The Challenge

Help design a startup venture and digital product that connects investors to companies making a positive impact in the world.


As of June 2019, Swell attracted over 15,000 investors⁠ and $35 million AUM. Nearly 40 percent of investors were making investments on a recurring basis.


Swell, a fully-backed startup and impact investment platform, allowed consumers to invest in portfolios of stocks that align with their values.

For the socially-conscious, investing can be a tricky proposition. The same people who wish to vote with their wallets may find that their options for investment funds and 401K plans are rife with companies that violate causes they believe in. So far, there have been few options in the marketplace that give consumers the opportunity to put their money in financial products that not only cut out environmental and social offenders, but actually contribute to the well-being of the environment and society.

Dave Fanger, a financial professional, was determined to design a solution. He approached IDEO to help create a startup venture for socially-conscious investors. Pacific Life, a Fortune 500 financial services company and Fanger’s employer at the time, offered the resources to develop and launch the idea. The online impact investment platform gave consumers the opportunity to invest in high-growth industries that are addressing global, environmental, and social challenges. Swell rigorously screened companies for both impact and performance, so consumers could be confident that their investments were in line with their values.

A holistic approach

Embedded as core team members, IDEO designers worked alongside Swell’s founder to shape the company. In just one year, they went from an initial concept and prototype to an SEC-registered investment adviser with a fully developed business model, a digital platform with initial investors, and well-defined branding that set the look and feel of the values-driven company. The IDEO team helped to hire the initial team of employees, working to ensure that the fintech startup would have the creative talent it needed to operate post-launch, as well as a defined culture that would help it grow.

IDEO's human-centered design approach played a critical role in getting us from the initial idea to a fully developed product and brand experience.

Dave Fanger, Founder and CEO, Swell

A new investment platform

From the outset, it was important for the team to build an innovative, digitally-fluent, and customer-centered platform to make it easy for investors to back causes they care about. Working in close collaboration with software development partner Carbon Five, Swell and IDEO committed to act nimbly, take risks, move fast, and ditch decks for prototypes. Understanding the motivations of the investor—their values and what drives their investment decisions—was key, so the team leveraged IDEO’s network to form a consumer council, which helped to quickly iterate and refine prototypes throughout the duration of the product development process. Having that core group involved every step of the way made it easy for the team to keep consumers at the center of the design and validate key decisions quickly.

Swell offered consumers portfolios of companies that work to solve some of today's biggest challenges. The six impact portfolios offered were: green tech, renewable energy, zero waste, clean water, healthy living, and disease eradication.

As of June 2019, Swell had attracted over 15,000 investors⁠—more than half under the age of 34⁠—and $35 million AUM. Nearly 40 percent of investors were making investments on a recurring basis.

Financial Services