Forget Mint, LearnVest’s new platform takes aim at financial planning industry

When LearnVest launched in 2009, it was billed as a (s INTU) for women. But, three years later, it’s not just women who use the site and it’s not just Mint that it’s angling to disrupt.

On top of a free money management platform, and articles, courses and other finance-related resources, the company, earlier this year launched fee-based packages that pair users with Certified Financial Planners across the country.

On Tuesday, LearnVest is not only rolling out a series of significant updates, including its first mobile app, it is announcing that it has become an SEC-Registered Investment Advisor (RIA).

“Financial planning shouldn’t be a luxury,” CEO and founder Alexa von Tobel told me. “The less money you have, the more important it is for you to know about how to manage it. Financial planning is a consumer product… Making a financial plan should be like getting a gym membership.”

As part of its new status as an RIA, von Tobel said LearnVest had to undergo a months-long approval process and hire a compliance officer to lead a new six-person compliance team.  But to bring financial planning – typically a service reserved for the wealthiest consumers – to a general audience, she said it was important that the company formalize its fiduciary commitment to users.

The company, which has raised a total of $24.5 million, declined to share its most recent membership numbers but said that as of six months ago it had 300,000 users (a third of whom log into the site every other day). It currently gets about 800,000 unique visitors each month and has quadrupled the number of users on its money management center.

While the site initially targeted women, since launching its paid products, LearnVest has expanded its reach to a wider audience. Individual male users now account for a quarter of the site visitors, but that number doesn’t include couples who use it to jointly manage household finances. Von Tobel also said that users range from twenty-somethings to seventy-somethings. Some are  hundreds of dollars in debt, some have millions of dollars in assets.

In addition to its new SEC-registered status, LearnVest is announcing:

  • its first mobile app (which should go live next month) which lets users easily track spending, manage transactions and quickly view their overall financial position
  • an upgraded free money center, which includes improved functionality for tracking trends, monitoring progress towards goals and organizing transactions
  • the ability for LearnVest CFPs to co-view and collaboratively add information to user accounts during phone sessions with users
  • an updated suite of three packages of financial planning services  that range from a basic $89 “budget starter” plan a $599 “portfolio builder” plan (with the new plans, the company has raised its fees from $69 for the basic plan and $349 for the top tier plan, but said the CFPs now advise across a greater range of topics)

Despite LearnVest’s platform improvements, friendly user interface and network of affordable financial planners, joining the site requires a potentially daunting upfront commitment of time and energy from those unaccustomed to using Web 2.0 money management tools. And, consumers already using Mint may feel that their financial planning needs are met.

But von Tobel, who dropped out of Harvard Business School to launch LearnVest,is making significant headway in bringing technology and consumability to an industry that has long focused on the wealthiest and already financially savvy consumers. The company builds all of its products on its own financial planning method that balances essentials, lifestyle costs and savings for the future, and its 50 nationwide CFPs are equipped to advise consumers on everything from student debt to buying a home to estate planning.