The stock market got clobbered last week. When the Dow lost 1,000 points in just one week because of worries over China’s slower growth media hype went into overdrive, and more than a few financial advisors wished they could send a robotic clone to tell concerned clients their portfolios had lost value.
In this new digital wealth management world, technology has empowered both advisors and individual investors to choose between discount brokers, human advisors, and/or computer-based services. These brand new online “robo-advisors” are really computer-generated portfolio management services – including screening investment goals and risk, asset allocation and even portfolio rebalancing – all with little or no human intervention.
This technology represents competition and has caught more than one human financial advisor with his pants down as robo-advisory services are generally less expensive and much more transparent. Wealth Managers, for example, continue to charge annual fees of around 1% even when a large portion of investments are managed through index funds instead of actively. But rather than displace financial advisors, using this same technology to streamline their own businesses has allowed some professionals to zero-in on what they do best while providing more transparent, less expensive investment advisory services for clients.
Wealth Management is a $5 trillion dollar industry and hidden investment fees are the shame of the investment advisory business, especially at old school brokerage firms. Even passive index funds may kickback a hidden 1% fee to a broker. These hidden fees erode investment returns 1% a year or a whopping $17 billion, leading to as much as a 12% reduction in retirement income, according to a recent report on investment advice and retirement savings by the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA).
Wealth management firms need to rebuild trust and relationships with the investment community. Those who have focused on client relationship building alone, however, have watched their clients jump ship for digital investment platforms. “Our research shows that firms that integrate digital tools into their business models will help strengthen these relationships rather than threaten them, and in fact help them attract the most lucrative investors,” says Owen Jelf, global managing director of Accenture’s Capital Markets practice.
Online investment services, including the robo-advisors, are forcing their human counterparts to be on top of their game. Big banks and brokerages in fear of once again becoming technology laggards (remember eTrade and the online trading revolution?) are moving quickly to add a robo-portfolio management option. At the very least, they’re adding comparable investment products and services, and of course there’s the pricing.
The advent of digital wealth managers is helping individual investors in three big ways:
All this new technology is exposing financial advisor practices and demanding more fee transparency. Still, it doesn’t mean robo-advisors exist to assassinate human advisors. In reality, robo-advice can complement human investment advice and save money in the process. Model portfolios cost less to construct and the savings actually helps clients to access other specialized advisory services such as tax advice, real estate investment or estate planning. Clients can have the best of both worlds using a package deal – robo-generated portfolios plus on-going highly personalized human financial guidance (at a much more affordable annual fee of .75%, as an example).
Not all investors are ready to replace personal human interaction with algorithms. Money is and always has been, emotional. When someone dies, sells a business or gets divorced, turning to the robot doesn’t have much appeal. Real people want human interaction along with a personalized, customized investment plan. Not to mention a fiduciary relationship that a robot cannot offer. Individual investors are all for lower fees, but technology has limits. For example, a robo-advisor survey by theWall Street Journal shows different robo-advisors produced different portfolios for investors with the exact same investor profiles. Also, robo-generated investing plans don’t appeal to investors looking for actively managed portfolios.
More everyday investors will move toward some combination of human and online help to manage their investments and deal with serious life events that drive big financial decisions. Clearly, they will choose the investment advisors who offer full transparency. These innovations empower individual investors and put clients in the driver’s seat.