Robo-Advisors

Stripped down to its essentials, financial advice is a fairly straightforward proposition. Done well, a highly ethical individual stewards the assets and actions of an investor in a personal and professional interchange. But now a vibrant new class of entrepreneurs is staking their fates and their fortunes on the premise that financial advice can be delivered in a better, cheaper, easier, more ethical, more transparent manner and, as a bonus, in a way more devoid of human annoyance on both ends of the transaction. Cue the robo-advisors, arguably a callous misnomer for automated asset management. The prototypical robo-advisory entrepreneur has more brands on his or her resume than NASCAR. The bona fides of these industry upstarts often include Ivy-level colleges and MBA programs at Harvard or Stanford. They are often flush with IPO dollars realized at concerns like LinkedIn, Facebook, eBay, Amazon and Microsoft. Robo-folk believe that technology is not an enabler of advice but rather, if engineered correctly, advice itself in digital form. And, they believe the best solutions originate in Silicon Valley or academia, not Wall Street. Robo-entrepreneurs are white-boarding the whole business model, culture and technology from scratch in the conviction that little can be learned from a legacy advice system still rooted in an investment banking culture acting under the core premise that if stockbrokers get rich some of the good effects will trickle down to clients – with the clients none the wiser. Robo-advisors are a scintillating topic for students of the advice game as they grow by hundreds of millions in assets every month, constantly evolve their business models and receive cash infusions from ever-larger swaths of venture capitals. Throw in the fact that robo-advisors have yet to see a dime in profits -- and won’t in the foreseeable future -- and you have real intrigue. RIABiz has avidly covered the fast-evolving robo-advice phenomenon and will continue to do so. We present the growing body of articles here.

Roger Lee (r. w/Paul Sawaya): Rather than just sit on top of Fidelity, we took on a challenge that was a little bit bigger.

Unknown San Francisco 401(k) robo with famous backers gets $11 million more in VC funding -- and an interesting brand

With Y Combinator start, Human Interest, formerly Captain401, is only in its third year but 10,000 customers convinced Adam Nash, Joe Montana and Sequoia-, Accel-derived VC

February 8, 2018 — 12:10 AM UTC by Brooke Southall

Brooke's Note: Doing a robo-advisor startup in 2015 seems late so you'd better get the branding right. This little robo, Captain401, is checking every branding box. The first challenge is to find a founder who went to Harvard. Check. Next is for the fledgling startup ...

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Rob Foregger: John Hancock is the first to do it.

NextCapital does $30-million VC round with a staggering objective that's taking shape first with John Hancock

Nearing 100 employees, the Chicago-based robo-advisor blurs 401(k) and retail asset distinctions by making advice factories out of investment product manufacturers

January 16, 2018 — 8:06 PM UTC by Lisa Shidler

Brooke's Note: When I caught up with Rob Foregger during the editing stage of Lisa's article he exuded an unhurried urgency when talking about cofounding his second robo-advisor from his Vermont home. See: Personal Capital gets $75 million investment and an ex-Schwab retail chief in ...

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Sitting on an extra $75 million of VC cash, Andy Rachleff can see an IPO in the distance

With hedge fund help, Andy Rachleff buys Wealthfront $75 million of time and swaps out 'robo-advisor' moniker he reviles for his own coinage

Tiger Global PE unit's cash buoys CEO of Silicon Valley who recategorizes his robo as 'software-only' and gives it new life in contending with front-running Betterment

January 10, 2018 — 8:12 PM UTC by Brooke Southall

Brooke's Note: Only a few short years ago, Wealthfront jumped out to a lead in managed robo assets and its CEO Andy Rachleff played the frontrunner role to perfection, predicting that one big gorilla would take all much the way Facebook, LinkedIn and Google ...

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Tim Buckley: Our clients should expect change. They should expect significant change.

Vanguard's new CEO Tim Buckley hints the next move for his firm's RIA's 30-basis-point fee may be down, down, down

As the Malvern, Pa. fund giant's VPAS passes the $100-billion mark it doesn't rule out automated advice or greater robo-ization to follow asset management fee play where cost savings get passed along

January 8, 2018 — 10:22 PM UTC by Lisa Shidler

Brooke's Note: That was fast. We listened to Vanguard's Tim Buckley in his first public appearance since becoming CEO Jan. 2 for hints about how he intends to make his mark on the firm in 2018. The $4 trillion asset manager he now ...

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Sallie Krawcheck: He proceeded to give me chapter and verse on how financial advisors are hard to manage. (Photo credit: WBUR)

Robo-advisors hit lull in everything but VC backing as reality fragments their identity

A Silicon Valley venture capitalist lectures Sallie Krawcheck on drawbacks of human advisors after she explains she needs capital to hire some

December 11, 2017 — 9:43 PM UTC by Brooke Southall

Brooke's Note: Here's a blast from the past: robo-advisors. First we were hearing about how they'd take over the RIA business. Then we heard how they'd reinvent it by allowing advisors to keep a side book of business of micro-accounts. Now we ...

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Gary Zimmerman:  My wife was worried about whether I'd lose my job, but I wasn't worried. I was worried about all of our cash.

Citi exec 'accidentally' invents cash-robo with 400 RIAs as distribution channel

Gary Zimmerman scrambled in 2009 from Tokyo to shield millions in uninsured cash, leading to MaxMyInterest, which RIAs now use to automate process of getting $5 million under FDIC protection -- and often earning an extra 100 basis points in the bargain

December 7, 2017 — 8:00 PM UTC by Oisin Breen

Brooke's Note: Back around 2015, Gary Zimmerman paid a visit to RIABiz headquarters in Mill Valley and we sat down in the conference room for an hour. In moments he had me and local colleague Michael Halloran riveted with the Michael Lewis-worthy story of him ...

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Mark Matson: They've gone from smart beta is stupid to we're the ones that can pull it off. It's hypocritical at best and they're applying it completely wrong.

Wealthfront calls its smart beta approach 'superior' to Dimensional Fund Advisors largely because DFA works with RIAs

The Redwood City-based robo-advisor's CIO Burton Malkiel says his firm's robo-approach to factor investing convinced him to reverse his stand on passive investing as unbeatable

November 17, 2017 — 2:21 AM UTC by Brooke Southall

Brooke's Note: The headline of this article could just as easily be: "Wealthfront goes smart beta by getting its chief investment officer to renounce the basis of his fame and put chimps with darts back in their place." The action in this story happened back ...

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Lowell Putnam: It ensures everything on both sides of the transaction is 'fit for purpose,' meaning it's just down to the National Securities Clearing Corp.-DTCC to do the necessary work..

Quovo is developing an ACATS rooter process with Apex Clearing as first to sign on

The Silicon Alley startup is using its data science as a way of attacking a clog considered not susceptible to intervention

November 14, 2017 — 11:09 PM UTC by Oisin Breen

Brooke's Note: When you are a tiny startup competing in a field of giants, you have two choices. You can go low with a microniche or go high and provide a product above and beyond what the giants do because they are stymied by innovator's ...

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Robert Goldstein will get his turn at figuring out how to make FutureAdvisor into a winner.

BlackRock may build the biggest, baddest RIA platform yet as 'Boy Wonder' begins 'Aladdin-izing' FutureAdvisor

Since its acquisition in 2015, crickets for the $152-million robo-advisor, but under young legend Rob Goldstein, that could all change as BlackRock rolls out its play to own the advisor desktop

November 7, 2017 — 8:39 PM UTC by Brooke Southall

Brooke's Note: BlackRock more than turned heads when it bought FutureAdvisor in 2015. It was enough that a $6-trillion asset manager suddenly owned a California-based asset that could distribute straight to investors -- and where a reporter's black lab was allowed free reign during an ...

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Eli George: Surprisingly, a lot of the firms $1 billion and more were coming to us.

SS&C solves its Axys problem -- for now -- by acquiring Modestspark

The owner of Advent and Black Diamond buys tiny two-person Redmond, Wash. firm that also solves Schwab's PortfolioCenter problem with digital add-on

November 2, 2017 — 11:00 PM UTC by Brooke Southall

Brooke's Note: No matter how many times it happens we are still somehow shocked that bigger companies can't solve big software problems. It always seems to be a handful of individuals who make breakthroughs not teams of experienced engineers with fat salaries. Case in point ...

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The ex-Betterment unit heads up Charles Schwab & Co's. robo-voltage at a critical phase.

Exploding to near $24 billion* of assets under automation, Schwab creates robo-exec slot and fills it with ex-Betterment unit chief

Cynthia Loh puts fresh face on Schwab Intelligent Portfolios and Schwab Intelligent Advisory as Betterment puts out a help wanted sign

October 3, 2017 — 7:58 PM UTC by Lisa Shidler

Brooke's Note: This article needed careful construction because it touches a handful of high-voltage lines. Cynthia Loh departed the number one VC-backed robo in Betterment, where she led the 401(k) side, to join the number one robo-advisor -- period -- in Schwab. This seems to indicate a ...

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Sallie Krawcheck first has to sell a handful of ultra-wealthy women to believe she can work that same magic on millions of mainstream investors.

Sallie Krawcheck astonishes industry observers by raising another $32.5 million for her robo-advisor -- perhaps on strength of 'unit economics'

Ellevest still has AUM in the $25-million range of a rookie LPL rep but venture angels may be rewarding the 13,000% jump in account count

September 7, 2017 — 9:25 PM UTC by Janice Kirkel and Brooke Southall

Brooke's Note: There is a streak of the elite at Ellevest starting with its Paris-evoking name and meandering its way to its founder, Sallie Krawcheck, who played the Wall Street game long enough to make her wealthy. Krawcheck has never found much to dislike ...

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Part of Jon Stein's power lies in taking New York's media glare in stride.

How Power Player Jon Stein's braggadocio about how Betterment is the next Amazon may be a blind distracting from stealth IPO moves and surgical deployment of a flesh-and-blood workforce

Stein, 38, tightened reins at his NYC robo-advisor this year when the COO departed, stuffing more cash into a war chest and adding CFP-wielding humans to the mix at every turn

August 11, 2017 — 4:13 PM UTC by Mia Diamond

Brooke's Note: If there is a quality I find far more annoying than self-aggrandizement, it is its polar opposite where an interview subject does back flips to describe their firm's accomplishments in team terms, deferring credit like a collectivist mantra. The false humility tends to ...

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Bill Harris: We are constantly showing what your cash flow is, you have to be good at saving.

Power Player: Bill Harris raises yet another $40 million on strength of winning big accounts willing to pay a grown-up price

Personal Capital has a leg-up in the mass production of classic RIA-to-high-net-worth services using technology, people and process, even if the brand elicits shrugs

July 31, 2017 — 11:46 PM UTC by Mia Diamond

Brooke's Note: I admit I was an early doubter of Bill Harris. The idea that a retrofitted call center approach was the future of financial advice seemed so pink collar. But if there was a ever a device that splits the difference between the ...

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Alex Benke: The majority of clients are in auto-mode.

Betterment rolls out free baseline human advice to all customers with a smartphone and no RIA and cuts price on premium advice offer

The New York-based robo-advisor will use CFPs to answer advice-related questions over a dedicated chat app as part of the 25 basis points paid for asset management

July 26, 2017 — 1:01 PM UTC by Brooke Southall


Brooke's Note: Most of us hear the words "human financial advice" and it brings to mind dizzyingly high payrolls. But what if that presumption isn't entirely right? It would be ironic if a robo-advisor helped reinvent the way human advice is dispensed -- on an ...

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