Should You Use A Robo-Advisor? If So, How Do You Choose?

Online financial advice is more available than ever, and more investors are taking advantage of these services. Whether or not a robo-advisor is the right choice depends on the complexity of one’s situation and their comfort level in working with advice that is mainly dispensed online, according to Investopedia.

If an investor’s situation involves complex financial planning issues that extend beyond allocating investments and related services, they might be better served with a more traditional advisor who provides advice in areas such as estate planning.

For millennials and those with more modest portfolios who only require asset allocation advice and basic financial planning help, online advisers could well meet their needs.

One of the major benefits of online advisors is the convenience and ease of accessing their services. Online advisers are accessible 24/7. With today’s busy schedules, this level of accessibility appeals to many investors.

How To Choose

If an online advisor is the right choice, the next question is how to evaluate and decide which robo-adviser to use.

Just as traditional financial advisers vary in their areas of expertise, how they are compensated and the types of clients they work with, the same differences exist among robo-advisors.

Most robo-advisors offer investment advice and portfolio management, Investopedia noted.

One exception among the major robo-advisors is LearnVest, which gives investment recommendations but not ongoing investment advice. LearnVest’s focus is financial planning and budgeting. The company also offers live help via the telephone.

Asset allocation and portfolio management are most robo-advisors’ dual focuses. They usually provide the service via EFTs and algorithms.

Beyond this basic service, robo-advisors provide tax-loss harvesting services which allow investors to take advantage of any losses in their taxable portfolio.

Robo-Advisors Have Different Strengths

Some robo-advisors focus on specialized areas. Rebalance IRA, for example, focuses on managing retirement accounts. The company also provides human interaction.

Folio Investing provides EFTs or stock portfolios. Motif Investing provides portfolios consisting of 30 stocks for a single price. Personal Capital gives clients the ability to manage their investments on a consolidated basis, focusing on customers with higher net worth.

Fees To Consider

Fees differ among robo-advisors. The fees usually run between 0.15% to 0.5% of the managed assets. Some also charge a one-time set-up fee.

LearnVest charges from $89 to $399 for an initial review and $19 per month thereafter.

Personal Capital charges 0.49% to 0.89% of the invested amount.

In addition to fees, there are also expense ratios of exchange traded funds and mutual funds. There can also be transaction costs for trading investments.

The option of interacting with a human about investments also varies among robo-advisors.

Because robo-advisors are fairly new, they do not have a lot of investment history pre-dating the current stock market rally. It is not known at the present time how well most robo-advisors will perform during the next major stock market downturn.

Established Players Enter The Space

Some traditional financial service players have embraced robo-advisors, which can be a consideration in choosing a robo-advisor. Traditional financial services firms have the funds to invest and the time needed to enable the services to grow. In addition, as a client’s need changes, they will be positioned to transition to the more traditional services these firms offer. Financial advisors working with these platforms could be a way to connect with younger clients and cultivate them as future clients.

Betterment, for instance, has partnered with Fidelity Investments. Fidelity’s institutional platform can provide a version of Betterment’s RIA version to its clients. Fidelity has also signed an agreement with LearnVest.

Vanguard has announced its own robo-advisor and is considering introducing the service to more customers in the near future.

Charles Schwab will introduce a financial advisor version of a robo-advisor that will allow advisors using its platform to white label the service to their clients for free. Charles Schwab will profit on the underlying assets.

Investors need to decide which robo-advisor best meets their needs. They need to consider the specific services the robo-advisors offer, the level of human interaction offered, the minimum investment required and any fees and expenses charged.

The growing interest of major financial service firms in this area is clearly a consideration for both prospective investors and financial advisors.

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Lester Coleman is a veteran business journalist based in the United States. He has covered the payments industry for several years and is available for writing assignments.