Aspiration: Empowering the Everyday Investor Through Trust and Access

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Alexandra Santiago

Alexandra Santiago

Simon Fischweicher

Simon Fischweicher


Bard MBA in Sustainability

Bard MBA in Sustainability


Jeana Wirtenberg

Jeana Wirtenberg

Global Goals

7. Affordable and Clean Energy 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 10. Reduced Inequalities

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Aspiration is an LA-based online financial services firm with a conscience. The firm is on a mission to democratize access to alternative and sustainable investment tools for the American middle class. By building trust through its transparent “Pay What Is Fair” model, Aspiration empowers customers to choose a management fee within their budget. Aspiration provides funds that include alternative investments, normally available to only the most wealthy, for only a $500 minimum investment. Other innovations include the Redwood Fund, a sustainable investment tool that supports companies with progressive environmental and social practices. Alexandra Horigan, who was interviewed for this story, is the Director of Compliance and Operations.


Multi-millionaires invest very differently than everyday investors since Wall Street offers them market strategies that aren’t found in the average portfolio; strategies which are typically out of reach due to barriers such as high minimums. Investments of the middle class are severely affected by financial downturns like the 2008 global crisis,but the wealthiest Americans use investment tools to hedge against long-term volatility and protect assets. This problem inspired Andrei Cherny, a former White House aide and nationally-recognized economic policy expert, to co-found Aspiration, an investment firm that is providing the middle class with opportunities previously only available to the extremely wealthy.

Aspiration is innovating the investment world with a business model built on trust that provides more people with access to alternative investing tools. The firm’s major innovations are the “Pay What is Fair” management fee model and low minimum investment requirements. Aspiration has also gone beyond the company’s core social innovation by incorporating ESG factors into its Redwood Fund and by donating 10% of revenue to charity.

Aspiration is innovating and disrupting the investment world with the “Pay What is Fair” management fee model. The “Pay What is Fair” model allows customers the option to choose a percentage fee they can afford and can even choose not to pay a fee at all. As Alexandra Horigan describes it, the firm allows customers to “pay what you believe is fair, not what your investment manager tells you to.” Traditionally, customers must pay astronomical management fees that accrue. These fees may feel like pocket change to the margins of the top 10% earners but can seriously negate benefits for a smaller investor.

Aspiration opens up investments to the middle class through low minimum financial requirements. The Aspiration Flagship Fund is a mutual fund with a long-term growth strategy with a goal of delivering less volatility than the stock market. The Flagship Fund consists of multiple funds that use alternative investment strategies. These alternative investments are not usually accessible to the average investor since they can require up to hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars as a minimum balance. With only a $500 minimum investment and an optional and customizable management fee, these alternative investment strategies are now easily available to the “everyday investor” through the Aspiration Flagship Fund.

ESG investing doubled between 2012 and 2014 but the large majority of this investment came from money managers, institutional investors, and community investment institutions who have access to millions of dollars. Aspiration enables the “everyday investor” to invest with a conscience through their sustainably invested Redwood Fund. The Redwood Fund is available with the same low investment requirements and “Pay What is Fair” management fee model. The fund is fossil-fuel free and evaluates investments based on factors like carbon emissions, water use, renewable energy, employee turnover and safety, sustainability reporting, percent of women on the Board of Directors and much more.

Finally, Aspiration is committed to expanding economic opportunity for all and donates 10 cents of every dollar earned to charitable initiatives including projects with the Accion US Network, the country’s largest provider of micro-loans. The “Dimes Worth a Difference” philosophy applies to earnings on all Aspiration products.

Aspiration: Empowering the Everyday Investor Through Trust and Access


Aspiration’s co-founder Andrei Cherny was well aware of financial inequality, particularly from his experience as a policy advisor and White House aide. He recognized that the middle class was helped the least and hurt the most by the financial system.

Andrei Cherny and Aspiration’s founding team were inspired by the core belief that the financial industry was working for only a fortunate few and mistrusted by most. Aspiration was founded to change that. As Alexandra Horigan says it, “if you want to gain trust, you need to give trust." This was the inspiration behind the “Pay What is Fair” approach to management fees and the company’s full transparency on investments and financials.

Aspiration took note of the ever-expanding inequality gap between the ultra-rich and middle class and recognized there was a clear need to provide more accessible and sustainable investing options. Tired of business as usual, the Aspiration team set on a quest to provide everyday people with the opportunity to broaden their economic opportunity and empower them to make decisions that align with their values.

Overall impact

Aspiration is shaking up the investment world. The company’s commitment to transparency and empowerment has paid off. Even with the option of no management fee a majority of customers choose to pay close to the industry average rate.

The immediate impact of their success is increased access to alternative investment opportunities for Aspiration’s “everyday investor” clientele. Alexandra Horigan noted that Aspiration wants to “be the finance partner for the everyday investor,” and that the firm’s goal is “to create deep and long lasting customer relationships built on trust and transparency.” Increasing financial access and education for the middle class could have enormous impacts on economic inequality. Wall Street and the investment world have been attacked for increasing economic inequality. However, the scaling of Aspiration could force other investment firms to reconsider their approach to management fees and minimum requirements.

Aspiration strives to restore trust in financial services. As Ms. Horigan noted, “people should trust providers of financial services. They exist to empower and should be building the community.”

Restoring the public’s trust in financial services and giving the middle class an opportunity to participate on a more level playing field with the wealthy will reduce economic inequality and increase economic growth.

Business benefit

Aspiration’s model is not only beneficial to the customers of investment firms but to current and future investment startups as well. Because the “everyday investor” is largely ignored by large institutional investment firms, engaging them is an opportunity to tap into a huge, untouched customer base. Increasing access to finance means the creation of a new market, more customers and more needs for businesses to fill.

Social and environmental benefit

By bringing elite wealth-building tools typically used by the 1% into the hands of middle class Americans, Aspiration evens the playing field and reduces systemic inequality within the financial services sector. Investments chosen by Aspiration are selected because they are leaders who focus on sustainable innovation, environmental preservation, and employee empowerment for growth. Furthermore, Aspiration’s sustainably-invested Redwood Fund and Dimes Worth a Difference charity program are maximizing the social return on investment of their customer’s investments.


Alexandra Horigan, Director of Compliance and Operations

Photo of interviewee

Business information



Marina del Rey, CA, US
Business Website:
Year Founded: 2013
Number of Employees: 11 to 50
Aspiration is an online investment firm with a conscience -- created for the middle class, committed to giving, and built on trust.