If you were somebody so smart that you attended a college that your family could not afford you undoubtedly met genuine “trust fund” kids. Those were the never-stressed kids who were not worrying about their mounting student loans, because their parents had through some miracle accumulated enough to pay their tuition each semester from the money they already had set aside. Caleb Frankel, co-founder and COO of the investment app EarlyBird, believes that with a little help from all the adults who love them (and not just their parents), every kid can start adult life with at least a modest trust fund.
EarlyBird is a shortcut to establishing what wealthy families have long had for their children, custodial accounts that build in value throughout childhood and become the property of the child when they reach adulthood. Basically, instead of slipping a $20 bill into a goofy birthday card, which is especially pointless with toddlers, you could deposit that same twenty into the child’s EarlyBird account, record a video on the app with the gift, and hope that in 15 or 20 years it will help them pay for college, or their first house, or maybe will just keep accumulating for their distant retirement. The twin goals are to accumulate capital for the child’s adulthood while teaching them financial literacy.
We asked Caleb Frankel about how EarlyBird works, how it differs from a 529 account, and why it is important to teach kids about finances and not just give them money.
How does EarlyBird work? How are accounts opened and gifts donated? What assurances are there that the money, plus interest and so on, will be there long into the future?
EarlyBird is a wealth management platform that simplifies the ability for parents, family, and friends to collectively invest in the kids they love. EarlyBird’s mission is to build true wealth equity for the next generation through making investing simple and accessible to all families and provide an on-ramp into the future digital economy.
Today, EarlyBird offers the ability for families to open custodial investment accounts and then friends and family can easily send gifts into that account. With each gift, a user can also record a memory to attach so that there is a beautiful emotional connection to the financial gift.
All funds are invested into one of five fixed, managed EarlyBird portfolios. Every parent builds an investor profile and then we provide the most accurate recommendation on which portfolio they should invest in ranging from conservative to aggressive. All portfolios follow modern portfolio theory and are constructed of ETF’s, which make for a safe but strong investment approach.
Many middle-income families use 529 accounts to save for college costs. How is EarlyBird different from a 529 account? And is EarlyBird intended as a better alternative, or is it meant to work in conjunction with a 529?
EarlyBird is focused on a custodial investment account which is basically an investment account for a child at the youngest age. The biggest difference between a custodial account and a 529 plan is that the funds can be used for anything. A 529 plan is great because it is tax exempt when used towards accredited institutional spend (which for many is college). At EarlyBird, we believe that these financial vehicles should absolutely work in conjunction and every parent should create a plan that they feel best fits their child’s future.
How does EarlyBird help teach children about saving and investing?
EarlyBird divides a child’s financial journey into four stages; 0-5 the setup phase where a parent begins the process of investing at the earliest age possible, 6-13 the introduction phase where EarlyBird provides tools for parents to begin speaking to their kids about their account and general financial topics on a weekly basis, 13-18 the adoption phase where the child actually has access to the app and can download it and begin to take ownership, 18+ where EarlyBird transfers from a custodial structure to a primarily brokerage account.
We believe that with these stages, a child will be able to enter adulthood fully financially literate and ready to continue to invest, save, earn, and spend. We also offer a suite of resouces like newsletters and a company blog for parents to better equip themselves with the knowledge needed to pass on to their children.
I know from my own experience that beginning adulthood broke is no fun, though perhaps character building, but I also have doubts about giving 18-year-old me unrestricted access to thousands of dollars. Does EarlyBird have any guardrails governing what the money can be used for when the child turns 18?
We totally agree, EarlyBird takes this very seriously. This is why we have created the critical stages of growth above. The goal is that when a child turns 18 years old, it is a celebration but they have already had access to these funds for many years as they continued to build knowledge and equity within their account. Overall, these are the current legal restrictions that we must follow, but EarlyBird is constantly looking at creative ways to ensure that all children/adults have the best access and tools necessary to achieve financial independence.
If the child is super responsible, do they have the option to just let their EarlyBird investments stay put when they turn 18?
Yes! For sure. This is the primary goal and we’re continuing to build out our platform to accommodate this in a seamless way.
The idea of the “trust fund kid” is long established in America. Is EarlyBird an effort to democratize who gets to be a trust fund kid?
100%. One of our mottos is “Every baby should be a trust fund baby!” We believe every family should be able to build generational wealth and have access to all financial vehicles, such as custodial investment accounts and 529 plans. What excites us most is the movement into the digital economy. EarlyBird will be offering crypto investing in the coming months. This will be the first major step towards our ultimate vision of becoming the centralized digital wealth platform for the next generation to earn, exchange, and build wealth through the digital economy and the assets of tomorrow.