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San Mateo, CA
Kevin Busque
Home  >  Companies  >  Guideline
Guideline is a tech-enabled 401(k) provider.







Growth Rate (y/y)








Click here for access to our Guideline model. All Sacra estimates from public information.

Sacra estimates that Guideline hit $80M annually recurring revenue (ARR) at the end of 2022.

Guideline serves 40,000 SMBs and 500,000+ individual plan participants with their 401(k) and IRA programs.

Business Model

Guideline makes 95% of its revenue from subscriptions to its SaaS platform, for which Guideline charges businesses between $49 and $129 per/mo, plus $8 per/mo per active participant.

An additional 5% comes from charging 0.08% per year on all of the AUM they manage—significantly lower than the 1% to 2% of AUM on which traditional 401(k) providers make their money.

Guideline’s initial product-market fit came from selling into VC-backed tech startups like Plaid with large numbers of high-earner employees banking substantial amounts of money into retirement programs. These kinds of startups were inclined to adopt and pay for a new SaaS product like Guideline given the potentially great savings of switching from an AUM-driven model to a subscription-driven model.

Guideline also charges a fee for its Guideline IRA product, which allows individuals to invest in their retirement outside of their employer-sponsored plan. The fee for this product is $8 per month.

By charging a flat fee, Guideline is able to offer its services at a lower cost than traditional 401(k) providers, also making it more accessible to small businesses and individuals who may not have large amounts of assets under management.

Guideline’s core method of distribution comes through payroll providers like Gusto, Rippling, and Square, which refer customers to Guideline to set up their 401(k) plan.



Guideline's software-as-a-service (SaaS) product is a cloud-based platform that provides small and medium-sized businesses with a 401(k) retirement plan solution, featuring easy setup, automated administration, low-cost investments, and a user-friendly interface for employees to manage their retirement accounts.

Guideline handles filing all the standard annual reports, including Form 5500 and 1099-R. They process transactions and execute trades, do all the necessary compliance testing, and act as the overall record keeper of the 401(k) plan, from deferrals to balances to transactions.

Individual employees can get access through the Guideline app to various educational resources, like investing webinars, portfolio recommendations, and live support.


Guideline operates in a competitive landscape of retirement plan providers that includes traditional financial services companies like Fidelity and Vanguard, as well as newer players like Human Interest.

Guideline differentiates itself from those more legacy competitors with a focus on ease of use and accessibility for SMBs as well as a drastically lower price structure. While legacy providers charge employers 1% to 2% of their AUM per year, Guideline charges a flat monthly fee, a $8 per-employee fee, and 0.08% of AUM per year—lower even than fellow SaaS 401(k) provider Human Interest.

Where companies like Fidelity and Vanguard have the upper hand today is at IPO—because 401(k) assets are declared on the S-1, companies will often ‘graduate’ to a Fidelity or Vanguard as they move to go public.

There is some overlap between Guideline's business and wealth management fintechs like Betterment and Wealthfront. These fintechs offer broader investment services for individual investors, including tax-efficient portfolio management, goal-based planning, and access to alternative investments—they also have IRA products. However, so far they are mostly differentiated because these services don’t have their own 401(k) programs.

TAM Expansion

A few key TAM expansion opportunities from our research:

Horizontal expansion

Guideline has line of sight into all kinds of tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles that do not require a mandated middleman—like the IRA, SEP, and HSA markets.

There are various markets where the government’s involvement in regulating it—like the market for 529 college savings plans—means that the economics are unfavorable for a company like Guideline to get involved. If Guideline were to get into the 529 market, for example, they would have to pay each state 25-50 basis points for nothing.

They’ve also expressed interest in exploring adjacent opportunities in wealth management, estate planning, and retirement events where they can help people further protect their earnings. For now, however, their primary focus remains on the 401(k) market.

Catching up to Fidelity & Vanguard

Guideline today is at about $80M serving 40,000 SMBs and over 500,000 individual plan participants. That said, Fidelity 401(k) serves 22,000 employers representing 32M+ individual employees. All in all, when it comes to how many individual people’s retirement accounts they serve, Guideline is just 1.5% the size of Fidelity.

The distinction between Guideline’s traction and the total 401(k) market is even more striking when comparing AUM.

In total, as of June 2021, 401(k) plans held $7.3 trillion in assets—about 20% of the overall $37.2 trillion US retirement market. Guideline has roughly $8.5B on the platform, or about 0.1% of that 401(k) total.


Reliance on payroll providers: Guideline relies heavily on partnerships with payroll providers for customer acquisition because Guideline needs the kind of clean data that comes from a pay stub in order to do the data-intensive work of managing a 401(k) plan.

If those payroll providers were to their offer 401(k) plans, it might put payroll providers at odds with 401(k) providers like Guideline and shut that distribution channel down.


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