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.

Mike Sha (center): We’re not gonna disrupt a crusty industry. Discretion is the better part of valor for start-up people.

Schwab CTO's speech in NYC spotlights an RIA business addicted to innovation – with no fresh fix in sight

Timothy Heier set the lower-morale tone at In|Vest 2017 of a B2B industry waiting for a Mark Zuckerberg to push it forward again -- perhaps with artificial intelligence as the final frontier

July 20, 2017 — 9:37 PM UTC by Janice Kirkel

Brooke's Note: Conferences have many things going for them but not creativity and inspiration. The In|Vest conferences offered a chance to break out of the box by featuring thinkers and doers of innovation ahead of the asset monarchs and market- share mavens. The 2015 ...

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Bill Capuzzi: InvestCloud is similar to Envestnet and we want to be agnostic and provide our advisors choice. It really is about providing advisors with choices they want on the front end.

InvestCloud, a start-from-scratch Envestnet emulator and Jamie Dimon darling, gets cozier with Apex to better reach RIAs

Apex RIAs can now customize portfolios via InvestCloud, which JP Morgan has a stake in, perhaps creating a counterweight to back-end monolith Envestnet

July 19, 2017 — 6:50 PM UTC by By Lisa Shidler

Brooke's Note: Like "plastics" in The Graduate, I have been hearing about InvestCloud for quite a while. But we have held off writing about the company for a couple reasons. For one, what it does is hard to grasp. It's trying to do so much ...

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Brandon Krieg and Ed Robinson were a couple of trader dudes who noticed even colleagues in their business didn't invest.

As the 'finance Snapchat,' Stash rakes in another $40 million of VC funding as it onboards at rate of 1,000 new 'HENRY' investors every business day

Less than two years old, the New York-based start-up raised $25 million in December and is part of a 'Robo II' movement that continues to crush 'Robo I' in terms of truly connecting with the masses

July 17, 2017 — 7:31 PM UTC by Lisa Shidler

Brooke's Note: Hovering right beneath the surface of excitement regarding robo-advisors is that childlike fascination with the idea that one of these algorithmic RIAs could suddenly become the next Facebook or Amazon for wealth management. Though most people never gave up on robos, humbling ...

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Alexa von Tobel brings her New York state of mind to Milwaukee but not for free.

How Northwestern Mutual may still get ROI on its $250M LearnVest investment but maybe only by anteing up $50M more

The promised January reveal at the financial planning robo never happened but the insurer is using new mother Alexa von Tobel as its sourdough-starter to bake up a venture ecosystem

June 28, 2017 — 11:11 PM UTC by Jessica Devenyns

Brooke's Note: Jessica Devenyns wrote an article last fall about the progress of Northwestern Mutual's digestion of LearnVest. We ended up publishing it in December but we almost waited until January. The Milwaukee company dangled the carrot that by waiting a little longer we ...

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Larry Raffone: They can’t plan for retirement because today is getting in the way of tomorrow.

Power Player: Larry Raffone is racing to 'lock up' the 401(k) market by taking its robo head start and combining it with a semi-national RIA

One analyst calls Financial Engines' Personal Advisor a 'massive long-term opportunity' but the rollout is slow and details are scant

June 26, 2017 — 6:56 PM UTC by Mia Diamond

Brooke's Note: As we unveil the first in our "Power Players" in the RIA business series, we remind readers of the purpose of this exercise. True, it's a way to commend these individuals for positioning themselves and their firms favorably for a crack at leading ...

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Rija Javed: If you’re a Wealthfront client, you’ve probably been frustrated by the slow pace of your funds getting invested, or wondered why you still need to use forms in this day and age.

Wealthfront nixes Apex Clearing and explains it as step in ridding 'semi-manual processes and disjointed systems'

The Redwood City-based robo-advisor says in its blog that its software advance enables new destiny in "personal banking"

May 12, 2017 — 10:18 PM UTC by Brooke Southall

Brooke's Note: If you are going to build the world's tallest skyscraper, you'd better build the best foundation first. In its rush to market, Wealthfront may have built the building first. But bolstered now by more capital, a better understanding of the ...

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Tom O'Shea: Schwab and Vanguard came in, took their ideas and just married them with their well-known brand and they vaulted ahead of the startups.

Vanguard RIA's growth leaps to $5B of assets per month in 2017 as Schwab's RIA robo jumps to monthly $1.3B

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services now has 500 advisors and Schwab, downplaying robo success, promises more advisors are its 'robo' future

May 9, 2017 — 7:12 PM UTC by Ramsey Flynn

Brooke's Note: What Schwab and Vanguard are doing in bringing dirt-cheap but branded money management to the masses remains an unheralded story of triumph in the advice business. Neither of these firms, with combined assets pushing $8 trillion, feels compelled to trumpet their jaw-dropping success ...

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Noah Kerner: We respect what Wealthfront has created but Acorns has a very different customer and product roadmap.

As Acorns grapples with monetizing 1.1 million micro-accounts, the laid-back LA robo-advisor brings Wealthfront’s former chief exec onto its board

After this week's $1.3-billion Robinhood valuation, the sheer quantity of Acorn accounts may count for plenty in VC estimations

April 28, 2017 — 9:50 PM UTC by Janice Kirkel

Brooke's Note: Eight years into the whole robo-advice adventure it sometimes feels like providing financial advice to millennials has advanced exactly ... nowhere. Business models are pivoting left, right and often end up where they started. But a handful of ventures, by putting millennial participation ahead of ...

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Drew Sievers: We're the digital advice solution for FIS now and that's a really big deal.

After VC personally supplants CEO, Trizic raises $3.3 million, signs online octopus and begins to shed perception that it squandered a lead

Drew Sievers invested $1 million in the robo-advisor then took the place of CEO Brad Matthews, who admits it's been for the better as he became a father at 38

April 27, 2017 — 10:39 PM UTC by By Lisa Shidler

Brooke's Note: A classic moment in managerial frustration came in 1977 when the owner of the Atlanta Braves fired his manager, donned a uniform and managed the game. Ted Turner did it because his team was reeling and his instincts told him it was the ...

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Randy Bullard: I'm sober but not jaded.

Randy Bullard pitches himself into major role at SigFig to add his Placemark knowledge to a robo hothouse

The serially successful wrap-program pioneer convinced CEO Mike Sha that he was the right guy to demystify the legacy-robo tech divide to employees -- and close deals

April 26, 2017 — 5:41 PM UTC by Brooke Southall

Brooke's Note: They say one key to success is a willingness to get lucky. Maybe Mike Sha just did. The young CEO of SigFig has a silver tongue that won him the accounts of Yahoo! and CNN in his startup's early days. But ...

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Andy Rachleff (as quoted in the NY Post): If you don’t read the disclosure, you don’t get confused about it.

Andy Rachleff makes waves with NY Post quote: Don't get 'hung up' on our lose-more-funds-than-you-deposit disclosure

Fresh off blasting BlackRock, the feisty Wealthfront CEO claims he was 'misrepresented' as the robo offers ready credit lines for those with $100K-plus in taxable accounts

April 25, 2017 — 9:06 PM UTC by Janice Kirkel

Brooke's Note: Much about the business of automating financial advice remains in flux, but one thing is certain: only the fiercest competitors need apply. The robo version of Survivor plays out as top Wall Street firms, the nation's largest banks and the most ambitious Silicon ...

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John Bunch became No. 2 man at the No. 1 robo-advisor for his human bandwidth.

John Bunch climbs high at Financial Engines as two execs vacate power spots and rollover retail gets accorded higher priority

Former TD retail chief's rise shows what Larry Raffone has in mind for old Mutual Fund Store machinery as Raffone works to make his mark at Financial Engines

April 20, 2017 — 10:43 PM UTC by Brooke Southall

Brooke's Note: The grass is always greener on the other side of the human-robo equation. While traditional RIAs struggle to stay digitally relevant, robo-advisors are striving to keep and/or cultivate that human touch. Robo execs are so over algorithms and guys like John ...

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Mike Sha: Wells is a big beast. With scale comes challenges.

Wells Fargo's new ADV reveals plenty about its robo's ambitions to max cross-selling and minimize channel conflict

Intuitive Investor is priced on the high side and bars micro-investors, yet is positioning itself as the anti-niche player

April 18, 2017 — 6:24 PM UTC by Janice Kirkel

Brooke's Note: There is a reason big banks prevail. Size matters. Sticking to what works matters. Imagination? Transformative thinking? Not so much. With that in mind, presume Wells Fargo didn't just randomly arrive at its new robo formula. A tad vanilla? Good news for ...

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Jon Stein, flanked by Maureen Thompson of CFA and Betterment associate counsel Seth Rosenbloom, marking the envisaged starting day of the DOL rule.

After putting big chips on DOL fiduciary rule, Betterment hosts funereal event to mark the April 10 Go Day That Wasn't

CEO Jon Stein sat shoulder to shoulder with CFP Board and Consumer Federation of America guests and held court with CNNMoney, Wall Street Journal and Consumer Reports reporters

April 13, 2017 — 6:50 PM UTC by Janice Kirkel

Brooke's Note: Betterment is best known for its B-to-C robo. RIA types know it's an RIA business. But the New York robo's interesting side bet is its 401(k) platform that its founders claim to have built after they became so disgusted, as ...

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Eli Broverman: I love the formative period.

Betterment's 'call me a masochist' co-founder goes in search of more acute pain and Jon Stein flies solo

Eli Broverman leaves the table 14 years after meeting Jon Stein over a poker game

April 10, 2017 — 10:24 PM UTC by Brooke Southall

Brooke's Note: Jon Stein is perhaps the best known name in robo-advice. Not only is he the founder of the largest standalone robo but he seems to be everywhere -- on panels, in articles and on TV both as an expert and a pitchman. As Betterment ...

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