People want advice about how to grow their money, but they also want to know which companies and funds are looking long-term and finding pathways to a low-carbon future.
Acacia is an online platform, with an app, that builds an ecosystem around an individual’s unique combination of bank accounts, investments, super funds, energy providers and every day spending.
It offers a base layer of information for people to understand how their arrangements stack up, environmentally and financially against the options in the market, but the team also has plans to take this advice deeper.
With an open architecture, they want to help people access personal financial advice that fits their budget, and that is aligned with their sustainability values.
OnImpact spoke with the founder and CEO of Acacia Money, Anil Sagaram, about the mission of the startup, its focus on sustainable enabling advice, and their imminent seed round of fund-raising.
The company was launched two years ago, right at the start of the covid pandemic. Anil Sagaram had rich experience in financial services, having built financial platforms for a range of banks and wealth managers.
But with Acacia, he wanted to offer customers a far more transparent offering that made access to sustainability data and financial information easier than ever.
“Acacia is a financial platform and marketplace that connects consumers with financial options that are genuinely sustainable and financially rewarding.” Anil says.
The theory of change looks at how to move massive amounts of money from less sustainable to more sustainable investments, energy arrangements and companies.
The Acacia platform is a rich data aggregator that allows a user to garner insights about their financial status, and the environmental impact it’s having on the world.
“We’re using data to create connections and an ecosystem that can drive financial and environmental outcomes via consumers.” Anil says.
It’s an open architecture platform that processes financial and climate data on banks, retail super funds, investments and a range of retail energy offerings. They don’t offer privileged access to paying providers, instead, they’re building a user-pays system that offers independent information, as well as the potential for targeted advice. But at its core, Anil and the team are focused on ensuring the highest integrity with transparent data systems.
Gathering ‘underlying’ data is central to this. Data access is always a challenge, and building a comparable data-set, of a range of factors, across a disparate portfolio, is not easy. Relying on company data is plagued by a lack of consistency. But with underlying data, industry averages and proxy assessments allow for legitimate comparisons, as well as an increasing level of accuracy.
“We can help facilitate a connection between genuinely sustainable providers, and engaged, consumers, in a world where it’s really confusing.” Anil says.
Everyone is talking about ESG, but the problem is that it no longer has a universal definition. It grew from institutional investors wanting to measure the E, S and G risks facing their portfolios. But for the everyday retail investor, wanting their capital to perform in-line with their values, ESG may not be the best model.
When most people talk about wanting to invest sustainably, they’re talking about investing in line with their values.
“We are going deeper, beyond just the risk question. People want to know what it all means from a values point of view.” Anil says.
“To keep global warming at one and a half degrees, we’re asking; what are the actions that an individual needs to take? What are all the areas of a client’s financial life that have an impact on that transition? And, how do we accelerate the movement of money from the places that are going to hinder the transfer, to those that will aid it.”
The old world of financial advice in Australia was beset by scandal and mis-aligned incentives, it’s largely been burned down, but so far, nothing has been built to replace it.
This is an opportunity, but also a big challenge.
Acacia aims to fill this gap, and having learned from the problems of the past, they’re focused on transparency, as well as a separation of advice and distribution.
“We’re operating in the ASIC Innovation Hub and regulatory sandbox at the moment. So we have the ability to provide general advice across a number of product categories, through that sandbox exemption.” Anil says.
“We don’t provide personal advice, we provide general advice, and that’s all up and running. Our focus is on providing financial and environmental insights that allow users to improve their impact and their financial outcomes, rather than purely the financial advice piece. Bringing together both financial and environmental data sets is key to our impact because the reality is that most people don’t think purely along environmental lines. They also want to understand the financial trade-offs.”
The plan is to build a foundation of rich data to attract users, and for those who want more specific recommendations, Acacia is building digital advice partnerships that will facilitate a personal advice conversation that looks into both their financial health, as well as the sustainability credentials of their assets. Advice partners can use Acacia’s data and research to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the advice process.
“Historically advice has been tied to product, but it’s evolved a long way from there. We want to push that further, putting control back in the client’s hands. In the future we think advice will be more holistic and it will be bought, not sold.” Anil says.
So far Acacia has bootstrapped on funds from staff, strategic advisers, and angel impact investors, but on the back of positive growth in engagement and customer acquisition, they’re planning to raise-funds to kick into the next stage of growth.
It will be a seed round, and it will kick-off in coming months. Stay tuned.