Inspired Capital’s von Tobel opines on the next set of problems startups can solve

Alexa von Tobel (left) and moderator Beth Pinsker.

Alexa von Tobel is bullish on the future of consumer-facing fintech.

The founder of Learnvest and former chief innovation officer at Northwestern Mutual is now focusing on investments that address the day-to-day money challenges of everyday people through her venture firm, Inspired Capital, which launched earlier this year.

Von Tobel said at CB Insights’ Future of Fintech conference in New York on Wednesday that consumer-focused startups still have a long way to go to make customers’ financial lives easier.

“We look at where we think consumers really have an unmet need,” she said. “We like full-stack technologies [because] companies that have full-stack technologies can move a lot faster and, I think, provide true value to the incumbents.”

Running Learnvest, a financial planning tool reminiscent of a “TurboTax for financial planning” that was acquired by Northwestern Mutual in 2015, offered von Tobel important lessons that inspire her current VC firm to stay focused on real-life consumer problems faced by most Americans.

“Our vantage point is simply that people often are building technologies for the top 1% to 5% of the country,” she said. “At Inspired Capital, we like to look at the playing field, understand where the gaps are and think about the very specific applications [destined] to become very big companies because they meet the mass needs of American society, or fill a really clear gap for a big incumbent.”

Inspired Capital has been looking to raise $200 million, according to an SEC filing. So far, it has invested $1 million in Kindur, a digital retirement planning platform. Among areas for continued innovation, von Tobel said automation technology as it applies to payments has much potential to eliminate consumer friction around saving and investing.

“Right now, [the flow] of money is really fragmented,” she said. “There’s far too many people that sit between each transaction. If you think about it, we get paid every two weeks; essentially, you’re giving your employer a two-week advance on your efforts.”

Insurance also is an area where tech providers can make the user experience quicker and easier.

“The way that we think about insurance today is so category-focused,” von Tobel said. “If you think about life insurance, you have disability insurance, long-term care insurance and term insurance. Why are they fundamentally different streams of categories? It just doesn’t make sense.”

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