Robo-advisors or robo-advisers are a class of financial adviser that provide financial advice or Investment management online with moderate to minimal human intervention. They provide digital financial advice based on mathematical rules or algorithms. These algorithms are executed by software and thus financial advice do not require a human advisor. The software utilizes its algorithms to automatically allocate, manage and optimize clients’ assets.
There are over 100 robo-advisory services. Investment management robo-advice is considered a breakthrough in formerly exclusive wealth management services, bringing services to a broader audience with lower cost compared to traditional human advice. Robo-advisors typically allocate a client’s assets on the basis of risk preferences and desired target return. While robo-advisors have the capability of allocating client assets in many investment products such as stocks, bonds, futures, commodities, real estate, the funds are often directed towards ETF portfolios. Clients can choose between offerings with passive asset allocation techniques or active asset management styles.
The first robo-advisors were launched in 2008 during the financial crisis. In 2010, Jon Stein, a 30-year old entrepreneur, launched Betterment, and robo-advisors increased in popularity. The first robo-advisers were used as online interface to manage and balance client’s assets by financial managers. Robo-adviser technology was not new to this field, as this kind of software has been in use by financial advisers and managers since early 2000’s. But they were made publicly available in 2008 for the first to general public who were in dire need to manage their assets personally. By the end of 2015, robo-advisers from almost 100 companies around the globe were managing $60 billion assets of clients and it is estimated that it will hit $2 trillion by the end of 2020. In June 2016, robo-advisor Wealthfront announced a partnership with the Nevada State Treasurer to offer a 529 plan for college savings. In 2017, Betterment raised $70 million of financing and Personal Capital raised $40 million of financing.
In 2015, Hong Kong based 8 Securities launched one of Asia’s first robo-advisors in Japan, followed there in 2016 by Money Design, Co., under the brand name THEO, and WealthNavi. In 2017, Singapore based StashAway received a capital markets services license from the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
A robo-advisor can be defined as “a self-guided online wealth management service that provides automated investment advice at low costs and low account minimums, employing portfolio management algorithms”.
Legally, the term “financial advisor” applies to any entity giving advice about securities. Most robo-advisor services are instead limited to providing portfolio management (i.e. allocating investments among asset classes) without addressing issues such as estate and retirement planning and cash-flow management, which are also the domain of financial planning.
Other designations for these financial technology companies include “automated investment advisor”, “automated investment management”, “online investment advisor” and “digital investment advisor”.
While robo-advisors are most common in the United States, they are also present in Europe, Australia, India,, Canada, and Asia In Canada, BMO SmartFolio and Wealthsimple are examples of robo-advisors.
The tools they employ to manage client portfolios differ little from the portfolio management software already widely used in the profession. The main difference is in distribution channel. Until recently, portfolio management was almost exclusively conducted through human advisors and sold in a bundle with other services. Now, consumers have direct access to portfolio management tools, in the same way that they obtained access to brokerage houses like Charles Schwab and stock trading services with the advent of the Internet. Robo-advisors are extending into newer business avenues.
The portfolios that robo-advisors offer are typically exchange-traded funds. However, some offer pure equity portfolios.
The customer acquisition costs and time constraints faced by traditional human advisors have left many middle-class investors underadvised or unable to obtain portfolio management services because of the minimums imposed on investable assets. The average financial planner has a minimum investment amount of $50,000, while minimum investment amounts for robo-advisors start as low as $500 in the United States and as low as £1 in the United Kingdom. In addition to having lower minimums on investable assets compared to traditional human advisors, robo-advisors charge fees ranging from 0.2% to 1.0% of Assets Under Management while traditional financial planners charged average fees of 1.35% of Assets Under Management according to a survey conducted by AdvisoryHQ News.
In the United States, robo-advisors must be registered investment advisors, which are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. In the United Kingdom they are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
Total assets under management
As of October 2017, robo-advisors had $224 billion in assets under management.
The following are the largest robo-advisors by assets under management:
|Company||Country||Assets under management||# of Accounts|
|The Vanguard Group||U.S.||$83 billion|
|Charles Schwab Corporation||U.S.||$33 billion||223,000|
|TD Ameritrade||U.S.||$20 billion|
|Personal Capital||U.S.||$8 billion||18,308|
|Nutmeg||Great Britain||$1.9 billion||70.000|
|Scalable Capital||Germany, Great Britain||$1.5 billion|
|Moneyfarm||Great Britain, Italy, Germany||$1 billion||40.000|
|FutureAdvisor by BlackRock||U.S.||$1 billion||8,587|
|Acorns||U.S.||$0.8 billion||1.87 million|
|United Income||U.S.||$0.4 billion||318|
|T. Rowe Price||U.S.||$0.4 billion|
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Ofer Abarbanel is a 25 year securities lending broker and expert who has advised many Israeli regulators, among them the Israel Tax Authority, with respect to stock loans, repurchase agreements and credit derivatives. Founder of TBIL.co STATX Fund.