Thursday, May 30, 2024

Former Tesla Exec Leads New Climate Fintech: Interview With Tim Newell, CEO Of Aspiration

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In this Interview with TechBullion, fintech and sustainability industry veteran Tim Newell, gives us an insight into the growing demand for climate-friendly financial services and how climate finance company Aspiration Partners, Inc. is meeting this demand with Aspiration’s green consumer financial services brand by offering sustainable checking, savings, and investment accounts that empower climate-conscious individuals to combat climate change through their everyday spending and saving.

Please tell us your name, a little more about yourself with an introduction to Aspiration.

I’m Tim Newell, the CEO of Aspiration, a financial technology company that offers climate-friendly financial services – checking, savings, and investment accounts 1 – to individuals and families. Like many of the new breed of neobanks, we’re entirely digital, online.

I’ve worked for more than 20 years in financial technology and sustainability.  Before Aspiration, I led the consumer financial products teams for two public companies – Tesla and SolarCity – and have been involved in founding a number of private  companies in the space. 

I’m a refugee from government and politics.  Before being released from Washington on good behavior, I did tours on the White House staff and as a Congressional staff member, primarily focused on technology and economic policy  

What inspires the growing demand for sustainable financial services among consumers and Aspiration’s spin off of its consumer division in response to growing demand for climate-friendly financial services?

The growing demand for climate-friendly financial products – as for other sustainable products – is being fueled by broader consumer concern about climate change.  With our political system struggling to provide an effective response, people are increasingly focusing on what they can do in their own lives to have a positive impact.

Based on a recent McKinsey study, nearly 40% of US consumers – translating to more than 100 million people – are interested in enrolling in climate-friendly financial products. And this interest cuts across every demographic segment – regardless of income level or geographic location. 

For the average American family, moving their deposits to a green banking alternative like Aspiration is the single most powerful action they can take in terms of climate impact – more than purchasing an electric vehicle, installing solar, or upgrading their home’s energy efficiency—and it requires no additional expense.

What types of sustainable financial products does Aspiration offer, and how do they help combat climate change? Can you provide examples of how Aspiration directly supports environmentally friendly initiatives or causes?

We offer checking accounts, high interest savings accounts, and sustainable investment options.  Our accounts have built-in features to allow our customers a convenient way to have a meaningful climate impact. Based on the typical US person, our products allow consumers to reduce their carbon footprint by 57% – just through their financial accounts, with features such as: 

Fossil Fuel Free Deposits – It’s clear how to prevent the worst impacts of climate change:  transition away from fossil fuels.  So  when our customers deposit funds with us, we guarantee that those funds won’t be invested in producing or distributing fossil fuels.  Simply by depositing money in their Aspiration account rather than at a traditional big bank that invests deposits in the fossil fuel industry, Aspiration account holders avoid the equivalent of 235 driving miles with every $500 they deposit. 2

Tree Planting – When customers enroll in our signature Plant Your Change program, we round up their purchases to the next dollar and use their spare change to fund tree planting projects around the world. The Aspiration community has already planted more than 28 million trees, estimated to  remove over 4.4 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere.

Carbon Offsets – We offer a  Planet Protection Program that automatically offsets the carbon impact of every gallon of gas purchased by our customers using their Aspiration card.   

We’re climate neutral as a company, and are a member of 1% for the Planet, which means we donate at least 1% of our annual sales to environmental organizations.   

Nearly 40% of US consumers are interested in using climate-linked financial products, according to a recent survey by McKinsey. Could you give us more insight into the climate fintech market?

The climate fintech market is growing very rapidly, for good reason. It’s at the intersection of two areas of sea change  in consumer markets:  the first is the rapid changes to financial services markets brought about by technology;  the second is a generational shift in attitudes and concerns about the threat of climate change.

Over this decade, deposits in digital banks are projected to grow at a rate 14 times faster than those in traditional banks.  Today’s consumers are digital and mobile, and expect their financial services to be the same.  This has opened the door to offering new features that just weren’t possible with traditional bank accounts.

At the same time, we’re seeing the emergence of climate-conscious consumers as a powerful influence that crosses age, income and geographic lines.

I’m convinced that the next 3-5 years will see the incorporation of climate-friendly features in financial services go from being an emerging idea to an expectation for consumers.

How can individuals align their everyday spending with their climate-conscious values through Aspiration’s services, how does Aspiration help in this aspect? 

Beyond our signature tree planting program, Aspiration also helps customers shop more sustainably.  Through their Aspiration accounts, customers can find brands that have prioritized sustainability as part of their mission.  Not only do they earn cash back on these purchases, but they can feel confident that their dollars are supporting brands that prioritize sustainable business practices.  

How does Aspiration’s green consumer financial services differ from traditional banking options, and what sets Aspiration apart from other fintech companies in terms of its focus on sustainability?

Banks may not seem like major polluters since they lack the visible infrastructure of smokestacks or oil wells. But the truth is that most traditional banks invest a large portion of customer deposits in the fossil fuel industry.  According to a 2023 study, since 2016 alone, the top 60 banks have funneled $5.5 trillion into fossil fuel companies and activities. That’s where green banking alternatives like Aspiration come in.  We commit to never using customer deposits to fund fossil fuel exploration or production.  

But we don’t stop there, we build climate action into everyday financial tasks and routines so our customers can easily incorporate climate action into their lives without having to make lifestyle changes or spend more money.

Is there a specific target audience that the company aims to serve in terms of combating climate change through financial choices?

Our focus is on the almost 50 million climate-conscious  consumers who are actively seeking to have an impact through their everyday choices about how they live, and, importantly, through the products and services they purchase. They span across all demographics but are especially prevalent in Gen Z and Millennials.

Aspiration’s goal is to provide individuals with financial products that help rather than harm the planet, do you have any success stories you would like to share with us?

Our customers consistently say the thing they value most about Aspiration is that we offer an easy, effective way for them to have a daily impact on a problem that is important to them.

Each day, our customers contribute to the planting of more than two football fields worth of trees. To date, we’ve planted over 28 million trees, covering an area larger than 5,200 football fields. The climate-friendly features built into our products initiatives have neutralized or avoided the equivalent of over 340,000 tonnes of carbon.  Think of that as roughly equivalent to avoiding the impact of burning almost 40 million gallons of gasoline.

The impact on the environment through conscious spending and investing cannot be overemphasized, where do you see the future of climate-friendly financial services?

Climate concerns are only going to increase, that’s absolutely going to continue to drive consumer demand.  Alongside that, AI will also have a huge impact.   Across the financial industry, AI will be transformative, but particularly in terms of enhancing the transparency of all kinds of financial transactions – including the climate impact of financial transactions or investments.

What can we expect from Aspiration moving forward, do you have any available opportunities for investors and partnerships in this climate mission? Any other tips you would like to share with us today?

We’re actively engaged in developing partnerships – to develop and/or integrate new products, to reach customers, and for capital availability to finance growth.


Footnotes:

1 The Aspiration Spend & Save accounts are checking and savings accounts offered through Coastal Community Bank, Member FDIC. Approved deposit accounts are FDIC insured up to $250,000 per depositor. For balances greater than $250,000, Coastal will Sweep the excess funds to one or more FDIC-insured depository institutions in their Sweep network (each a “Bank”) up to $250,000 per Bank. With five Banks available through the Coastal Community Bank Insured Bank Deposit Program, Deposits are FDIC-insured up to $1.25 million per depositor. This amount is subject to change at any time. Visit fdic.gov. Aspiration’s Program Banks have formally committed that customer deposits will not be used for lending to oil and gas exploration, production or transportation, or coal mining. Aspiration Debit Cards are issued by Coastal Community Bank, Member FDIC, pursuant to a license by Mastercard® International Incorporated. Aspiration is under separate ownership from any other named entity. Aspiration is not a bank.

2 We estimated the difference between the average carbon intensity of cash deposited in the large, traditional US banks and that of greener banks like local credit unions. These values are based on the Wall Street’s Carbon Bubble: The Global Emissions of the US Financial Sector report (Center for American Progress 2021) which follow the guidance of the PCAF and the GHG Protocol’s Corporate Value Chain (Scope 3) Accounting and Reporting Standard for Category 15 investment activities (Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials 2020; GHG Protocol 2004). We applied that carbon intensity savings of 0.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent to $500 in a checking and savings account, and then multiplied that number by the average passenger vehicle miles avoided per year of 2,564 based on EPA data on the carbon emissions per gallon of gasoline.










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