This Is Not the ‘Altruist’ You’re Looking for: Michigan RIA Sues for Trademark Infringement

What You Need to Know

  • Altruist Financial Advisors LLC says it has owned the Altruist trademark since 2001.
  • Its CEO, Eric Haas, says investor data and funds intended for the California-based investment platform have mistakenly landed at his firm.
  • The California firm, Altruist Corp., says allegations of trademark infringement are without merit.

A Michigan financial advisory firm that has filed a trademark lawsuit against investment platform Altruist Corp. contends confusion over the businesses’ similar names has resulted in investors’ personal information and funds mistakenly landing at his firm.

“We’ve documented many dozen instances of ‘actual confusion,’” said Eric Haas, CEO of Altruist Financial Advisors LLC, an RIA in Holland, Michigan, that filed the complaint, in a recent news release.

“Perhaps the issue of greatest concern is that mom and pop investors who’ve put their money and trust with the (Altruist brokerage platform, based in Culver City, California) are having their personal information mistakenly divulged to us — names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, account numbers, etc.,” Haas said. “We’ve even had checks mistakenly sent to us.”

California-based startup Altruist recently raised $112 million in funding to help it become a major competitor in the RIA custodial services market. Participants in the Series D round include Insight Partners, Adams Street Partners, ex-Vanguard CEO and Chairman Bill McNabb, Carson Group founder and CEO Ron Carson and Mariner Wealth Advisors President and CEO Marty Bicknell.

Total funding for the platform, which is positioning itself as an alternative to Charles Schwab, exceeds $290 million.

Haas’ firm, in a lawsuit filed last year, contends the Michigan advisory has owned the Altruist trademark since 2001 and has had its trademark registered with the federal government for 20 years. His firm had $252 million in assets under management at year-end 2022.

The firm’s lawsuit contends that Jason Wenk, who founded the Altruist digital platform in 2018, contacted him in early 2019 about obtaining a license for the Altruist trademark. Although Haas refused, Wenk and his company used the name anyway, according to the advisor, whose firm filed suit against the platform and related entities in U.S. District Court in Michigan in June 2022.

Haas’ firm asserts federal trademark counterfeiting, trademark infringement, unfair competition and cybersquatting claims, as well as Michigan state law violations. He alleged several instances of actual confusion between his firm and the California Altruist operation, totaling 21 instances when his firm filed suit.

In one instance, a 401(k) administrator sent Haas’ firm checks for over $25,000 of an individual investor’s money, believed to be a client of the California Altruist platform, according to a court document.

Haas’s firm also contends there is confusion between itself and the defendant company in search results on the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s public BrokerCheck database and in Google search results.

In February, the judge denied California-based Altruist’s partial motion to dismiss the case.

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