In a Nutshell: Britton Smith understands that shaping personal finances can take time and patience which is why he started Bonsai Finance, named after the Japanese art that requires similar attributes. Bonsai Finance seeks to connect users with financial education information and services as quickly and easily as possible. This is done in part through the company’s single application process that sorts through hundreds of lenders to find the ones best-suited for the customer, without impacting credit scores. As a Navy veteran and entrepreneur, Smith established a $2,500 scholarship for veterans, active duty military, or their family members. He also created a $2,500 scholarship for individuals who embrace the entrepreneurial spirit.
The Japanese art of bonsai refers to the process of selecting, planting, growing, and maintaining a tree in a small container to mimic a large tree in nature. It is a study in persistence, planning, and patience.
Britton Smith, Founder and CEO of Bonsai Finance, recognized how building and maintaining good financial health requires many of the same qualities needed for a bonsai tree to thrive.
The Navy veteran, who holds an MBA from Harvard University, also observed firsthand through family members how the art of personal finance can be daunting and confusing. Just as the bonsai requires specialized tools and knowledge to maintain, so does a healthy personal financial life.
With Bonsai Finance, Smith strives to provide these tools and resources for consumers.
“We are really focused on delivering high-quality educational content and connecting our users to the right products and services for them to shape their finances over time,” Smith said.
Prior to launching Bonsai Finance, Smith worked for a company that operated in the high-risk lending space. Smith grew increasingly disappointed at seeing the company provide loans at very high interest rates for customers in need, yet never provide the broader tools and resources for the customers to get a handle on their financial problems.
With Bonsai Finance, Smith said he strives to go above and beyond his former employer and help people access the information and tools they need for a healthy financial life.
A Simple Application Process for Pre-Approval for Loans or Credit Cards Without Dinging Credit Scores
“Our goal at Bonsai Finance is to provide customers with exactly what they’re looking for,” Smith said. “One of the big issues with some of the less reputable companies in the industry is this constant bait and switch. They bring you in on one product and then try to sell you everything else possible.”
Smith said overall he hopes Bonsai Finance will be a one-stop shop for a person’s financial needs. And a major component that differentiates the company from other personal finance services is its technology, he said.
“With our technology, people can visit our site and use a single application to apply for loans or credit cards that does not hurt the customer’s credit score,” Smith said. “We match them with a lender for which they’re pre-approved and hopefully they can get the money they need quickly.”
Oftentimes, when a person needs fast access to cash and has less-than-ideal credit, the process of finding the right loan can be very frustrating. Smith said when people apply for a loan, their credit scores take a small hit. If they are denied based on that first loan application, when they go to apply for another loan, their chances for approval will be even less.
A visit to the Bonsai Finance website reveals an intuitive and straightforward user experience. Potential customers can use a dropdown menu to indicate whether they are looking for a loan or a credit card. Another menu provides a few broad categories customers can select to indicate why they are in need of a loan or credit card.
Users are then taken to the appropriate page, depending on their needs, where they provide a few more details. Then Bonsai Finance’s in-house technology will determine which lenders or credit card companies are best-matched for the customer’s needs and qualifications.
Bonsai Finance’s Website Offers A Wealth of Financial Education Articles for Any Situation
Smith said that some of the most popular personal finance websites require users to create an account and provide a lot of personal information to become a member of the site before they can access the site’s resources and services.
“We want to make accessing information as easy as possible so when a customer comes to our website, they can quickly find information about their particular financial situation without having to create an account,” Smith said.
He said Bonsai Finance publishes articles on a daily basis that are rich in content and span the broad, diverse world of personal finance. The company also connects its users to services through numerous partners, but Smith said it’s important to be sure the service is going to add value to the customer experience.
“The objective is to provide the customer with valuable information and advice, and then provide them with the tool to accomplish their goal as simply as possible, with minimum difficulty,” Smith said.
Bonsai Finance also gives customers the opportunity to sign up for more information if they are interested. But Smith said rather than pinging members constantly with various offers, the company sends out a weekly email newsletter that highlights the top three articles published during the previous week.
Additionally, Smith emphasized that the company prioritizes customer’s data security by using 256-bit encryption and a Comodo SSL Certificate to protect customer transactions and ensure Bonsai Finance’s partners are secure as well.
“The certificate verifies not just the partner website itself but the whole organization, so we’ve gone through a full verification of the organization to confirm that the partner organization is legit and registered, and is operating as a real company,” Smith said.
He said the company also employs the most up-to-date antivirus and anti-spam software.
Giving Back to the Community with Scholarships for Veterans and Entrepreneurs
Before Smith had a career in finance, he attended the U.S. Naval Academy and spent six years in the Navy where he rose to the rank of lieutenant. He conducted two successful submarine deployments to the Persian Gulf and received numerous awards.
Now, at the helm of a veteran-owned business, Smith is giving back to the military community with the Bonsai Finance Veteran’s Scholarship.
“As a veteran of the U.S. Navy, it’s important to support students with a military connection,” Smith said in an announcement. “Bonsai Finance encourages all students to become more educated about their finances and we established this veteran’s scholarship to help alleviate some of the financial burden of higher education.”
The scholarship provides a one-time payment of $2,500 for current or future education costs. Eligibility extends to veterans, active military or direct dependents including sons, daughters, or spouses. The applicant can not have previously earned a bachelor’s degree from a college or university.
To apply for the scholarship, applicants are required to write a 500-word essay “describing how they strive for excellence in their lives, including what accomplishments and challenges they have overcome to achieve success.”
Bonsai Finance also sponsors an entrepreneur scholarship that provides a one-time payment of $2,500 toward current or future education costs.
“At Bonsai Finance, we believe the entrepreneurial spirit is a mindset that embraces critical questioning, innovation, service, and continuous improvement,” according to the website. “It’s an attitude and approach to thinking that actively seeks out change, rather than waiting to adapt to change.”
Applicants for this scholarship must submit an essay of 500 words or less on how he or she embraces the entrepreneurial spirit.
Currently Available in Six Countries, the Company Plans to Expand Its Presence Significantly
Smith started Bonsai Finance in Spain, in part, because in his previous position he was in charge of European markets, so he was already familiar with the territory. He said he then brought the Bonsai Finance business model back to the U.S. and has since expanded to six different countries: the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, and the U.K.
He said the company currently works with more than 100 lenders in the U.S. and around 25 lenders in Canada.
“We have plans for some significant international expansion in the near future,” Smith said. “We also continually evaluate our current offerings and will be adding more credit cards and lending partners along the way as well.”