Goldman Sachs bought the app Clarity Money. Now it's putting it to work

Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs (GS) bought a personal finance app. Now it's tailoring it to lure a new generation of customers.

Posted Updated

Julia Horowitz
, CNN Business
(CNN) — Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs (GS) bought a personal finance app. Now it's tailoring it to lure a new generation of customers.

The company, which is doubling down on banking for regular people through its Marcus brand, has started to offer its own online savings accounts on the Clarity Money platform. Clarity lets people manage their money by tracking their spending, canceling unwanted subscriptions and recommending new products. It previously directed customers who wanted to set up savings accounts to Wells Fargo (WFC).

The change, made possible by the acquisition, lets customers access accounts with much higher interest, said Marcos Rosenberg, head of US deposits at Marcus. Marcus' online savings accounts earn 2.05% interest, while the Wells Fargo accounts didn't earn any interest, he said.

It also allows Goldman to direct Clarity Money's more than 1 million users to the bank's savings product. Users can still link non-Marcus bank accounts to Clarity if they already have savings accounts elsewhere.

The integration comes as Goldman Sachs works to grow its offerings for Main Street consumers, and not just Wall Street elite. Marcus is a key part of the bank's plan to add $5 billion in revenue by 2020 under new CEO David Solomon. Goldman wants to diversify its businesses in part to offset struggles in its trading division.

It also coincides with a new marketing campaign for Marcus' savings accounts. Goldman on Wednesday launched a new ad that features man-on-the street interviews in which passersby in New York show their surprise when told how little interest they're earning on their savings. According to a survey by the company, 60% of Americans with savings accounts don't know their interest rate.

Dustin Cohn, head of brand management for Marcus, said the bank hopes the campaign will let potential customers know that they're leaving money on the table — and that they'll consider Marcus as a result. "They can vote with their dollars and make their money work harder," he said.

Goldman launched its Marcus business in 2016 with personal loans for people who wanted to consolidate their credit card debt. Since then, the bank has built up its portfolio of retail banking products, including its high-yield online savings accounts and loans for home improvement projects. It began offering savings accounts in the UK last month.

Marcus now has $4 billion in loans on its balance sheet and about $28 billion in deposits.

The bank is expected to add a digital wealth management product soon. Last week, Marcus was moved into the company's investment management division, indicating intent to roll out a suite of the investing and advisory services down the line.

Clarity Money is poised to play a vital role in the expansion of Marcus.

"We saw it as a front door to all of the Marcus offerings," former CFO Marty Chavez, asked to explain the thinking behind the April acquisition, said on the company's second quarter earnings call in July.

Clarity Money will also make it less expensive to bring in new customers, Chavez added — a challenge for Goldman, because people aren't as familiar with Marcus as they are with long-established consumer banks.

Growth on the deposits side of Marcus, as well as new, fee-based offerings, could provide a cushion for Goldman's fledgling consumer unit if the environment for loans gets trickier.

Bloomberg reported earlier this month that Marcus could cut its loan-origination target for next year because of concerns about the stage in the credit cycle. In a downturn, banks get hit if people can't pay back their loans, and demand for credit shrinks.

On the company's third quarter earnings call earlier this month, incoming CFO Stephen Scherr said that Goldman sees no "material evidence" that the credit environment is changing, but continues to monitor the situation closely.

"We are building this business for the long run, and we are not chasing volume targets," Chavez said on the call. Scherr added that Marcus will grow loan volume in 2019 compared to 2018 — it's just a question of by how much.

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