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Betterment introduces Plus and Premium hybrid advice plans featuring in-house CFP® professionals

The lede!

  • Betterment adjusts its default fee structure to 25 basis points for accounts of all sizes for what is now called Betterment Digital (the 35bps, 25bps, and 15bps tiers are gone)
  • Betterment customers who formerly qualified for the 15 basis point tier will see their fees increase 67% to 25 basis points. Some customers are not pleased
  • New Plus and Premium plans are offered that introduce hybrid advice engagements from human advisers for an additional fee
  • Betterment Plus includes an annual planning call with the in-house adviser team and support via email. Betterment Plus pricing is 40 basis points and requires a $100,000 account minimum
  • Betterment Premium include unlimited contact with the in-house adviser team via phone and email. Betterment Premium pricing is 50 basis points and requires a $250,000 account minimum
  • All Betterment plan fees are capped, charged only on the first $2 million of a customer’s balance.
  • Betterment is introducing the Betterment Advisor Network™, launching with roughly ten advisers who have complete the Betterment vetting process, all of whom must hold the CFP® certification
  • There is no fee to be included in the adviser referral network
  • Betterment receives no referral fees for directing customers to any specific adviser in the referral network
  • Customers who work with an adviser in the Betterment referral network pay a fee of 25 basis points on their assets in their Betterment account. The adviser can set an additional fee on top of Betterment’s fee for services provided

Betterment introduces hybrid advice plans with access to in-house CFP® professionals

Betterment announced today that the company will introduce hybrid advice offering with access to an in-house team of financial advisers.

For the full details from Betterment, see the post below from the Betterment website:

 

The Best of Both Worlds: Smart Technology + Financial Experts

Fee Fallout

One unfortunate consequence of the new 25 basis point pricing structure is the elimination of the 15 basis point tier that formerly applied to accounts over $100,000.

Reaction on Twitter was swift, as these customers will see their fees increase by roughly 67%.

Fee Parity Between Retail and Advisor Platforms

Despite the frustration of customers who formerly qualified for the 15 basis point tier, Betterment Digital’s pricing establishes parity with the pricing offered in the Betterment for Advisors (formerly Betterment Institutional) service.

Since the Betterment for Advisors introduction, I had been critical of the conflict the different pricing tiers presented for advisors who chose to implement Betterment for Advisors for their clients.

I often questioned how an adviser could meet his or her fiduciary obligation to clients with over $100,000 in assets, as that client would pay fees of 15 basis points using a “retail” Betterment account, where a minimum fee of 25 basis points would be charged on a Betterment for Advisors account, for asset management services that I felt were essentially equivalent.

Today, that fee disparity, and the fiduciary quandary, is eliminated, but at the expense of raising fees for customers who qualified for the former 15 basis point tier.

Betterment undercuts Personal Capital

One other observation is Betterment Premium now enters the competitive hybrid advice market, a space dominated by Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, that is also occupied by Personal Capital and the Schwab Intelligent Advisory offering scheduled to debut sometime in the first half of 2017.

Betterment Premium is more expensive than the 30 basis point fee Vanguard Personal Advisor Services and the 28 basis point fee from the upcoming Schwab Intelligent Advisory, but at 50 basis points, the service undercuts Personal Capital’s current 89 basis point pricing.

 

Balance Financial to shut down January 31, 2017

In an email to current users, Balance Financial, a personal financial management app acquired by TaxAct in 2013, announced it will shut down operations on January 31, 2017.

See the email announcement below:

Balance Financial shutdown email announcement sent to users

Balance Financial was an alternative to well-known personal financial management apps, or PFM, such as Mint.com and Personal Capital that performed account aggregation to deliver a consolidated dashboard of a user’s financial accounts.

In the wake of Intuit’s decision to discontinue its Financial Data APIs, any PFM apps using Intuit’s aggregation had to migrate to other account aggregation options (See How Intuit’s account aggregation shutdown may impact the fintech solutions you use)

One provider, Guide Financial, shut down as a result of the change combined with other changes in its business model (See Guide Financial to shut down operations on October 11.)

I listed Balance Financial as a potential alternative for Guide Financial users, but quickly removed it since I had no success in connecting with the company for a statement regarding support for the application in the near future.

Alas, it seems that TaxACT is not interested in supporting Balance Financial beyond January 31, 2017.

I suspect that the number of advisors using the Balance Financial app is very low, likely below a dozen, so few are likely to be affected by the shutdown. What’s less clear is how many retail customers Balance has and what alternatives they find offer similar functionality and pricing to that of Balance.

Have any tips? Feel free to contact me.

Ed O’Brien to become CEO of eMoney Advisor

Ed O'Brien hired as CEO of eMoney Advisor

Ed O’Brien hired as CEO of eMoney Advisor

Quick Take:

  • Ed O’Brien, former head of platform technology, Fidelity Institutional, will leave the company to become CEO of eMoney Advisor
  • As eMoney CEO, O’Brien will report to Fidelity Wealth Technology president Mike Durbin
  • Prior to assuming the eMoney CEO role, O’Brien reported directly to Durbin for seven years
  • Durbin stresses the CEO search included “a long list of candidates”
  • I’m taking a “wait and see” attitude to see if eMoney can continue its aggressive innovation as a digital wealth management provider with O’Brien as CEO

(3 minute read) (Updated 4:01pm ET)

In a press release yesterday, eMoney Advisor announced Edward O’Brien was hired as Chief Executive Officer of the firm.

Wait and See

I’m not as overly enthusiastic as others seem to be on the prospects of innovation from eMoney Advisor.

I posted a poll on Twitter to survey my followers whether they think the hiring of O’Brien as CEO of eMoney is positive, negative, or let’s wait and see.

twitter poll obrien

It’s a close race between a positive and the “let’s wait and see option,” and I fall into the wait and see camp.

Fidelity First?

In order to maximize its acquisition of eMoney (for a reported $250 million), Fidelity needs assurance that eMoney’s product roadmap will directly benefit the custodian’s various lines of business in order make a return on their investment.

And once Edmond Walters abruptly resigned as CEO of eMoney in September 2015, Fidelity was granted the opportunity to fill the vacant position with an individual who can strongly influence eMoney’s strategy in Fidelity’s favor.

It makes a lot of sense that Ed O’Brien, a long-time Fidelity executive with decades of industry experience, fill the CEO position.

Don’t get me wrong: few in the industry have O’Brien’s experience and tenure leading teams to develop financial services technology, and that experience should directly benefit eMoney.

This is most definitely a good thing.

But when it comes to developing an innovative, yet untested/unproven, feature versus developing the market of Fidelity’s existing customers, who wins?

Technically Independent

Even though eMoney Advisor will continue to operate “technically” as an independent organization, I cannot help but connect the dots that the hierarchy of O’Brien under Durbin will influence the eMoney Advisor product roadmap.

O’Brien is not only a Fidelity insider, he has reported directly to Fidelity Wealth Technologies president (and former Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services president) Mike Durbin for over seven years.

When originally acquired, eMoney was organized under the yet-to-be-announced Fidelity Wealth Technologies, a division of Fidelity Enterprise Services led by president Michael Wilens. Fidelity waited several weeks after the eMoney acquisition to announce the creation of Fidelity Wealth Technologies, according to the company spokesperson.

eMoney was technically never organized directly under Wilens and Fidelity Enterprise Services, as the company has always been under the direction of Durbin’s Fidelity Wealth Technologies group.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Durbin most definitely anticipated the connection I made, stressing how O’Brien topped a long list of “both internal and external candidates.”

Durbin also took the liberty to call out doubters (such as myself), saying in an open letter posted to the eMoney blog.

Don’t buy it? No problem – actions speak louder than words.  And I welcome you to watch and see for yourself how it continues to unfold.

Ok. I’m watching.

See, I’m just a guy in Atlanta who wants to help advisors sort through copious (and often confusing) technology options for their business so they can be better advisors. I’m not the head of a major custodian, CEO of a technology vendor, or even an executive of a multi-billion dollar RIA.

But I take my role seriously to navigate what can be a very murky and (sometimes) conflicted fintech ecosystem.

I can’t help but imagine how the connection between O’Brien and Durbin will steer eMoney’s strategy to favor Fidelity relationships ahead of other innovation.

Yet I agree with Durbin: Actions will speak louder than words.

Will eMoney’s existing culture of relentless innovation and development continue to flourish, or will O’Brien’s longtime bond with Fidelity suppress eMoney’s characteristic risk-taking in favor of the parent company’s interests?

I so want the former scenario to transpire, but hey, business is business, and it’s not always possible to satisfy multiple objectives at once.

Let’s wait and see.

Updated: The following corrections to the original post have been made

  • Ed O’Brien’s former title corrected to head of platform technology, Fidelity Institutional.
  • At the time of acquisition, eMoney Advisor was structured under Fidelity Wealth Technologies, a division of Fidelity Enterprise Services, and not directly under Wilens’ Fidelity Enterprise Services group, according to the company spokesperson
  • Corrected timetable, adding O’Brien’s reporting change in July 2013 and structure of eMoney under Durbin’s yet-to-be-announced Fidelity Wealth Technologies group

Timetable

If you’re not completely in the know regarding the events that preceded this news, here’s a timetable of what’s happened.

I also made two flowcharts (being updated now, so check back soon) showing the hierarchy of Fidelity’s different businesses that illustrates how not much has changed between Durbin and O’Brien before and after the eMoney acquisition.

  • Prior to July 2013, O’Brien reported to Mike Durbin, president of Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services
  • In July 2013, O’Brien reports under Ron DePoalo, CIO for Fidelity Institutional, when the company aligned the platform technology team across the clearing and custody businesses
  • Fidelity acquires eMoney in February 2015 and places CEO Edmond Walters under Durbin’s yet-to-be-announced Fidelity Wealth Technologies group
  • Weeks later, Fidelity officially announces the combination of the clearing and custody businesses, creating a new Fidelity Wealth Technologies group with Mike Durbin as president. O’Brien remains under DePoalo in Fidelity Institutional, Walters remains under Durbin as originally structured
  • In September 2015, Walters resigns and Durbin assumes the interim CEO role for eMoney
  • In March 2016, eMoney Advisor hires O’Brien as CEO of eMoney
  • As a business unit under Fidelity Wealth Technologies, O’Brien will once again to report to Durbin in his new role as eMoney Advisor CEO

 

 

BlackRock to acquire FutureAdvisor

BlackRock to acquire FutureAdvisor

BlackRock to acquire FutureAdvisor

In a press release this morning, BlackRock, Inc., the world’s largest asset management firm by AUM (source: relbanks.com) announced it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire FutureAdvisor. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Let’s hit some fast facts again, shall we:

  • FutureAdvisor was founded in 2010 and had raised $21.5 million in four rounds (source)
  • FutureAdvisor had a reported AUM of $600 million in June 2015 (source), though their most recent SEC Form ADV from September 2014 reflected $232 million. This lagged online automated investment leaders Wealthfront and Betterment by approximately $2 billion as of August 2015
  • FutureAdvisor charged a Subscription Fee for the Premium Service of 50 basis points, making it more expensive than competitors Wealthfront and Betterment
  • Assuming a 50 bps fee on all $600 million results in gross revenue run rate, at best, of $3 million (remember AUM of $232 benchmarked in September 2014)

What does this mean for advisers?

Not much. Really. Return to your business.

But here’s the thing. BlackRock is an asset manager. BlackRock does well when its asset base grows. How can the company continue to grow its assets?

One way is to offer a new, simple, and attractive way for investors to automatically add their assets to low-cost, broadly diversified portfolios of funds and ETFs.

Enter FutureAdvisor.

A bonus for BlackRock is if the company can find a way to invest those assets into BlackRock-managed products.

Say, iShares ETFs.

What to do now

You come to FPPad for ideas on what to do with the technology in your business. So here’s what I think you should do.

Number one: Offer your own online, user-friendly interface

If the world’s largest asset manager sees the need to add a low-cost user-friendly online asset allocation tool to its arsenal, isn’t it time you have one for your business?

Prospects are comparing your capabilities to the services they see from Wealthfront, Betterment, FutureAdvisor, et. al., and if you come up short and don’t have an answer to their slick platforms, you’re probably viewed as a laggard.

Number two: Tell clients what you really do

Automated investment management is a commodity.

Anyone can get it from Schwab, Wealthfront, Betterment, FutureAdvisor. You could argue that the first mutual funds were the earliest automated investment management solution!

Sure, tax loss harvesting, daily rebalancing, and instant deposits are bells and whistles for automated investment solutions, and the results of whether or not those features actually result in any additional money in customers’ pockets is highly dependent on each customers’ personal situation.

But for you, as an advisor, investment management is just ONE of the things you do. It’s not the ONLY thing you do.

You do SO MUCH MORE.

So let clients know.

Even better, let your prospects know how much more you do.

You’re not justifying the fees you charge, you are reinforcing the value you provide by giving clients the service they need in ALL areas of their financial life.

You go WAY BEYOND investment management.

So do that. Tell clients what you really do, and why what you do goes way beyond automated investment management.

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. to acquire LearnVest

Northwestern Mutual to acquire online financial planning provider LearnVest

Northwestern Mutual to acquire online financial planning provider LearnVest

(This is a developing story)

According to the Wall St. Journal, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., said it would acquire New York-based online financial planning startup LearnVest Inc.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Here’s your Too Long;Didn’t Read (TL;DR) summary:

  • At the time of acquisition, LearnVest had 10,000 premium clients who pay a one-time setup fee of $299 and $19/month ongoing. That’s at best $2.28 million in annual revenue plus $2.99 million in non-recurring one time setup fees.
  • LearnVest received $69 million of funding in five rounds from 15 investors (via Crunchbase)
  • LearnVest for Work, a “corporate financial wellness program” had another 25,000 clients. Employers paid or subsidized access to LearnVest planners for employees.
  • LearnVest employs 150 planners in New York and Arizona. Assume an “average” salary of $60,000 and you have an annual burn rate of $9 million (hat tip @MichaelKitces).
  • For now, LearnVest employees will not become advisers for agents of Northwestern Mutual

More reactions to the potential for conflict between LearnVest’s financial planning advice delivery and LearnVest’s ownership by a retirement plan and insurance provider are in this InvestmentNews article by Darla Mercado.

Technology details of Institutional Intelligent Portfolios™ from Schwab Advisor Services

Schwab unveils details of Institutional Intelligent Portfolios™ to financial advisers

Schwab unveils details of Institutional Intelligent Portfolios™ to financial advisers

Details of Institutional Intelligent Portfolios™ unveiled as Schwab arms its advisers with a robo solution

In company webcast and press release today, Schwab Advisor Services provided details of its Institutional Intelligent Portfolios™ solution that the company describes as an “automated investment management solution for independent registered investment advisors (RIAs).”

Earlier I had the chance to speak with Schwab Intelligent Portfolios executive vice president Naureen Hassan and Schwab Advisor Services technology and strategy senior vice president, Neesha Hathi to clarify several details about what financial advisers can expect from the new service.

Here are my important takeaways with a focus on the technology impact for your business.

Adviser Branding, but Schwab Domain

Institutional Intelligent Portfolios™ will be made available in Q2 2015 and it will allow advisers to use their own branding, which includes their firm name, logo, and contact information inside the end-client dashboard.

However, Institutional Intelligent Portfolios will be hosted on the Schwab web domain, so advisers cannot use their own custom website domain. Advisers must provide a link to Institutional Intelligent Portfolios somewhere on their website to direct end investors to the adviser-branded version of the solution.

Proprietary Paperless Process

Once logged in to the dashboard, investors go through an experience very similar to that of the retail Schwab Intelligent Portfolios solution (but one that uses the adviser’s branding and the adviser’s custom portfolios).

Investors answer the same questions about their goals and level of risk tolerance found in Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, and upon completion, investors are matched to a portfolio designed by the adviser that best fits the investor’s profile. This paperless process is proprietary to Schwab and does not support third party form-filling or electronic signature providers that are made available by other institutional custodians.

Investors use the paperless application process to open and fund their accounts and also receive their disclosure documents when they engage in the service.

Mobile Minus Android

Schwab Intelligent Portfolio will be available as a native app for iOS devices, and a responsive website will offer an interface that is suitable for devices of all sizes.

According to Hassan, an Android app is in development but did not provide details on a future release date.

Account Management

Institutional Intelligent Portfolios allows advisors to create custom allocations from over 200 ETFs in the platform. Automated rebalancing and the opportunity for tax-loss harvesting is available for investor accounts greater than $50,000, and advisers can disable the loss harvesting algorithm if they so choose.

Loss harvesting applies only to the assets held within Institutional Intelligent Portfolios, so advisers must pay attention to transactions that trigger wash sales if substantially identical securities are held in outside accounts.

Note that advisers can view investor accounts using Schwab Advisor Center just as they do for the institutional accounts they manage on behalf of clients today. That means that data downloads are supported for assets held in Institutional Intelligent Portfolios. Since the data feeds are available just like any master account, Institutional Intelligent Portfolios holding data can be downloaded into other portfolio management software solutions available from third party vendors.

Finally, for account registrations, Institutional Intelligent Portfolios supports standard taxable brokerage accounts, joint accounts, Traditional and Roth IRA accounts, and living trusts.

Fees and Cash Minimums

With the technology attributes addressed, here are details of the fees of Institutional Intelligent Portfolios.

From the press release, Institutional Intelligent Portfolios has “a two-tiered pricing structure based on total assets custodied with Schwab outside the Institutional Intelligent Portfolios program.”

For advisers with less than $100 million in assets under management (AUM) with Schwab, investors will be charged a 10 basis point platform fee.

But for advisers with more than $100 million in AUM with Schwab, no platform fee is charged.

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios has been questioned for its up to 30% allocations to cash, but on the Institutional Intelligent Portfolios platform, portfolios must maintain a minimum of four percent in cash. The top end of the cash allocation is determined by the custom portfolios designed and configured by each adviser.

 

 

Betterment Institutional launches for financial advisers

Betterment InstitutionalBetterment gives financial advisers access to its popular low-cost, automated online investment solution

FPPad Quick Take:

  • Financial advisers can now offer Betterment Institutional as a white-labeled low-cost online investment service to emerging clients.
  • Betterment Institutional charges 25 basis points a year, advisers can charge an additional fee if they wish
  • Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services will list Betterment Institutional as a practice management solution in its list of resources for advisers

Betterment, a popular automated online investment service, today announced the expansion of its technology for use by financial advisers and an inclusion among Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services practice management solutions.

Betterment for Advisers

Betterment Institutional is an expansion of the startup’s popular online investment service built for retail investors. As of June
10, 2014, Betterment reported $613,372,319 in assets under management in its regulatory filings.

According to Nick Gavronsky, product manager for Betterment, the company’s new offering allows financial advisers to white label the Betterment Institutional offering and brand it for their own business. Advisers using Betterment Institutional will receive a website hosted by Betterment that investors can use to create accounts, view statements and engage with an adviser.

Initially, end clients using Betterment Institutional will use the company’s Android and iOS mobile apps as they exist today, but adviser-branded apps are anticipated to be phased in as the offering matures, Gavronsky said.

Low Cost Investments

Betterment Institutional will allow financial advisers to set their own fee schedule for clients who choose to use the service. Betterment collects an annual fee of 25 basis points (0.25%) from accounts on the Institutional platform, and any additional fees above that amount are paid to the adviser.

Just as with the retail Betterment offering, accounts are held by Betterment LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Adviser, and securities transactions are cleared through Apex Clearing Corporation.

Custom Models Welcome

Investors using Betterment’s retail offering are familiar with the standard asset allocation models the company’s algorithms select for clients based on their answers to a risk tolerance questionnaire.

Betterment Institutional offers the same investment allocation models to financial adviser clients, but the company also permits advisers to create their own custom models.

Again, the same technology that powers the default models in Betterment’s retail platform is available to custom investment models created by advisers, Gavronsky said in an interview.

In addition, investors who have $50,000 or more managed with Betterment Institutional have access to the same Tax Loss Harvesting+™ feature found on the retail Betterment platform. Tax Loss Harvesting+™ is an automated, daily account rebalancing feature.

Fidelity Touts Practice Management

Also noteworthy in the Betterment Institutional announcement is the recognition that Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, providing custody services to nearly 3,000 RIAs, now includes Betterment Institutional as one of the practice management solutions Institutional Wealth Services offers to its RIA clients and prospects, according to Erica Birke, vice president of communications and corporate affairs for Fidelity Institutional.

“Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services and Betterment share an interest in helping advisors realize that digital advice should not be perceived as a threat, but rather an opportunity to evolve their engagement models to better attract new business segments, particularly the emerging affluent, a segment that many advisory firms have historically under-served or not served at all,” wrote Birke in an email.

Fidelity does not have exclusivity over the Betterment Institutional offering to advisers; any adviser is free to engage Betterment Institutional as he or she wishes.

Financial Adviser Value

Betterment Institutional joins Upside Advisor and Guide Financial in an effort to provide a low-cost automated investment solution to  financial advisers.

Upside Advisor recently made headlines by powering Liftoff, the low-cost investment solutions offered by high profile New York RIA Ritholtz Wealth Management. Liftoff offers a similar model portfolio management service for an annual fee of 40 basis points (0.40%).