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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.


Jessie Proudman: We’re building the right product for long-term investors as opposed to traders.

The New York City robo-advisor closed Makara deal in March, skipped any PR, and will Betterment-ize it for Summer launch; never mind the collapse of the token market

Tuesday, May 24, 2022 – 2:33 AM by Oisin Breen

Brooke's Note: Yes there is very good news implicit in all the bad news about cryptocurrencies. If you were late to Cryptomania 1.0, you have a chance to get in near the ground floor for Cryptomania 2.0. For Betterment, that is the hoped-for silver lining to buying Makara in ...

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Jeff DeMaso: 'Is there a net benefit to the credit card owners...not really.'

The semi-confusing, higher-fee AmEx-Vanguard package is cheaper, clearer and better unbundled, an RIA calculates, yet may not be too outlandish for the one-stop convenience, a Morningstar analyst counters

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 – 3:49 AM by Lisa Shidler

Brooke's Note: As journalists we can get as wearied of wading through ambiguous fee information as the investor. It causes too much depression, boredom and brain damage to try to sort it all out. So when we learned that Jeffrey DeMaso had worked through the confusing ...

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Noah Kerner: When the time is right, we are prepared to execute with extreme excellence.

The Newport Beach, Calif.-based robo-advisor finds profits and AUM elusive but has what BlackRock wants -- wide wealth management distribution of ETFs to young investors too cool for traditional advisors

Thursday, March 10, 2022 – 11:06 PM by Oisin Breen

Brooke's Note: When it comes to idealistic young entrepreneurs who run techno-RIAs, there is always Plan B -- skip the idealism and just make money. Wealthfront sold to UBS. SigFig is still a UBS backbone. FutureAdvisor lives like Jonah inside the whale of BlackRock. Learnvest was once ...

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Mike Reust: It is the intent to sunset the brand in the future.

New York City robo-advisor CEO Sarah Levy bought 'Makara' after 90% demand it; they can choose crypto for 100% of portfolios but must pay a fee of 100 basis points.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022 – 2:39 AM by Oisin Breen

Brooke's Note: Talk about CEO-level decisions. Betterment, the top stand-alone robo-advisor, got there largely by staying patient across the board, relying on organic growth, a fly-close-to-the-ground investing philosophy and low prices by most any standard. Sarah Levy's green-lighting of the Makara deal doesn't just depart ...

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David Fortunato: It was clear from the start that we shared the same values and culture.

The Palo Alto, Calif., robo-startup's original mission was to disrupt wirehouses, technically and culturally, but now it's one with a wirehouse, its best remaining option

Monday, January 31, 2022 – 9:26 PM by Lisa Shidler

Brooke's Note: The breakaway broker movement has come full circle as wirehouses buy back RIAs -- albeit at eye-popping premiums that defy the laws of natural advisor evolution. When Joe Duran ran out of non-Wall Street buyers willing to pay his price, he sold to ...

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Noah Kerner: 'Acorns will be on the right side of history. We are not a grow-at-all-costs company.'

The Irvine, Calif., robo-advisor is blaming 'market conditions' but it's the one paying the penalty fee and praising its punisher

Wednesday, January 19, 2022 – 5:34 AM by Brooke Southall

Acorns will pay a $17.5 million fee, lose about $565 million in backing and go fish for new funding after it became the latest firm to get burned by the lure of a back-door IPO. See: Acorns is raising $565 million to Robinhood-ize itself; lately, ...

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Stephanie Guild: We’re proud to help people build wealth for the long term.

Just days after the Menlo Park, Calif., firm nabbed ex-TDA star Steve Quirk to call shots, Robinhood announced it'll sell automated portfolio management and the fantasy of beating market.

Saturday, January 15, 2022 – 3:11 AM by Oisin Breen

Brooke's Note: The biggest event in the RIA universe in the past few years is the reduction of the Big Three of custody and discount brokerages to a Big Two. TD Ameritrade is gone as the third freestanding member of that oligopoly. I think when Vlad ...

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Ken Thompson: We are currently unable to discuss details of our relationships with TD Ameritrade/Charles Schwab.

Toronto-Dominion Bank's other U.S. offspring will hit the ground running with upped wealth management manpower thanks in part to its logo-share with Schwab.

Thursday, December 2, 2021 – 3:17 AM by Lisa Shidler

Charles Schwab Corp. is inching closer to the day when it relegates TD Ameritrade (TDA) to the dustbin, but its former Canadian parent will sweep up the ashes by using the same TD logo to launch a competing robo-advisor and bolster its branch-based advice with a 400% bump in staff.

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Andy Rachleff will try to sell his $25-billion robo-RIA for $1.5 billion, a report says

Though buyers are interested in the Palo Alto, Calif. -headquartered robo, they may have balked at the price, which sources say pushes the envelope even in a hot market, but banker Catalyst will further test the market.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021 – 2:29 AM by Brooke Southall

Wealthfront has hired Quatalyst Partners to find a buyer after a couple more home-cooked deals fell through, according an RIAbiz fintech source who asked not to be identified.

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Sarah Levy has already generated enough fresh momentum at Betterment that fresh capital has followed.

The 13-year-old New York City startup is one year into a rebirth under new CEO Sarah Levy who is hiring like crazy and plans to invest aggressively in both B2B units -- for 401(k) and RIA custody.

Thursday, September 30, 2021 – 1:42 AM by Oisin Breen

Brooke's Note: The smart analysts had it right all along about robo-advisors. They never saw them competing with RIAs. Instead, they saw them as competitors for the kind of DIY investors that the online brokers court. As such, automated portfolios of ETFs were a niche within a ...

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Andy Rachleff chooses a high-priced mutual fund under unusual circumstances to check the crypto box.

The Redwood City, Calif., robo-advisor turned a hard 'no' into a soft 'yes' by dealing with Grayscale and its 200 basis-point-plus fees, which its robo rival in NYC -- also without a crypto path -- finds ludicrous.

Saturday, August 14, 2021 – 2:20 AM by Oisin Breen

Wealthfront came to a fork in the road with two bad options -- denying access to cryptocurrency or providing access outside its low-price, ETF-reliant paradigm. It chose the latter for up to 10% of an investor's holdings.

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Julia Huang made BodesWell a venture investment and a corporate business partner to bring more streamlined financial planning back to American Express.

AmEx is doing a U-turn to get back into financial planning now that competitors VISA and Mastercard are expressing an interest in the business.

Monday, August 2, 2021 – 2:52 AM by Lisa Shidler

American Express is marketing financial planning, again, 16 years after spinning off its 10,700-advisor planning mega-unit to concentrate on high-end credit cards.

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Ho Ching's firm, Temasek, is leading the giant funding round.

The 2013-founded, New York City-based alternatives investments company has positive cash flow, high growth and the growing support of more giants and RIAs

Wednesday, July 28, 2021 – 2:25 AM by Brooke Southall

Brooke's Note: The list of platinum-plated investors in iCapital is almost a spoof of itself because it includes Blackstone, UBS, BNY Mellon, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs Asset Management, BlackRock, The Carlyle Group, Credit Suisse, JPMorgan Chase and KKR. It's hard not to wonder how the head ...

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Peter Crawford signed Schwab’s latest 8-K filing, which states that 'Schwab’s second quarter 2021 financial results will include a liability and related non-deductible charge of $200 million.'

The $7.4 trillion in administered assets Westlake, Texas broker-dealer came late to the robo business, but quickly dominated. That move fast, break things blitz may now produce a hangover.

Saturday, July 3, 2021 – 12:23 AM by Oisin Breen

Charles Schwab Corp. has disclosed it may have to pay $200 million in federal regulatory charges over its robo-advisor that some industry observers link to the way it collected fees from its clients while its advertising emphasized the robo was free.

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Sallie Krawcheck: What you really want to be is contrarian.

The former chief of Merrill Lynch brokers uses analyst's choice of Bank of America shares as example of also-ran thinking but her maverick approach with Ellevest may be declining.

Thursday, July 1, 2021 – 2:34 AM by Oisin Breen

Brooke's Note: We have been keen observers of Sallie Krawcheck -- a woman whose name was once synonymous with wirehouse leadership -- since she formed an automated RIA, Ellevest, that targets mass affluent women. Would her bulge-bracket DNA or her born-again RIA ethos win out as ...

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