Devin Miller: Suzie Orman, Emergency Savings Accounts and Remote Work
Devin Miller is the Co-founder and CEO of SecureSave, the first purpose-built emergency savings solution designed to help people achieve financial security. He is an experienced executive in the consumer finance and workplace savings space. With over 15 years of experience in business development, strategic partnerships, and digital product management, Devin is a veteran startup executive with two prior VC-backed exits as CEO and Head of Product. He is also a proven innovator with two issued patents in software development, AI, and automation.
David Nilssen 0:00
Hey David Nilssen here. I’m the host of this podcast. On this show, we connect with business leaders who have what I like to refer to as a borderless mindset where we can get together and share ideas, new innovations, best practices, things that can be applied both in your personal and professional life. The goal is to ultimately help us lead and grow in a rapidly changing world. Now this episode is brought to you by Doxa Talent. Doxa Talent helps businesses to source full-time highly skilled workers from all over the world. And as a result, these companies can scale faster, increase margin and improved culture. To learn more about how Doxa can help you leverage borderless talent, go to doxatalent.com. All right. Well, on for the show. So today I’m excited about this particular we have our guests, which is Devin Miller, he’s the CEO of SecureSave. Devin is an experienced executive in the consumer finance and workplace saving space. He’s a veteran startup executive with two prior VC-backed exits. One as the CEO, one is the head of product, and has 15 years of experience in business development, strategic partners and digital product management. He’s also a proven innovator with two issued patents, in the field of software development, AI and automation. And so with that, Devin Welcome to The Futures Is borderless.
Devin Miller 1:14
Hey David, good to be here.
David Nilssen 1:16
All right, well, let’s talk real quickly about SecureSave there in the emergency savings space. This is not a very mature market, at least from my perspective. And so I wonder if we could just start by just helping people understand what is an emergency savings plan? And why is it the place that you chose to start investing your time?
Devin Miller 1:36
Yeah, good question. So emergency savings number one, in the US the number one source of stress for the average person is short-term money matters, different stats, but at any given time, over half of the American working population is living paycheck to paycheck, most of them around 40 to 50%, have basically no savings. And so there’s been a big push within this country to try and improve emergency savings. There’s a big tie to retirement security, more people can retire if they have better short-term savings, they won’t take out of retirement. So there’s been this kind of growing trend to make emergency savings accounts, ESAs let’s say, more of like a defined thing, similar to how health savings accounts became a thing 20 years ago, to help people better manage and prepare for current and future health-related expenses. And so we are a technology company that builds technology to help power emergency savings accounts. We do this with employers, and a lot of times big financial services providers, banks, 401k providers, folks like that, to help make ESA is a product that they can offer to employers better than provided to their employees. And ultimately, this is very simple. The emergency savings account is something that an employee gets through their employer for free, they have automatic payroll deductions, just like an HSA or 401k, they oftentimes will get a match very small amount of money 50 to 100 bucks per year, so long as the employee starts saving a little bit. So essentially, what you’re doing is you’re automating something that someone could do on their own, but they don’t, you’re giving them an incentive that is really important to help build the habit of savings. And so we’ve been at this for just about two years, and the product works incredibly well we get, on average, a 55% adoption, which is just likes out better than almost anything else you’re going to find as far as benefits. We get tremendous engagement, average employee saves, like 80 to 90 bucks per month, employers give a little bit of a match, but a little bit goes a long way. They really use the app, they stick with it. And people really like it. So what’s happening is employers are really starting to connect the dots and say, how do I get my employees to take less loans? How do I make sure they have better financial wellness? How do I get them to stop taking payday advances? How do I get them to participate in retirement plan, and they’re starting to realize that this foundational item of emergency savings is an easy automated, really high-impact way that employees love. And so it’s turning into a big new category of benefit, you and I both know that benefit decisions often happen like this time of the year. And so it’s a bit of a slow category develop HSAs were the same way retirement plans, 401ks took a long time to develop. But once they get going, it’s a very, like, unstoppable force. And so we believe ESAs are going to be a huge category. And if you haven’t heard about before, now you’re going to hear about it definitely over the next few years.
David Nilssen 4:41
Yeah, it’s funny I remember the first time that I actually saw the announcement that you guys had raised capital and you’re starting to launch the business was the first time I’d heard of the ESA and so I’ve been tracking it a little bit more closely. But you’re right now that I’ve seen it, I’m starting to see it talked about everywhere. I want to go back to something you said a minute ago though, because this was actually my first reaction when I heard about the ESA, which is, if I wanted to save 50 bucks a month, why do I need to sign up for an account through some, like, I would just save $50 a month. So you said that people know they need to do it, but they’re not good at or they don’t do it, I think is what you said, like, why is that? Like, why aren’t people just doing it on their own?
Devin Miller 5:19
Yeah, it’s I mean, I’ve been asked this and the bio you read, I’ve been building product and financial services for a very long time, it feels like it. You got to remember that money is a very ones and zeros thing. It has no emotion to it. But our relationship to money is highly emotionally charged. And so ultimately, even though it is very easy, you go into your bank account, you open up a new account, you walk into HR, you told me what to split deposit, and you give them that new account, routing number, and it goes in there. Like structurally, this is not difficult. But emotionally, it’s very hard for people and so people don’t do it. I’ve talked to executives at some of the largest payroll companies out there. And they said, the number of people that do split deposits is basically zero at scale, it just doesn’t happen. And so ultimately, what you’re fighting in this is human nature, you’re not trying to create necessarily a new category of bank account or new, like functional process, you’re trying to build something that helps people get around themselves. And so the way that we do that is automatic payroll deductions, a custom-built app that has tons of behavioral science and kind of emotionally structured features that get people to do the thing that they won’t do on their own automatically. And we just take away all the friction, so there’s kind of no excuse left. So signing up for SecureSave is as easy as you get an email from your employer that says Get Started. And if you click that button, you’re basically in with just three more fields, username, password, and then identity validation. So instead of like setting up the account, and going to HR and doing all that work, you get an email, you click get started, and you sign up for the app, super easy. And so it works super well. And we kind of tailored all that emotional stuff that people have around money, just so that it just makes it so that it feels warm and fuzzy. And they call yes, this is great, I should do this. And we’ve made it easy. So they do. It’s really not rocket science. It’s just what happens when you build something very purpose-built and really recognize the emotional element of it. And you just focus on the user and exactly what they need to get around themselves, basically.
David Nilssen 7:24
Yeah. You talked about this a second ago, at least. And I’ve heard because I’ve done research, obviously, on the company, what have you, I think I understand why, but you talked about the employers is typically the pathway, right? Like, why should employers care about savings? I understand why, like, I’ve been in the 401k business for a long time. 401 k’s are an employee retention tool, and you can put a vesting schedule on employer matches and so like, that is something I’ve seen, and I’m very clear on but why does the employer care about this? And are they doing this instead of 401 k’s are alongside,
Devin Miller 8:00
Alongside the 401k it’s someone is answering the why is that is 401k is a great long-term investment vehicle. But people need short-term investment vehicles as well. They need a place to save for basic stuff, replacing tires, unexpected dental visit, I’ve got a broken dishwasher upstairs right now that’s leaking I didn’t expect but no big deal for me. But for the average person that is like a devastating financial event potentially. And so you need to balance the long term of the short term. And the mechanics that make HSAs and 401k is work so well, incentives, automation, introduction from your employer can be leveraged to make short-term savings work very well as well. So that’s a nutshell what we do. The reason why employers to do this as a handful of different reasons, and they can all apply. One is some large companies will look at this and say, look, I’ve got too many people taking out 401 K loans, using it like a short-term piggy bank, asking me is the employer for short term loan, looking for support financially in ways that like are not sustainable. And so this is a great way to automate that and just for that one reason alone, we see big employers coming to us. Another one is a lot of employers are really recognizing that their employees are really in bad financial shape. I mean, the inflation is brutal right now, cost of living is out of control. Because even a lot of employers like I can’t just keep paying them like endlessly more and more. So how do I help improve their overall financial habits and wellbeing, of course, we’re going to pay them a good wage and try and improve that. But is there other things that have a good return on investment that can help them help themselves, and that’s where we are like a game changer. And then finally, a lot of places just the great recruiting and retention challenges that are out there. A lot of employers spend a lot of money on a lot of benefits that nobody even knows that they have and they don’t use them enough numbers. And for us, we did a deployment the other week that kind of hit all of these, big manufacturer, they saw a lot more loans and their 401 K, they were really worried about the cost of living changes that were going on in their town. And ultimately they are not the top paying employer in their area. But they have great benefits that they need benefits that people use and recognize and value. And so for all three of those reasons, they were excited to work with us. And we delivered tremendous results in like 24 hours. Within 24 hours, 30% of their staff had signed up, it’s now over 40%. And they’re all saving, and they liked it. And it’s all positive like, it’s somewhat turns into a no-brainer for both the employee and for the employer once they start dialing back.
David Nilssen 10:29
Yeah, I can’t remember the exact statistic. But I never let the facts get in the way of a good story. I believe this is directionally correct that I saw something somewhere that the average American or a percentage, I think it was like 30, or 40% of Americans couldn’t pay a $300 bill if it just came due out of the blue. And so what I’m hearing from you, though, is that this can lower the administrative burden that employers are dealing with, it can add different benefits, but it also can reduce stress or improve wellness worth the workers.
Devin Miller 11:01
Holy. And it does it in a large scale, which is the parts I would like financial wellness programs, very few people are going to participate in those. And it’s often the wrong people, right? It’s people like you and I are personal finance nerds in like the staff. And you know, if someone shows up to help us learn something we love learning to like, we’ll go and listen, we don’t need that. Right? The people that need that don’t show up to courses, they just need a solution not coaching.
David Nilssen 11:25
Yep. So who’s your ideal customer profile? I mean, is it every one that has an employer or is there specific?
Devin Miller 11:33
There’s a stage of this. So like where we are today, I would answer that as if you’ve got over 100 to 200 employees that we have smaller accounts. If you’re in places in an industry where you’ve got a low, a lot of low to moderate income employees of any age. And you’re in an industry where you’re seeing, high competition for talent, and your employees are under tremendous financial stress, then you’re a good fit. So we get a lot of manufacturing services, hospitality, retail, is a really kind of good group for us. And once you’re of that size, you’ve probably like tried some of the normal benefit things. And you’re a lot of them aren’t working, some of them aren’t working well like a 401k to the loans. And so you got to find something that really kind of fits in well. And you probably collected a lot of benefits that you should be getting rid of, because they’re not cost-effective and you don’t need them. And so that’s always kind of a balance and people are going through.
David Nilssen 12:35
Yeah, okay, where are you guys offering this, by the way? I mean, I know you’re in the US. Are you elsewhere?
Devin Miller 12:42
No, it’s a US only. It’s cool, though, because there’s a lot of what we do is, it’s not highly regulated, meaning we’re not dependent on US tax code to do this. And so we could take it anywhere. And we’ve looked at that we’ve delayed that way down the line, because it’s quite the undertaking. Right now, we’re just US, but it’s a universal problem, like, basically any developed country is going to have this exact same problem.
David Nilssen 13:08
Yeah, I mean, I do a lot of work. obviously, within the Philippines, Vietnam. This is a major issue, not just even in developed countries, but in just about everywhere. This is a real issue. And it actually gets worse in second third-world countries as well. Definitely an opportunity there for you guys to expand. I want to talk about the founding story, though, because I have a couple of co-founders, your CTO, Bassam, and then Suze Orman of all people, like how the heck did that happen?
Devin Miller 13:39
Yeah. So I have not known Suze. In fact, I’ve still never met her. And I’ll explain why in a minute. But we have an interesting founding story. So Bassam and I have worked together for a very long time. Good old friend of mine, tremendous technologist, great experience in FinTech and we were working on new projects. And long story short, the pandemic brought us to this idea, both for different reasons. And prior early life, we know what not having three or $400 looks and feels like and the stress and strain that that causes. And we’ve been fortunate to grow out of that and be in a much more privileged position. But when the pandemic hit, it was very much like a reminder of how fragile most people’s financial life is, and what that looks and feels like. And so we kind of had this immediate drop to the idea of helping to try and reinvent the emergency savings accounts and kind of thinking about it from the ground up rebuilding it. And as I said, there’s already a bit of a groundswell focus on this. So this was in reaction to the pandemic sit in it I’m talking over zoom as the world shut down. And like, hey, the world could be ending and it was crazy times are like, what if it doesn’t end, actually emergency savings is a big like a big thing. People are going to be have a renewed vigor to solve this problem. So we’ve done number of startups in the past, Bassam and I, and who have good relationships with VCs, I remember I sent this email, probably May of 2020, to a local VC that we’ve worked with in the past and player projects. And I think it said something like, not sure you’re still starting companies during the end of the world. But if you are, I’ve got some great ideas I’d love to share. And I think after the pandemics, like writes itself, there’s going to be tremendous opportunities. And they’re like, yes, we’re still starting companies. The world is ending, but probably not. There’ll be great opportunities. And so we worked on this thesis around emergency savings. And I remember early on, before we started a company, one of the partners there said, hey, we’ve been talking to Suze Orman’s talent agency, and they told us somebody should start a company with Suze Orman, would you like to talk with her? I was like, hell yeah. Little did I really realized she had just had massive surgery, like a month before. High-risk cancer, like tumorous surgery on her spine and like wasn’t necessarily likely to make it. And if she did have a high likelihood of being like paralised, it was this huge thing. And it was public. But I just didn’t really pick up on it because building a company and moving fast. And so I hopped on a call with Suze’s spouse, longtime spouse and business manager Katie, and Katie’s pretty funny. And we had a few calls. And then she finally got me on the phone with Suze, you got to remember Suze had just had spinal surgery, thought she was going to die or be paralyzed. And her spouse is like the upside of this guy. He’s got this great idea. And you got to think everybody pitches Suze? Suze showed me pictures of the founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey and square like at her house pitching her on square at the earliest days, she was like, I don’t want to be involved. So she had pitched and passes on stuff all the time. So somehow, I ended up on a phone call Suze pitching her on emergency savings, and SecureSave and telling her the story and the vision and things like that. And later, she told me what really hooked her was, I didn’t pitch a business opportunity, we pitched a vision for what the world would look like in 10 years. What if everybody had three months of emergency savings? What if you could help make that happen with us? What if we build a brand around emergency savings in the same way that like TurboTax built around tax or credit card around credit, there should be a brand and a business that solves this problem at scale for the benefit of Americans. And she had just listened for about an hour. And then she goes, you know why I took this call? I laughed at myself. I’m like, I have no idea why Suze Orman took this random call from me. And she goes this because you were smart enough to name your company secure. Because that’s the goal of money is to feel and be secure. And basically hooked her in one phone call. Completely unexpected. And she’s been fantastic to work with. Because then a huge game changer does. But the big lesson learned there was, have a big vision, tell the story of it, and shoot for the moon. I mean, I would have never thought to have somebody like her as a co-founder and involved in the business but took the opportunity and made my shot and worked. It was great.
David Nilssen 18:16
Well and no pressure since you passed on square.
Devin Miller 18:19
I know. That’s an incredibly high bar. But she’s cool. I talked to her even this morning. And she’s like, let’s not forget why we’re doing this. We’re doing this to change the world. The business outcome will be what it is. But if we change the world and value creation will occur. But change the world first.
David Nilssen 18:38
Wow. Now why haven’t you met her two years later?
Devin Miller 18:41
Yeah, great question. So she had that huge surgery, she was a hugely high risk of COVID and rightfully was pretty much locked down. And she’s had a number of other little setbacks and challenges and she’s in a spot where she’s got to put her health really high. And so we’ve tried to connect here and there, but she’s been pretty hard locked down, but you would never know it like she’s on CNN and CNBC all the time. She’s still doing all sorts of stuff, just did a huge deal with Amazon releasing all our own shows. But she’s kind of in doing it like we are from zoom, making the best of the world as it is.
David Nilssen 19:19
Amazing. Well, I love it. Well, I want to talk, we’ve gotten a chance to cover secure a little bit, but I want to talk for just a second about just some of the ways that you approach entrepreneurship, leadership, things of that nature. But something that you talked about a moment ago, which I think is really interesting, and something that you and I have in common is that we run 100% remote organization. You started this thing in the pandemic, I’d love to know like, how was that different? And then I want to go into remote here in a second. But let’s start with the pandemic. You started this then, like, any unique challenges inside of that?
Devin Miller 19:51
Yeah, one example is fundraising. No VC was used to 100% fundraising online. And then we were a crop of startups that were born. I mean, my co-founder, and I’ve built venture backed startups. And we’ve done the old way. And so we also had to kind of learn the new way as the VCs did. But the advantage was to the entrepreneur, I think a little bit more. So that was interesting. We went out to raise money in September of 2020. And in 90 days, it was actually 100 days, like calendar days, we had closed on a three and a half million dollar seed round, three revenue, free products, 100% on Zoom calls. No ties, no travel, no socks, no shoes, right, just sit at home zooming in. So it was incredible definitely experience. So that was really unique. But yeah, I’m a big fan of remote first, but not remote only. So we have a mission vision principles document that we share with all candidates and review, we review as a team like line by line, only a two page document every six months and kind of retrain each other on and talk about it edited if needed. We wrote it in the very beginning of the company. And we very specifically say we were remote first. And I think there’s big distinctions in how people do remote. So we still get together every four to six months, we just this week at our off-site, all company invited, we only have one person who couldn’t make it due to our honeymoon, because everybody was there. And we have a very set kind of way that we do those days. We also have we work memberships. And so we’ll kind of move in and out of the works. Not very often, but we’ll get together if need be. But yeah, I mean, part of it is because we couldn’t do in person for so long, you kind of have to lean into one or another. I think that definitely gives companies an advantage. If you can do that, from the beginning, I know you guys are your company moved into it, which is a totally different ballgame. We could do this from the ground up and start, but it changes everything. It changes how you build culture, changes how you hire, changes how you administer the company and basic ways, changes how you’re thinking about benefits, changes how you think about travel, and desks and setup. So you really have to, like fully embrace it, for sure. And I think that’s the problem with so many companies. It’s not that they’re not embracing remote, they’re not embracing. Amazon, I think is a good example of doing it, well, they recognize that their entire operating model has changed. And then at least recognizing and trying to embrace it, versus companies like JP Morgan Chase, I think is a good example of Blackrock who were like trying to get people to go back to the old way. And it’s like, it’s just not going to happen, you’ve got to think of a new way of operating your business and like, fully lean into it. And we have the advantage of having no other choice and doing that. But it’s definitely one of like, I think we have an advantage in recruiting, we have an advantage in our cost structure, we have an advantage in the speed. But you definitely have to be incredibly thoughtful in the way you approach your culture development. But you should do that anyway, whether you’re full in person, I mean, it’s all just standard stuff.
David Nilssen 19:54
It doesn’t change the priorities, it changes the delivery mechanism, right. I have one business that I started 20 years ago that was fully centralized. And now it’s fully remote, that transition is tough. When we started Doxa, we were full remote and have been ever since. Right? And that is like to your point, it’s so much easier when you get to start that way. But it’s funny, because I see so many people right now that kind of have an identity crisis. I think there are some people, workers who want to be in an office full time, it’s part of their social network, it’s part of the way that they learn totally fine, that employer who’s all in an office is going to have an advantage there. There’s also the full remote, but when you’re in between, it’s like the most expensive, you’re not committed to either, and you have to do both. It’s really hard. So remote first as a principle, though, because I do think that the in-person connection matters. It just can’t be every day.
Devin Miller 23:55
Well, we recruited two people into our company that they both came from the same company. And that company was remote only they never got together. And not that we get together that often. I mean, it’s measured in months, not weeks or days. But they’re like this is a pronounced difference in that approach. And it costs money for sure. But I think the benefits is tremendous.
David Nilssen 24:19
I totally agree. Devin, how have you evolved as a leader? If you look at yourself 15 years ago, your first startup, like how are you different today that you think is important to sort of call out for this audience which is primarily entrepreneurs.
Devin Miller 24:34
Yeah, I’m sure a lot of people that listen to this or repeat entrepreneurs like you and I and one thing that I think I’ve learned is to not be so damn stressed out. It’s my wife would recognize that this time around I’m much more level-headed and in calm, now fair, I think I’m in a different point of life and financially like it seems less risky. But at the same time, I think it was less risky than when I had less kids. Less more time horizon to recover from failure. I don’t know if I’m actually less risky now or then. But I’m definitely way less stressed. And I think that attention to mental health and sustainability of life and work-life balance and work-life integration, whatever you want to call it is so much better now than it was that in like clear ways, I mean, I was 2030 pounds heavier than I am now, I had a stutter at times, because I was so stressed out, like I literally, like at times develop a stutter, which my doctor is like, no, that you’re just so stressed that that’s how your brain is reacting. And it was just a sign of the like, total unsustainable. I think that like by far is the biggest difference. And I definitely have learned a little things over time of just how I approached the business. One is, when we started the company, we wrote mission, vision strategies, principles, like this is our strategies, priority one through seven, this is what we’re trying to accomplish. And this is what we hope to change in the world. This is our kind of brand promise of the company. And here are the operating principles and how we define those and think about it. And this is how we define our culture. Honestly, that document is 96% the same as it was when we wrote it two years later. And it’s like phenomenally important in how we recruit and manage and work with the team. And it’s so cool to be able to see how autonomous they become in a sustainable, repeatable similar way. Right. And that was by design. So that’s another hugely important thing. I think we’re much more intentional about the culture and how we organize it. The other thing we did in the beginning, and we did PRFAQ, which is the Amazon press release, and frequently asked questions like, imagine the end result of what you’re doing and work backwards. So I’ve never worked at Amazon and there’s definitely pros and cons to their culture. But I liked that thing that they do the PRFAQ and work backwards. So we did that with SecureSave, very early, Bassam and I wrote a PRFAQ, put together kind of the working backwards, what would have to be true for this to be successful. And we still share it. And honestly, it’s changed a decent amount, I would say 75% of what is in there is still what we’re executing and trying to work backwards from today. So I think that like framework based starting point, and working backwards mentality is definitely something I’ve done differently. And so I think those were probably the two biggest things that I’ve tried to be much more intentional with frameworks. And just don’t be so damn stressed out.
David Nilssen 24:41
One of my earliest, what I would call, I don’t know, if they were really advisor, but someone that I would consider a mentor influencer for me, said, once you read a business plan, it’s wrong. And just embrace the fact that you have to be flexible, be intentional, but be flexible. But I will say I love the fact that you say reducing your stress has helped you be more effective, when in fact, that’s what you’re trying to do with SecureSave. Interesting connection there that, I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but I love the fact that that’s the case. So well, hey, I know, we’re getting close to the end here. I love to maybe just go back to the business. Because we talked a lot about why you started it and the journey that you’ve been on there. But I mean, what is one thing that you’d like the people that are listening to know about Secure?
Devin Miller 28:35
Yeah, I think just walk away with the knowledge of emergency savings accounts sort of thing that your benefits team should be looking at, especially if you’ve got a lot of low to moderate income employees. I also would coach people on remember what it was like to be poor and broke. And what not having $200 to replace a flat tire, my look and feel like. A lot of us are in a much more privileged position these days, and don’t have those stresses, your employee sure is do though, and a lot of. A lot of them are going to talk about even ones that you think are fine, but they make 100 grand, and I know their spouse makes good money too. And they seem like they’re really well put together. They’re well educated, a lot of those people are completely at their wit’s end financially, and they would love to be helped. And there are solutions out there. And this is one that I think would help them. But regardless, people are really in a bad spot financially right now. And it’s not likely people listening to this call. But have some empathy for what other people are going through. But also know that makes a sound business decision to get them in a better place less stressed, better prepared, employees are going to show up on time, work harder, be better retained. They’re going to be appreciative that you help them and they’re going to remember. So I hope people at least look to like solve that problem because ultimately, whether they work with us or use our product, our mission is to help people feel and be financially secure, and I hope that other people embrace that mission and can try it out their employees.
David Nilssen 30:05
Awesome. we’ll leave it there. We’ve been talking with Devin Miller of SecureSave. Devin, where can people go to learn more about the work that you’re doing?
Devin Miller 30:13
David Nilssen 30:14
All right. Thanks for being on the show.
Devin Miller 30:16