There are a few ways one comes to own a Cadillac Escalade.
- Your Instagram account finally takes off.
- Your startup lands that second round of VC cash.
- You buy a milquetoast Chevrolet, trade it in for a bigger Chevy, trade that in for a Buick and, finally, after years of socioeconomic scrambling, General Motors drops you off in Caddyland.
On Tuesday, the blue-blood bank unveiled a low-cost digital platform dubbed Marcus aimed at those with $1,000 and up to invest, the Minors of the Universe. Named after the firm’s founder, Marcus is the starter Goldman — Goldman Lite, if you will.
The investment platform, which automatically allocates and rebalances pint-sized portfolios into ETFs, is part of a suite of regular-person products. Goldman now has savings accounts, personal loans and a credit card. Marcus skims .35% of invested assets in a year, versus fees of at least 1% that the Goldman grown-ups pay.
Mind you, this isn’t strategic rocket surgery. For years, nearly every wealth management shop has tried to creep further down the socioeconomic pyramid. It’s a volume play and a bet that some of those scrappy savers will someday become the most prized commodity on Wall Street: UHNWI, ultra-high net worth individuals.
The difference is the name recognition. “Goldman Sachs” carries some verbal heft that “Stash” and “Betterment” do not. Also, Goldman may well have better robots, the cyber advisors, and algorithms shuffling the funds around.
Matt Levine, my colleague and a Goldman alumnus, calls Marcus an “out-of-character side project.” He also notes that a nameless, faceless robot would be a great vehicle to pump convoluted structured products into unsophisticated, unsuspecting accounts. Maybe that’s Plan B.
At the moment, however, the boring little bank is doing just fine. In the most recent quarter, Goldman had amassed $96 billon in Main Street deposits and a 50% increase in consumer banking revenue, as its mass of new customers ran up credit card balances.
Frankly, the whole Marcus foray is also good — and cheap — PR. After all, would a vampire squid help out a bunch of minnows? Goldman has structured a bit of bonhomie that can also kick off a little cash — certainly a new trick for the big, old bulging bank.