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Banking Online marketplace connects consumers with financial pros

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When Arman Bajwa, an independent tax preparer, and Aasim Saeed, a physician and health care strategist, couldn’t find a financial expert they could talk to over video conference from the convenience of their homes, they created a solution.

In December, the two entrepreneurs launched Livewire, an online marketplace where consumers find and connect with qualified financial professionals. The company’s website, www.letslivewire.com, offers a virtual nationwide directory of tax preparers, accountants and bookkeepers that individuals or small business owners can talk to for a free consultation.

The idea for Livewire began in early 2013, right as the tax season began, said Saeed, Livewire’s chief operating officer.

Saeed grew up outside of Houston and graduated from Rice University. He earned a joint medical doctor and master of public administration degree from Duke University School of Medicine and Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, respectively.

In 2010, instead of pursuing a medical residency, Saeed elected to join the San Francisco office of McKinsey & Co., a global consulting firm, where he developed and led management strategy for health and emergency medical systems.

Saeed met Bajwa, Livewire’s CEO, over a decade ago when Bajwa married his cousin, Fawziah.

“At family events, we would always talk about different business ideas, until we both finally made the leap to quit our day jobs and found Livewire in 2013,” Saeed said. “We spent the first few months bootstrapping it, and I actually moved in with Arman and Fawziah, where we set up a home office to kick things off.”

An early demo of Livewire garnered the attention of angel investors and accelerators. Saeed and Bajwa joined the 2014 winter class of business incubator Dreamit Ventures in Austin and raised an initial seed round of funding.

“The program aligned almost perfectly with our first tax season so it was a great opportunity to be surrounded by fellow entrepreneurs and really focus on getting some initial market traction,” Saeed said.

After the Dreamit program concluded in May, Saeed moved Livewire’s base of operations to Fort Worth. Bajwa, a Houston-area resident, works remotely and travels to the Dallas-Fort Worth area frequently.

“This summer, Livewire will be raising a second round of funding and would love to continue to do so from Texas-based investors,” Saeed said.

Where did you get the idea for Livewire?

Arman and I both came to the idea of Livewire from very different perspectives. While pursuing his undergraduate degree at Georgetown University, Arman worked as a seasonal tax preparer. You’d think he’d have clients knocking down his door because he was well educated, offered great client service and really reasonable rates. However, he spent most of the time feeling frustrated because he couldn’t compete with national tax stores.

I, on the other hand, felt the pain of consumers in this market. As a consultant, I was typically on the road four nights a week, and never had time to find or connect with a local accountant to help me organize my personal finances. I was constantly using things like FaceTime, Google Hangouts or Skype to keep in touch with friends and family remotely, so I wondered why this didn’t exist for professional services.

This shared frustration with the tax industry led us to create Livewire. We didn’t want Livewire to be just another online directory, of which there are plenty already. Instead, we imagined a single online destination where clients could search for and connect with qualified financial professionals. So we built a platform that not only helps clients search through our national network of professionals, but also gives those professionals simple, cloud-based tools to easily work with those clients. These tools include scheduling, messaging, document management, payment processing and video conferencing – everything an independent professional needs to start a modern practice, out of the comfort of their own home, office, or anywhere they have Internet.

How does Livewire work?

Livewire was created to help consumers navigate an increasingly complex and unregulated tax preparation industry. Did you know that since 2013, tax preparers no longer have to take any sort of competency exam? It’s scary to think that your barber has more training and certification requirements than the tax preparer you trust with all your financial information, but that’s the world we live in.

Livewire allows you to search through a national network of qualified tax professionals and review their background, credentials and experience. Because Livewire also has an integrated video conferencing feature, you can vet multiple professionals quickly – with free 30-minute consultations – instead of having to select the first (and often only) professional you find. You’re free to view each professional’s profile and connect with them when and how you prefer, on-demand or on-your-schedule by phone, email or live video conference.

Is it secure?

Livewire’s platform employs the same bank-level security you’d expect from any online financial transaction. This means that all your data is encrypted both on transfer and storage and can be viewed only by professionals that you hire and grant access to your documents.

How many professionals do you currently have?

Since its launch in December, the Livewire marketplace has been focused on growing our network of tax and accounting professionals. In just a few short months, we’ve grown to over 1,500 registered tax professionals, already making us one of the largest networks of financial professionals on the Web. The vast majority of our tax professionals hold the credentials of either a certified public accountant or IRS-certified enrolled agent. Many of our tax professionals also offer year-round services like small business accounting and bookkeeping. After the tax season ends, Livewire will begin to add financial planners and investment advisers to our network.

What does Livewire cost?

For clients, searching Livewire’s network of tax and accounting professionals doesn’t cost a thing. All Livewire professionals offer a free 30-minute consultation to discuss your situation and provider a no obligation quote for services.

For professionals, creating a Livewire profile page is completely free and will always remain so. This profile page includes a personalized webpage that is fully responsive across desktop and mobile devices. For professionals that want to take their practice to the next level, Livewire offers cloud-based communications tools for a monthly subscription rate of $49 a month. You can add unlimited video conferencing and on-demand availability for an additional $49 a month. Livewire also helps professionals build a broader online presence, with a local listing service that creates a Google Maps listing, Facebook Business page and Yelp listing for a one-time fee of $299. Livewire’s free profile will soon offer additional free features such as blogging, reviews and a client Q&A forum.

Livewire also offers demos, workshops and Webinars?

Livewire was created to help independent financial professionals manage a modern practice and compete with national firms. As I mentioned earlier, my co-founder Arman worked as an independent tax preparer and knows first-hand how difficult it is to manage all the responsibilities of being a small business owner. That’s why we created Livewire, and it’s why we continue to offer as many free resources to help independent professionals as possible. These include step-by-step guides and eBooks on how to set up all the critical local profiles, such as business profiles for Google, Yelp and Facebook.

Additionally, Livewire is partnering with financial professionals to create video guides and Webinars on personal finance that will be made publicly available to clients. Look for the first of these videos starting in the summer.

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