Acorns Plans Direct Stock Investing, Challenging Robinhood

(Bloomberg) — Acorns Grow Inc., the popular spare-change investing and checking account app slated to go public this year, is developing a new feature that will let users choose their own investments for the first time.

The upcoming feature, called Customizable Portfolios, will allow users to invest their money and spare-change in portfolios they create instead of only Acorns’ own exchange-traded fund choices. The expansion for Acorns into direct investing will help the app rival other mobile-first platforms like Robinhood Markets Inc. plus legacy services like E*Trade and Fidelity.

Robinhood shares fell as much as 7.4% on Thursday morning, before recovering some of those losses by the afternoon.

The new function will let users choose what percentage of their investment profiles should be allocated to the Acorns ETFs versus individually picked stocks. The company plans to recommend that users invest 90% of their money in the Acorns offerings and 10% in stocks, according to Noah Kerner, chief executive officer of Acorns, who confirmed the upcoming feature in an interview after an inquiry from Bloomberg News.

“The game-changing feature here is that there is a product that lets you stay diversified but also participate with your passions,” Kerner said. “That’s the way a money manager would guide you.” Kerner said his feature differs from Robinhood and other platforms because “Acorns is not about moving money in and out of a portfolio, it’s about holding it for the long term.”

Development of the feature was first discovered hidden inside of the Acorns iPhone application by developer Steve Moser, who shared details and images with Bloomberg. The app included sample images of how the feature will work, using Apple Inc.’s stock as an example. In addition to individual stocks, the portfolios could eventually support cryptocurrency and other investment types, according to Kerner.

The feature will first launch in beta in the “coming months” on iPhones and Android devices and will be part of the $5 Acorns Family tier. The company is a subscription service and doesn’t charge trading fees. The company also offers a $3-per-month plan for single users.

The app will gain a new “Portfolio Builder” section where users can choose their allocation and individual stocks to invest in. Images of the in-development feature, shared by the company, show that it may only allow users to invest 20% of their money in Acorns in stocks that they choose. “Customizing more than 10% may expose you to more risk,” according to a planned message in the app.

In addition to investing money from the spare-change investing feature, which rounds up credit and debit card purchases to the nearest dollar and invests the difference, users will be able to invest their own additional capital.

The company said that it believes the new feature will drive user engagement and that it is working on a new portal to educate investors about building diversified stock market portfolios. “I always stress that education is such an important part about what Acorns provides,” Kerner said.

The disclosure of the feature comes ahead of Acorns own public market debut. Kerner wouldn’t project how the new feature will help grow subscribers. The company said it currently has more than 4 million paying subscribers and is targeting growth to 10 million by 2025.

(Updates with share movement in the third paragraph.)

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