instances of overdraft.

Fees

When it comes to returns and expenses, like Qapital, a negative aspect is that the investor does not earn any interest on its saving. Digit states that it uses the returns earned on costumer’s savings to cover its expenses.  However, on April of this year it introduced a fee of $2.99 p.m. or $35 p.a and the only additional item offered was a “Savings Feature” – paying a savings bonus of 1% p.a, paid every 3 months according to your average account balance above $100. If for example, your account has an average of $2000 per year, a bonus of $5 would be paid every 3 months.

Unfortunately, the company does not specifically say in which account your savings go to. However, to give investors reassurance, the company also uses a FDIC insured account. Another downside of the app is that it can only be connected with accounts from American banks, credit unions or credit cards companies.

Still, Digit is a great automatized, cheap, way for savings to be made and more importantly, grow, effortless, over time.

That’s All Folks!

When it comes to savings, retirement fund or investing, the best strategy to take is taking the first step and the finest formula is consistency. Thanks to Isaac Newton, we are very aware of the resistances involved when any object tries to change its state of motion and it’s the same when you try to incorporate a savings routine. Nevertheless, after taking the first step and embedding any of the mentioned savings application into your daily live and making it a habit, inertia will also work in your favour towards creating a wealthier life!

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