Innovations in robo technology have spurred investor interest in low-cost digital investment advice. More than 200 pure-play robos like Wealthfront and Betterment claim more than $50 billion in assets under management. But despite the recent flurry of activity, robos are still an emergent technology, accounting for less than 0.03% of total assets under management. So the long-term ramifications of robos remain to be seen.
XTo shed light on the potential road ahead, Investor’s Business Daily asked three professionals from various corners of the investment landscape to predict where robos may take us and recommend ways financial advisors can solidify their current client relationships, here and now. They are Brian Barnes, founder and CEO of M1 Finance; Lowell Putnam, co-founder & CEO or Quovo; and Lisa Kramer, professor of finance at the University of Toronto.
Brian Barnes, M1 Finance
Looking Ahead: Robos are in their infancy, but I’m betting on the software solution because computers are just better than people at making tons of massive computations on a minute-by-minute basis.
A lot of fintech players have been seeded with so much money that they’ll only have to perfect the experience once, and then they can distribute it to others. That will change things. Millennials are starting to make decent salaries and save a bit, and they don’t care about the 150-year history of an established fund company. Innovators are offering cheaper and more personalized experience.
And then 30 years from now, the cycle will continue, when some of today’s new players will be the incumbents, as a new set of innovators arise.
What Advisors Should Do Today: Advisors need to expand their offerings beyond simple portfolios that are based on a client’s risk tolerance. Advisors shouldn’t just look at the investment portion of a client’s financial situation. They also need to understand the income portion, the spending portion and the planning portion. And if a client gets to a certain bracket, advisors should offer generation wealth plans.
Lowell Putnam, Quovo
Looking Ahead: If I had to look into my crystal ball, I’d say there’s a misplaced confidence that the large incumbent brands my parents trust are going to follow through to the millennial generation. We’re moving toward a world of smaller boutique brands — both in the advisor space and in the B2C space. Look at companies like (eyeglasses retailer) Warby Parker, or (mattress maker) Casper.
With money in their wallets, these guys have tapped into a rising demographic by building brands around something that’s not very sexy, like glasses or mattresses, and I expect to see those types robo platforms emerging. I don’t see any reason why guys like Vanguard or BlackRock (BLK) even need to be around in 20 years, because they don’t have the brand that speaks directly to their next investor.
What Advisors Should Do Today: The horse is out of the barn, because this isn’t about justifying whether or not the technology is any good, because it’s clear that it does things really well. You could make a claim that active management is going to come back, but that’s not what I see happening right now.
Lisa Kramer, University of Toronto
Looking Ahead: There’s a greater awareness among investors about the benefits to passive investing, which puts pressure on institutions that have traditionally leaned on active management techniques. There will always be some demand for actively managed funds, because it’s human nature to seek that outperformance — even though ironically, the average return on actively managed funds is below average, when you factor in the active management fees.
We’re still in our early days and most of the robo offerings are passive funds, but we might actually see robo platforms competing with each other by offering a greater selection of niche funds. In the future, I think we’ll see more diversity in the funds robos offer.
What Advisors Should Do Today: Gone are the days when clients didn’t have viable alternative investment opportunities, so advisors must add value to the equation. One way to do that is to make sure they’re up to date on current developments. For example, the Nobel Prize in economics just went to Richard Thaler for his work in behavioral science, so a savvy advisor might make sure she’s well-versed in all of the behavioral issues that can arise for investors.
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