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For My Money, USA TODAY
Let’s say you have a pile of cash that you’re ready to invest.
If you’re like me, you probably don’t want to spend all your time with your eyes glued to a screen, actively trading on Robinhood. You want your money to grow, but you don’t want to think about it all the time. Maybe the idea of interacting with an investment professional gives you anxiety, or the fees sound like a lot.
You’re not alone.
A study of 3,000 U.S. adults conducted by Vise, a technology-powered investment management platform built for advisers, that was given exclusively to USA TODAY found that the biggest barrier to working with an adviser is concern about how much it would cost (43%).
Here’s what I did: I skipped the personal investment adviser and got a robot to build my portfolio.
Roboadvisers, digital apps that use algorithms to build investment portfolios, are an increasingly popular vehicle for investing, especially for young adults who want a tool that is uncomplicated and mobile-friendly.
You can download an app and fill out a survey about yourself with questions like your age, income and risk tolerance. Based on those responses, roboadvisers generate a portfolio of stocks and bonds for you to maximize your long term returns.
These investment vehicles can scale dramatically with little marginal cost because the portfolio is generated by algorithms. Since they cut out the human element of investing, they can service millions of customers at once with just a few lines of code.
Many roboadvisers are designed with young investors in mind, specifically millennial and Gen Z clients.
Gen Zers, born between 1997 and 2012, began entering the workforce shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and when unemployment rates were at historic lows. Jobless rates subsequently skyrocketed and then have leveled off. And those workers are starting to save for retirement at an unprecedented young age, according to Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, a nonprofit organization.
Similar to millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, these young Americans are saddled with student loans and credit card debt but want to invest for retirement and build up savings.
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“Millennials and Gen Z grew up digitally native, and they expect to be able to manage their money the same way they order stuff from Amazon or call a car on Uber,” says Kate Wauck, chief communications officer at Wealthfront, a roboadvising company. “These young investors don’t want to have to pick up the phone or walk into a stuffy office to manage their money.”
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Most investors want a financial adviser but don’t trust robos
Despite familiarity with digital tools among young investors, the same study by Vise showed that nearly half of Americans (48%) trust human financial advisers, compared with just 11% of Americans who trust roboadvisers.
Two percent of total respondents and 4% of 18- to 24 year-olds used roboadvisers. Three percent of respondents from 25 to 49, 1% from 50 to 64 and 0% of 65 and older had tried roboadvisers.
By contrast, 41% of people over 65 say they work with a financial adviser, compared with 26% of Gen X, 17% of millennials and 14% of Gen Z.
“People, young or old or anything, trust a human being, especially with their most personal asset, which is money,” explains Samir Vasavada, founder and CEO of Vise and a member of Gen Z himself.
Robo options to consider
Despite low adoption rates, a wide variety of roboadvising options exist depending on your investment goals.
SoFi Invest allows customers to invest with just $5 and charges no management fee, according to The RoboReport from the second quarter of 2021. On average, the roboadvisers in the report charged a 0.35% management fee.
InteractiveAdvisors is another option that provides portfolios for sustainable and socially responsible investments if you care about buying from companies that share your values. Betterment also has some options for ESG (environmental, social and corporate governance) investing, including Climate Impact, Social Impact, and Broad Impact.
Betterment is great for first-time investors with its “intuitive dashboard” and “excellent suite of educational tools,” says The RoboReport.
Wealthfront has the best financial planning tools, according to the report, including features to model one’s home purchase and future net worth.
Axos Invest and SigFig have the best annualized performance, according to Nerdwallet data from December 2017 to June 2020.
Other roboadvisers aim to change the financial landscape for new investors, including women. Ellevest, for instance, is a roboadviserbuilt by women and tailored for female investors.
Roboadvisers: pros & cons
To be sure, roboadvisers have their fair share of benefits, as well disadvantages.
Roboadvisors tend to charge fairly low rates and employ Nobel-prize winning algorithms on your money. However, unlike traditional financial advisers, roboadvisers aren’t as personalized to your specific goals, says Vasavada. They also don’t have a long track record to prove their success.
So far, roboadvisers have mixed annual returns from 1% to 5%, according to NerdWallet.
“I would give roboadvisers about 25 years before comparing their returns to the traditional method,” says Danetha Doe, financial expert and creator of Money & Mimosas, a financial wellness platform.
Despite uncertainty around roboadvisers, Doe encourages women to invest as early as possible.
“Roboadvisers have made investing accessible to more people. As we move into a more inclusive economy, I am in full support of folks who choose to work with a roboadviser,” Doe says.
Roboadvisers are heavily regulated and are considered a safe investment vehicle. They must register with the Securities and Exchange Commission and are subject to the same securities laws and regulations as human advisers. Most roboadvisors are also members of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a brokerage watchdog and Wall Street’s self-regulatory arm.
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Vasavada believes that the future of the personal investment industry lies in a hybrid approach, where technological solutions like roboadvising are paired with human investment advisers.
On one hand, advisers will have to evolve by incorporating technology and tailoring their services to younger investors. On the other hand, roboadvisers are beginning to incorporate more human services to their platforms, Vasavada points out.
For instance, E*TRADE built in a 24/7 online chat on its mobile and web platform, while Merrill Guided Investing added educational resources and financial planning tools.
“I think that the future of the space is still with financial advisers. However, I think there’s a place for roboadvisers. And I think that roboadvisers are here to stay,” Vasavada says.
Ultimately, the key draw of roboadvisers is their convenience. You could set one up on a Sunday just sitting in your bed on your phone, which is precisely what I did.
When conducting research on young investors, Wealthfront found that many of them enjoyed not having to interact with anyone.
“We’ve designed our product so everything can be done right in our app through software,” says Wauch, “Since day one, our clients have told us, ‘We pay you not to talk to me.'”
As a young investor and roboadvising client myself, I couldn’t agree more.
Michelle Shen is a Money & Tech Digital Reporter for USATODAY. You can reach her @michelle_shen10 on Twitter. She uses Wealthfront as a roboadviser.
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