SmartAsset CEO Michael Carvin on the power of a lean startup culture and financial technology trends

SmartAsset CEO Michael Carvin could have stayed in his safe job in private equity. But sometimes you have to take a risk because they can have an even bigger payoff. Of course, it helped that Carvin’s job was to create financial models to help make better decisions. He was doing this himself while trying to determine if he should continue to rent or buy his home but he was frustrated by the lack of information available to help him make this impactful decision. Even with his extensive background in finance, the Princeton graduate was having trouble. He imagined people without his experience would be even more lost. So he decided to build his own financial model to figure out his dilemma.

Along with financial technology expert Philip Camilleri, that financial analysis model that would go on to become the Automated Financial Modeling technology, essentially the backbone of the SmartAsset platform today.  After officially launching in 2010 (with 20 million people coming to the site the first day), today the company serves over 60 million consumers each month. 

SmartAsset has expanded past their “buy versus rent” analysis tool into special calculators for taxes, retirement, banking, credit cards as well as access to expert financial advisors.

Ladders spoke with SmartAsset founder and CEO Michael Carvin about learning to delegate, company culture and his financial advice for all young professionals.

“A dollar saved in your 20s, with compound interest, is worth a lot more to you than a dollar saved in your 60s.”
— Michael Carvin, SmartAsset CEO

What would you say is the biggest financial technology industry trend to watch right now?

“Technology is being utilized to make it easier for consumers to find, qualify for and transact with new financial products and services. The reduction in switching costs and improved transparency for consumers is putting pressure on companies to deliver great products.”

How would you describe your management style?

“My management style is data and results-driven.”

How do you promote innovation at SmartAsset?

“SmartAsset has always been a product-first company. This mentality has helped us to further our mission of helping people make smarter financial decisions. We evolved from offering personal finance tools and content on our site, to creating the Captivate platform which allows financial publishers to host SmartAsset tools within relevant online content across the web, to developing the SmartAdvisor service to help consumers make complex financial decisions that are best informed by professional help.

“Iteration is also an essential part of innovation at SmartAsset. We test ideas on a small scale before allocating more resources to provide time for failure and pivots. For example, we tested the market for our SmartAdvisor platform with one employee working on the product and now almost the whole company is involved.”

What’s the biggest career risk you’ve ever taken that paid off?

“Starting SmartAsset is the largest career risk I’ve taken and it certainly paid off. It took time to transition from a traditional finance career path to startup life, but I’m grateful to leverage my finance background while pursuing a company mission I’m passionate about — helping people make smarter financial decisions.”

SmartAsset seems to keep its startup culture close to heart, is that something that’s important to you?

“Lean startup culture is an integral part of how we function as a company. We are consistently testing and iterating. Calculated risk and quick learnings help us operate quickly and efficiently.”

As SmartAsset grew, how did you learn to delegate?

“Finding the right people and trusting them to execute on their expertise was a crucial part of learning to delegate.”

What interview advice do you give out most often?

“Do your homework on the company, the interviewers and come prepared to ask good thoughtful questions.”

What’s your most important piece of advice for young professionals just starting to learn how to manage their own finances?

“Save, save, save. Get in the habit of setting aside some amount of every paycheck. A dollar saved in your 20s, with compound interest, is worth a lot more to you than a dollar saved in your 60s.”