Money

One CEO gives new employees $500 to teach them a critical money lesson

If entrepreneur Mark Douglas could give his younger self one piece of advice, it would be to start investing sooner.

"Everyone always wishes they had started saving and investing earlier," says the founder and CEO of marketing and advertising company SteelHouse. After all, investing can be a simple way to double your money over time and the sooner you start, the better off you'll be, thanks to the power of compound interest.

That's why Douglas started offering his employees $500 to invest in Acorns, an app that makes it easy for anyone to put their money to work.

"We have a lot of people in the company in their early 20's," the CEO tells CNBC. "I want to do for them what I wish someone had done for me when I was 23."

Mark Douglas, founder and CEO of SteelHouse
Courtesy of SteelHouse
Mark Douglas, founder and CEO of SteelHouse

The tradition started at the beginning of 2015, shortly after Douglas, who has no affiliation with Acorns, heard about the micro-investing app and started using it himself. "It was the first meeting of the year, and instead of talking about the company, we talked about saving and investing," he explains. "I asked everyone to take out their phone right then, and if they opened an Acorns account, I told them we'd put $500 in it by tomorrow."

Every new employee is now offered the same deal on their first day. Of the 230 SteelHouse employees, "nearly 100% participate," the CEO says.

After the initial $500 deposit, employees can decide to make weekly or monthly contributions on their own. Acorns also offers a "round-ups" feature that allows users to invest "spare change" from all of the purchases they make.

SteelHouse still offers employees a more traditional 401(k) plan to help fund their retirement. "Of course, you can encourage everyone to invest the maximum in their 401(k)," Douglas says. "But let's be realistic: If you're in your 20's, that's not necessarily easy to do. We wanted to offer something that is easy for employees to do."

SteelHouse employees
Courtesy of SteelHouse
SteelHouse employees

Acorn is far from new investors' only choice. Other apps such as Stash also aim to make investing simple and accessible. And automated investing services known as robo-advisors help users get started with a small amount of money.

No matter how you choose to put your money to work, the message Douglas wants to relay is that you don't have to be an expert, nor do you need much money, to invest.

"I can confidently say that the vast majority of employees would not have any money in a brokerage account if we didn't do this," the CEO tells CNBC. "Hopefully this is making a positive impact on their lives that will carry on indefinitely.

"This is bigger than just a benefit of working at SteelHouse, because when you leave, the Acorns account is still yours. We make the initial deposit. Everything after that is your choice. There's no reason not to continue using it."

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