Startup bets people will save money for a chance to win $10 million

By Sonali Basak

At a time when some Americans are being tempted to pour their savings into risky investments, the son of a Wall Street veteran is encouraging them to set aside more money.

Adam Moelis, whose father Ken Moelis runs investment bank Moelis & Co., has managed to attract new accounts worth almost $40 million in two months at his startup, Yotta Savings. The hook is that Yotta gives people a sweepstakes ticket for every $25 they save. A weekly drawing gives customers the chance to win between 10 cents and $10 million.

With 6,500 customer accounts, it still has a long way to go before it can catch up with competitors. Another banking challenger, Current, has gathered more than 1 million accounts since its 2015 founding. And several other rivals are entering the fray. Additionally, millions of people signed up this year with investing apps such as Robinhood, lured by a booming stock market while low interest rates make savings accounts unattractive.

Yotta isn’t making money now, though ultimately Moelis and co-founder Ben Doyle want to offer a debit card and generate revenue from interchange fees. They are also hoping the savings accounts will nudge users to start checking accounts.

Yotta offers a savings rate of 0.2%, with an implied rate of return at about 2% when potential winnings are taken into account. The rate at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s Marcus savings accounts, by comparison, has dropped to 0.6%, compared with 2.25% a year ago.

Yotta has distributed about $125,000 in total winnings so far, and uses the interest earned on total deposits to fund the prizes. No one has won the $10 million jackpot yet. Its savings accounts are backed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and the funds are placed in an account with Evolve Bank & Trust, another financial technology firm.

While the concept of using a sweepstakes to encourage savings isn’t new, Yotta is drawing in clients at a tumultuous time for the personal finances of Americans. Lower interest rates and reduced spending during Covid-19 lockdowns is spurring some to take money from their swelling savings accounts and invest in assets such as stocks and bitcoin. Others have been weighed down by the economic toll of the pandemic and are either raiding their savings to make up for a lack of income — or don’t have much savings at all.

A May survey by robo-advising firm Betterment found that 20% of millennials and Gen Zers are saving less than $100 monthly, and a third are dipping into retirement savings early to pay off debt or for leisure activities.

“The reality is I think everyone needs a safety net, or a cushion, whether that’s just six months of expenses,” Yotta’s Moelis said. “Even for someone who can invest in stocks, you need an emergency fund. There are people in our demographic that keep money in a checking account that’s earning literally zero.”

Moelis’s father Ken and AQR Capital Management Co-Founder Cliff Asness were initial backers of the company. Yotta has raised $3.3 million, including from investors Slow Ventures, FundersClub and former National Football League player Jerod Mayo in recent weeks, Moelis said. It’s also backed by Y Combinator.

Startup bets people will save money for a chance to win $10 million Startup bets people will save money for a chance to win $10 million Reviewed by TechCO on 9/11/2020 Rating: 5

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