Tag Archives: Wealthfront

FPPad Bits and Bytes for July 29, 2016

On today’s broadcast, it’s a robo free-for-all, so put on your best robo accessory, because FPPad Bits and Bytes begins now!

(Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes on YouTube)

Today’s episode is brought to you by Envision Consulting, providers of IT management and support, cloud computing, and cybersecurity services to RIAs. This October, Envision is hosting a cybersecurity event with Kevin Mitnick, the World’s Most Famous Hacker, where you can find out how to leverage Kevin’s knowledge of the latest hacking techniques to protect your business from attack.

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Here are the links to this week’s top stories:

Fidelity Launches Automated Investment Advice Service from WSJ.com

Fidelity Go Vs. Pokemon Go: Be A Low-Cost Investor Or AR Zombie from Investor’s Business Daily

Better Together: Automated Investing with Professional Guidance from BusinessWire

TD Ameritrade Earns $240M in Quarter; Says Retail Robo Is Coming from ThinkAdvisor

TD Ameritrade Institutional, XY Planning Network Launch Program to Cultivate Next-Generation RIAs and Investors from TD Ameritrade

Wells Fargo Plans to Start Robo-Advisory in 2017, Sloan Says from Bloomberg

Big News for the Quantopian Community: Managing External Capital from Quantopian

[Get ready for the robo news, as this week’s top stories come from Fidelity Investments and TD Ameritrade, as both financial institutions recently announced online investing solutions for the retail investor. A few days ago, Fidelity officially rolled out Fidelity Go, specifically targeting digitally savvy customers in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, with investment assets in the low six figures.

When asked by Investor’s Business Daily what happens when Fidelity Go customers get older and wealthier, Rich Compson, head of managed accounts at Fidelity, responded that customers would be referred “to other services like Fidelity’s Portfolio Advisory Services.”

Ok, ok, but advisors aren’t completely left out, as Fidelity did promise details about an automated service it’s developing for financial advisers by year-end. That’s, details, by year-end.

And a few weeks ago, TD Ameritrade announced it had completed updates to its Amerivest Managed Portfolios retail offering, including a digital overhaul for better goal setting, performance tracking, and more.

In ThinkAdvisor’s interview with incoming CEO Tim Hockey, he said that the company will be using Amerivest’s tech enhancements “to launch a new robo for the self-directed client’s needs” scheduled for sometime in 2017.

When asked about referrals to RIAs who custody with TD Ameritrade Institutional, Hockey added that retail clients with $1 million dollars or more are the “target referral” for affiliated RIAs.

That comment came out at the same time the company announced a program with the XY Planning Network to provide dedicated service and no minimum asset requirement to use TD Ameritrade Institutional’s custody services. That’s good, it’s gotta be awkward knowing TD Ameritrade is going to target digitally savvy investors, aka potential XYPN clients, with their own retail robo solution.

On top of all that, Wells Fargo also announced that it, too, is entering the robo market, with a solution expected also sometime in 2017.

And if you don’t like today’s current robo solutions, you can go build your own robo algorithm with Quantopian, who just received fresh venture capital this week from hedge fund investor Steve Cohen.

That’s it, all I hear all day long is how great robos do this, or how wonderful robos do that: robo, robo, robo!]

Envestnet | Tamarac to Roll Out Client Portal 2.0 from PRNewswire

[Now in NON-robo news, how about an update from Envestnet | Tamarac, as the company released the latest version of its client portal to advisors who use the Advisor View™ application. If you watched my coverage of the Envestnet Advisor Summit earlier this year, you would have seen a preview of the updated client portal, plus the key enhancements highlighted by Brandon Rembe. So click right here so you can watch that video.] Envestnet | Tamarac has completely redesigned the client portal in its Advisor View™ portfolio management and performance reporting application. The new client portal will be implemented as part of Tamarac’s July 2016 technology release, and seeks to help RIAs create highly customizable client portal experiences to engage their clients and appeal to the next generation of investors.

MoneyGuidePro creator releases DOL fiduciary-focused software from InvestmentNews.com

[Also, MoneyGuidePro recently released a utility called Best Interest Scout, intended to gather information about client goals, expectations, and investment details in one place. This should help you from a workflow perspective, but the tool should also be helpful in identifying when you must engage in a Best Interests Contract with a client. If you’re concerned about compliance with the pending fiduciary rule from the DoL, expect more tools like Best Interest Scout to come to market.] PIEtech, the creator of financial planning software MoneyGuidePro, has built a tool to see how well clients’ portfolios are aligned with their best interests, including retirement goals and concerns, insurance needs, and health-care costs.

Now since I took a few weeks off, I just don’t have time to cover all the stories in my backlog, including news on the talent exodus at Wealthfront, the Betterment for Business 401(k) offering surpassing 200 plan sponsors and $5 billion in AUM, Quovo, Riskalyze and more, so links to those stories are below:

Talent exodus hits Wealthfront including heads of product, marketing and operations from RIABiz.com

Wealthfront, founded in 2008, is experiencing its first big talent exodus — a flurry of departures that includes some C-suite titles and a Unicorn shepherd.

Betterment for Business Surpasses 200 Plan Sponsors from PRNewswire

Betterment for Business, the only turnkey 401(k) service that includes personalized investment advice for all participants, announced today that it has successfully added 200 plan sponsors to the platform in the last six months.

Betterment Becomes First Independent Robo-Advisor to Surpass $5B of Assets Under Management from PRNewswire

Betterment announced today that it is the first independent robo-advisor to reach $5 billion in assets under management. The company now helps more than 175,000 customers intelligently manage and grow their wealth.

Apex Clearing to Offer Vanare’s Digital Advice Platform from PRNewswire

Apex Clearing Corporation will begin offering to its broker dealer and RIA clients the ability to digitally manage investments using Vanare’s digital advice platform. Vanare offers a wealth management technology platform with a highly customizable white labeled Roboadvisor.

Advisor Software, Quovo Partner to Strengthen Goals-Based Planning Capabilities for Wealth Managers from PRNewswire

Advisor Software, Inc. has teamed up with Quovo to provide wealth managers with seamless access to aggregated client financial data, which can help put together an all-encompassing financial picture for every client.

Marstone and Quovo Announce Partnership from MarketWired.com

Marstone, an innovative digital wealth company, and Quovo, a financial data science company for the wealth management industry, today announced that they have completed a partnership to enhance Marstone’s digital wealth solutions with Quovo’s industry-leading data aggregation.

Riskalyze Autopilot for Retirement Plans from Riskalyze

LastPass introduces Emergency Access from LastPass

With the Emergency Access feature, you can give trusted family and friends access to your LastPass account in the event of an emergency or crisis.

 

Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes for July 29, 2016

Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes for July 29, 2016

 

FPPad Bits and Bytes for January 15

On today’s broadcast, Jemstep gets acquired by Invesco, rumors fly about a Snapchat robo advisor, FutureAdvisor links up with its first bank, and more.

So get ready, FPPad Bits and Bytes begins now!

(WatchFPPad Bits and Bytes on YouTube)

Invesco acquires Jemstep, a market-leading provider of advisor-focused digital solutions from PRNewswire

[This week’s top story comes from Jemstep, as the B2B online investment platform was acquired by Invesco, the $800 billion dollar asset manager based a stone’s throw away from my studio right here in Atlanta.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, Jemstep’s leadership will stay onboard to run the Invesco subsidiary, and for now, the company says there won’t be any changes to existing partnerships, custodians, or asset availability in model portfolios.

Ignoring B2C acquisitions of FutureAdvisor and LearnVest, the last twelve months have seen John Hancock acquire Guide Financial and Envestnet acquire Upside.

So who are the independent B2B providers left? I see Autopilot, Trizic, Oranj, Vanare, Betterment Institutional, Motif Investing, and to some extent, the roll-your-own open source platform from Wealthbot.] Invesco Ltd. has acquired Jemstep, a market-leading provider of advisor-focused digital solutions.

Social media firms make ETF push from Reuters

[But hold on! Sending shockwaves in the retail robo space is Snapchat, as rumors were flying this week that the ephemeral chat app might introduce it’s own investment service to its 100 million active daily users.

Uh, let me explain my thoughts in a brief demonstration… Get it, jump the shark?] Snapchat is understood to be at the front of a queue of tech firms developing Robo-Advisory technology – which uses algorithms to help users develop and implement customized investment strategies for retirement planning.

BBVA Compass Teams Up With Robo FutureAdvisor from Forbes

[But wait, there’s more! In its first move after being acquired by BlackRock, FutureAdvisor announced it is partnering with BBVA Compass to roll out the automated investment tools to the bank’s nearly 700 branches in the US.

Bank customers will get access to FutureAdvisors’ digital investment management for the standard fee of 50 basis points, and you can probably bet that new accounts opened up with be held with BBVA’s broker-dealer affiliate, which is how the bank capitalizes on the partnership.] BBVA Compass, the Sunbelt subsidiary of the Spanish banking giant, has announced it will partner with FutureAdvisor to offer its customers digital investment management, popularly known as Robo Advisors. It is the first major bank to sign on with FutureAdvisor since the advisory firm combined forces with BlackRock, the giant asset management company, last year.

Robo Adviser Wealthfront Begins to Offer Free Portfolio Reviews from WSJ.com

[And if you’re not sick of robos by now, let me add news from Wealthfront who this week released a free Portfolio Review service to show investors how bad their current portfolios are and urge them to save a boat load of money by switching to Wealthfront. Whoops, did I say that out loud?

This concept is nothing new, as Personal Capital has offered a similar portfolio analyzer since 2011, and FeeX has been doing it since 2012, but here’s the deal. These VC-backed companies are spending tons of money to target your clients and prospects to get them to try out this tool, and of course, they’re going to tell clients they have suboptimal allocations and are paying high fees to their advisor.

So, expect clients to bring up fees, allocations, and performance in your next meeting, and you need to have a strong answer in the form of your value proposition, which is all the added advice, guidance, and behavior management you deliver that the automated services are incapable of providing.] In a bid to attract more assets, Wealthfront Inc. is joining other robo advisers in providing free advice to investors about their accounts at other financial institutions.

Here are stories that didn’t make this week’s broadcast:

New Laserfiche Release Aims to Improve ECM from CMSWire

Laserfiche just released version 10 of its enterprise content management system (ECM). Speaking at the Laserfiche Empower 2016 Conference in Long Beach, Calif., Laserfiche President Karl Chan said the new version is designed to supercharge content-driven business processes, enabling enterprises to redesign the flow of information throughout the enterprise.

LastPass Revamps Its Interface, Adds Emergency Access and Better Sharing from Lifehacker

LastPass is one of the best password managers around. Today it gets a bit better with an improved interface and a handful of new features.

Dashlane 4 Makes Changing Passwords on Hacked Sites Easier, Adds a New Interface, and More from Lifehacker

Dashlane is one of our favorite password managers, and today the service updated with a new, consistent interface across all devices, an updated “password changer” that lets you change passwords on a site without even visiting it, new languages, and more.

 

Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes for January 15, 2016

Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes for January 15, 2016

Will 2016 bring a “run on the robos?”

How well are the online investment services prepared for a run on the bank type scenario?

How well are the online investment services prepared for a run on the bank type scenario?

Edit January 6, 2016: Added details that Personal Capital Advisors uses the custody services of Pershing Advisor Solutions LLC. Removed this tweet from a user of Personal Capital’s free dashboard, replaced with the Wealthfront tweet seen below.

I’m posting this today, as I’m genuinely concerned about what will happen when online investment services get flooded with redemption/account close requests.

“You STINK”

For example, take this tweet (note to readers in the future: if the embedded tweets below get deleted, I captured screenshots that I can post for posterity):

I stumbled across this tweet, as this person is upset about their portfolio performance.

So this got me thinking:

What happens when online investment services get flooded with redemption requests and account closures?

Run on the Robos

If an online investment service isn’t responsive to requests and complaints in a public forum (Twitter), how well will they respond once they are deluged with irate customers who are fed up and want out quickly?

“Sorry, we have a big backlog right now, but no worries, your money is still safe?”

¯_(ツ)_/¯

I don’t ever want to see businesses fail. I don’t ever want to see investors get into difficult situations regarding their investments.

But I fear that if a trickle of dissatisfaction with online investment services quickly becomes a flood, online services will get crushed.

Not picking on Personal Capital

Before you go, don’t assume that I’m picking on Personal Capital.

Yes, tweets above that are related to their company trigged my question of what happens when account closure rates skyrocket, but Personal Capital uses the custody services of Pershing Advisor Solutions LLC (it’s on page 5 of their Form ADV Part 2A Appendix 1).

Look, Pershing is a very large financial institution with nearly $1.5 trillion in global assets under administration and 75 years of experience.

200 account closures a day probably doesn’t make them sweat. 1,000 a week? That might be an average week. ACH, DTC, ACAT, they don’t bat an eye.

But for the startups that manage their own proprietary systems on top of Apex Clearing? Have they been tested?

I suppose I can contact them and ask, but what answer do you think I’m going to receive?

“Oh, Bill, thank you for bringing this to our attention, and as a result we found bottlenecks in our processes and have improved our ability to efficiently and accurately process account redemptions and closures.”

I don’t think so.

I’ve heard this before: “Once you go robo, you don’t go back.”

That, and I wanted the first Internet timestamp for “run on the robos.”

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.

Betterment is poised to overtake Wealthfront in AUM

AUM 600In the race for robo adviser supremacy, neither Wealthfront nor Betterment wants to be runner-up.

Love it or hate it, AUM, or assets under management, is the default metric by which investment management businesses are benchmarked.

Robo-Advisor AUM

Certainly, many automated investment services (or rather, robo-advisors) have been flaunting their AUM figures in recent years, to, well, I don’t know why, exactly, other than to beat their chest on how good they are at gathering assets.

The most vocal automated investment service for publishing AUM figures is Wealthfront, with periodic blog posts issued when the company passed the round numbers of $500 million, $1 billion, and $2 billion in AUM.

Taking the more subtle approach to AUM milestones is Betterment, long viewed as the runner-up to Wealthfront in the AUM-gathering contest since 2013.

Instead, Betterment mentions the number of customers it serves first (in part because they have more than Wealthfront, so they can be number one in that comparison), followed by the level of AUM represented by their customers.

Still, there are a few posts from Betterment that place dates on when the company crossed $1 billion (with 50,000 customers) and $2.5 billion (with 100,000 customers). One has to dig through trade publications like TechCrunch and Forbes to put a date on earlier AUM figures like the company’s first $100 million and $500 million, respectively.

Ok, fine. So how is that asset gathering coming along today?

Graph of Wealthfront vs. Betterment AUM Growth

This morning I wanted to take a quick look at the AUM growth of the two leading automated investment services, Wealthfront and Betterment. But after 10 minutes of Googling, I had no charts or graphs of how each company is growing their AUM.

So I built a quick Google Sheet using the dates and AUM figures from most of the blog posts and articles cited above. Here it is!

Wealthfront vs. Betterment AUM Growth

Wealthfront vs. Betterment AUM Growth

 

So what is my biggest takeaway from this chart?

Betterment poised to overtake Wealthfront in AUM

Betterment has consistently lagged Wealthfront’s AUM since 2013, and Wealthfront’s growth rate was higher than that of Betterment, but then something changed around December 2014.

The rate of Betterment’s AUM increase accelerated, while Wealthfront’s growth rate generally remained the same from January 2014.

And the most recent figures for August 2015 show that Betterment has significantly closed the AUM gap with Wealthfront.

This being mid-August, and assuming Betterment’s faster growth rate continues as it has since the beginning of 2015: Betterment is poised to overtake Wealthfront in AUM.

What Happened to Betterment’s AUM Growth?

What happened to boost Betterment’s AUM growth starting around December 2014. I suspect the cause is:

Betterment Institutional

So not only does Betterment have its own client acquisition strategies (web banner ads, TV commercials, ads on taxis and phone booths in NYC…), now the company has a new salesforce, if you will, of investment advisers who are using the Betterment Institutional service for their emerging clients.

This new cadre of advisers likely stands at a hundred or so today, but as the popularity and appeal of automated investment services expands, potentially thousands of financial advisers may be directing their emerging clients to use the low-cost service.

This is a totally new salesforce and asset gathering funnel that Wealthfront lacks today.

So in the race to be the dominant VC-backed automated investment service measured by AUM, the guard is about to change.

And nobody wants to be number two.

FPPad Bits and Bytes for August 14

On today’s broadcast, Envestnet acquires account aggregation provider Yodlee, Advizr makes two announcements to close the gap among financial planning software, and find out why automated investing services might be losing their competitive advantage.

So get ready, FPPad Bits and Bytes begins now.

(WatchFPPad Bits and Bytes on YouTube)

Today’s episode is brought to you by eMoney Advisor, host of the eMoney Advisor Summit coming October 19th through 21st in Orlando.

emoney summit

Take a deep dive into the emX strategies that help you Connect, Engage and Win with your clients. Plus, everyone watching this show can take advantage of a one hundred dollar discount off your registration, so visit fppad.com/emoneysummit15 today and use promo code FPPAD100. That’s FPPAD100.

Here are the links to this week’s top stories:

Envestnet to Acquire Yodlee from Envestnet

[This week’s top story comes from Envestnet, as the wealth management technology and service provider announced it is acquiring Yodlee in a deal valued somewhere around $660 million. Now most of you know Yodlee for account aggregation, but Yodlee really doesn’t sell services directly to advisors.

Instead, some advisors benefit from Yodlee aggregation through third-party integrations, with MoneyGuidePro being the most well know,after announcing a Yodlee integration to much fanfare last year, priced at a dollar per day. You can get more details on that in episode 120 that I linked over here.

So let’s cut to the chase: is this good or bad? If you’re an Envestnet technology user, this is really good. Aggregating clients’ held away accounts gives you better visibility on what clients actually own, how they’re allocated, and in some cases, how they manage their cash flow. This information can only make the advice you give better, and that’s a fantastic thing for everyone!

BUT, if you compete with Envestnet and/or take advantage of Yodlee aggregation today, the future isn’t so clear. It’s way too early to speculate what’s going to happen to Yodlee’s pricing and availability, but if efficient account aggregation is a cornerstone of your business, it might be time to keep alternatives like Aqumulate, ByAllAccounts, or Quovo in mind.] Envestnet, Inc. (NYSE:ENV), a leading provider of unified wealth management technology and services to financial advisors, and Yodlee, Inc. (Nasdaq: YDLE), the leading cloud-based platform driving digital financial innovation, today announced that the Boards of Directors of both companies have unanimously approved a definitive agreement under which Envestnet will acquire all of the shares of Yodlee in a cash and stock transaction valued at $18.88 per share, or approximately $660 million on a fully-diluted equity value basis.

 

Introducing: Advizr Express from Advizr

[Next up is news from Advizr, an up-and-coming financial planning software provider, who this week made two announcements. First is the introduction of a prospecting tool called Advizr Express, allowing you to attract prospects by offering a super-simple retirement readiness illustration either on your website or for use with prospects during an initial meeting. Advizr Express is in beta testing today with an official release anticipated later this month.

Advizr’s second announcement is a new integration with Orion Advisor Services to import client portfolio holdings to avoid manually entering that information by hand. This adds to an existing integration with Blueleaf, and should be a preview of what to come with connections with many of the leading custodians. Wink wink.

So while Advizr is still a ways away from offering the number of integrations found in category leaders like Advicent, eMoney, and MoneyGuidePro, updates like these should help Advizr close the gap and offer you more choice in the tools you use to deliver financial planning.]

Automation Won’t Replace People as Your Competitive Advantage from Harvard Business Review

[And finally, I want to wrap up this week’s broadcast with an article from Harvard Business Review titled Automation Won’t Replace People as Your Competitive Advantage. For two years and seventy episodes of Bits and Bytes, the chatter about automated investment services and algorithmic rebalancing has reached a fever pitch, but scroll down to the end of that article and you’ll read a striking statement:

“Once smart machines are built to solve problems in asset efficiency (or indeed any area of operations) they very rapidly spread and become pervasive across an industry. Therefore, they cease to provide a competitive advantage.”

I think this perfectly describes what’s happening today in automated investing. Sure, six years ago, Wealthfront and Betterment attracted attention because there was nothing out there like their automated services. Their exclusivity was their competitive advantage.
But fast forward to today where automated services are available from Schwab, Vanguard, Future Advisor, Blooom, and even LPL Financial having announced their own plans for an automated service. Automated investing is becoming pervasive.

But what that also says to me is that if you don’t have some kind of low-cost automated service to offer, it may actually be viewed as a disadvantage because they’re so common in the industry. It’s like telling clients you won’t communicate with them via email. It’s so pervasive, who DOESN’T use email?] Geoff Colvin’s primary argument is that there are some unique human capabilities, like empathy and storytelling, that will keep people employable even as automation chips away at the content of most jobs.

 

Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes for August 14, 2015

Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes for August 14, 2015

Robo advisor is a perfect moniker and here’s why

tl;dr: Algorithms are incapable of giving financial advice, so the oxymoron “robo advisor” is a perfect moniker. Know what you’re getting (and not getting) from automated investment services.

“I am tired of the whole robo thing,” says Motif Investing CEO Hardeep Walia.

Personal Capital CEO Bill Harris bemoans, “We are not a robo advisor.”

Wealthfront CEO Adam Nash retorts, “New tech doesn’t always fit neatly into a bucket.”

Cry Me a Robo River

To the automated investment services, I say,

“Boo hoo.”

NOW these services are beginning to experience how it feels when others, right or wrong, control the conversation about their business.

Most journalists, reporters, TV anchors, correspondents, bloggers and more don’t really know what makes any of the automated investment services different from one another, so most simply package them up into one catch-all term “robo advisor.”

Let’s face it: “robo-advisor” makes for great click bait. If it didn’t work (and generate clicks and eyeballs), editors and producers would stop using it. (You clicked to land here, didn’t you?)

But please, asking everyone to stop using “robo advisor” because it misrepresents what you do or somehow marginalizes your service in some way?

I submit to you Exhibits A and B.

“You don’t need that guy,” gloats Wealthfront’s ad.

Sure, because most financial professionals out there are just glorified psychics, spiritualists, or stock market prognosticators whose only tool for financial advice is a crystal ball!

Please.

The financial services industry has seen this marginalization long before automated investment services arrived.

Living In Glass Houses

The fiduciary financial professionals should be just as upset about this gross characterization of fortune tellers as the automated investment service providers are about the term “robo advisor.” (people who live in glass houses…)

“Stop comparing us to fortune tellers!”

“We are not personal psychic advisors!”

Perhaps Wealthfront paints with too broad a brush. Ok, so here’s Exhibit C:

Wealthfront: Don't Pay For Expensive Financial Advisors

Wealthfront: Don’t Pay For Expensive Financial Advisors

See? “Don’t pay for expensive financial advisors.”

Why not?

Because Wealthfront is the end-all-be-all service that investors need? Because Wealthfront does the exact same thing all fiduciary financial advisors do? Because all your financial needs are met by Wealthfront’s software?

Ask a Question 100 Times…

Go ahead, go to any automated investment service website right now. Wealthfront. Betterment. Future Advisor. Even the anti-“robo-advisor” Personal Capital. (*read my note below)

Fill out their questionnaire. Complete a free “Investment Checkup.”

What is the answer you get?

The answer from ANY of these services is ALWAYS to invest.

ALWAYS.

There is no Plan B, no backup option, no alternate strategy.

There’s no, “You really should first pay off your high interest credit card balances.”

No, “You should save up an emergency fund where you can access the money quickly.”

No, “You should create a will and advance medical directives first in case something were to happen to you.”

But ask automated investment services a question 100 times, “What should I do with my money?” and the answer is always going to be the same:

Invest in a diversified portfolio of low cost ETFs.

It’s the only answer these services have. There’s nothing else.

It’s not financial advice. It’s not wealth advice.

It’s barely investment advice.

It’s an investment recommendation. The output of a calculator.

Sophisticated or not, automated investment services are ALWAYS going to recommend investing your money.

There simply is no other result to offer. The algorithms today are incapable of suggesting anything but investing.

So Why Robo Advisor?

So why robo advisor as a moniker?

Because it is a oxymoron, a name that contradicts itself.

Algorithms, software programs, aka “robots” are incapable of making judgment calls and evaluating emotions or feelings in the calculation process.

Robots can’t give advice.

Robots can only decide based on ones and zeroes. True or false.

Sure, an algorithm’s answer can be associated with a level confidence (recall IBM’s Watson playing Jeopardy), but each discrete answer is associated with a level of confidence based off of a set of discrete factors evaluated in the calculation process.

An algorithm’s output is a result. Functions return arguments.

But don’t call that advice.

Know What You’re Getting

As with most decision-making processes, there’s often a big difference in what you can do and what you should do.

What is important to you? How does a decision make you feel? How do you prioritize your goals?

Can your entire life, your goals, your dreams, your aspirations be captured in a four question survey? A ten question survey? Even a hundred question survey?

For automated investment services to survey the market and say “Hey, we can improve investing outcomes by building a software program that does everything on the cheap!”

The questionnaire is only part of the advice process, it is not the start and finish.

And then there’s the talk of disruption, mainly coming from the media (I don’t recall any of the automated investment services specifically saying they intend “to disrupt” the financial services industry).

What industry are automated investment services attempting to disrupt, anyway?

Vanguard, the mutual fund giant, has been offering diversified, low-cost investment products and services quite successfully since the 1970s.

Just remember that the next time you consider the services of an automated investment service, know what you are getting.

Do your homework.

You are getting the results of a calculator.

The calculator is programmed to give an answer.

Not advice.

Not from a robot.

Don’t assume that the answer you get is the best answer for your situation.

Who you are as a person cannot be summed up in an online questionnaire.

 

*Note: Personal Capital toes the line on the robo advisor definition. Users complete the Investment Checkup and receive a target asset allocation illustration based on answers to the short questionnaire. However, specific mutual funds and ETFs are not recommended, so it’s not explicit. Users do get a basic automated investment allocation recommendation with no human intervention, but it’s up to the user to connect each recommended asset to a specific mutual fund or ETF to purchase. Users who want specific fund and ETF recommendations must engage Personal Capital for traditional investment advice rendered by human advisers and pay Personal Capital’s standard fees. This formal engagement is not robo advice.

FPPad Bits and Bytes for April 3

On today’s broadcast, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios gathers over $500 million dollars in its first few weeks, find out why Orion Advisor Services is regarded as one of the good fintech vendors, and personal dossier app Refresh gets acquired by LinkedIn.

So get ready, FPPad Bits and Bytes begins now.

(WatchFPPad Bits and Bytes on YouTube)

Today’s episode is brought to you by Wealthbox CRM. Be the first to see the release of Wealthbox version 1.8 with a ton of new features and integrations, including one with MoneyGuidePro.

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Here are the links to this week’s top stories:

Exclusive: Schwab robo-adviser crosses half-billion dollar mark from InvestmentNews.com

[For the second week in a row, this week’s top story comes from Charles Schwab, as the company told InvestmentNews that it gathered “considerably over” $500 million in assets in the new Schwab Intelligent Portfolios program.

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios was released to retail investors just three weeks ago, which you heard three episodes ago, and now they have over $500 million. And just four weeks ago, my broadcast covered Wealthfront’s news that they surpassed $2 billion dollars in assets under management.

So it took Wealthfront a little over three years to get to two billion dollars, and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is on pace to do it in about two months. NOW who’s going to be the fastest growing and most trusted automated investment service in the world? I think that title’s up for grabs.

But hold on: there’s a deeper story here. Your business is experiencing grocery store econ 101. That’s right, it’s all about shelf space. You might have the best business in the world, but if you don’t have any shelf space, you don’t even have a chance to step up to the plate.

So all of these new solutions online are taking up shelf space and they’re crowding you out of the market. Sure, investors are getting low fees, rebalancing, even tax loss harvesting, but are they getting any REAL advice that actually matters? Not from what I can tell. But what I do see is that your shelf space is slowly being eroded, so you better start doing something about that today.

You can start by sharing this broadcast to your colleagues. Go on, the button’s down there, or up in the corner. Use it.] The Charles Schwab & Co. robo-adviser has crossed a symbolic threshold in just three weeks, raising more than half a billion dollars, the San Francisco-based firm told InvestmentNews on Monday.

What Makes Orion So Special? from Financial Advisor Magazine, and

Envestnet | Tamarac™ Rings in 2015 with a Record Year of RIAs Adopting its Portfolio and Client Management Platform from PRNewswire.com

[Next up is news on Orion Advisor Services, as this week Joel Bruckenstein highlighted the portfolio accounting service bureau for a number of the company’s innovations in financial technology.

Here are the most relevant updates from Bruckenstein’s column. Orion now serves over 570 advisory firms who collectively process over $200 billion in assets, and the company expects to add another 280 firms this year.

Bruckenstein highlights many of Orion’s innovations, including its free private labeled mobile app for advisors, video client statements powered by Engage, and trading sleeve capabilities in its order management system.

Bruckenstein also writes that Orion exhibits a company culture of innovation, which you saw first hand from my Fuse 2014 hackathon coverage, which is an event the company will repeat once again this September.

To be fair, Orion’s competitor Envestnet | Tamarac has also recently achieved some significant milestones, as the company now serves over 800 advisory firms with over $500 billion dollars on the platform, and they also offer a custom branded iPad app for use by advisors and clients. So remember what I said about shelf space and competition? Both of these companies, plus many other technology providers, will put you in a position to differentiate yourself in a crowded market.] When pondering this month’s column, I thought it might be interesting to focus on a single firm whose story involved all of these trends, Orion Advisor Services, which offers “software as a service” and portfolio accounting services to RIAs.

Refresh Joins the LinkedIn Family from Refresh

[And finally, I’m wrapping up this broadcast by revisiting Refresh, an app I told you about way back in episode 107. Refresh is an app that creates a real-time dossier about people you’re going to meet, pulling information from a variety of sources to help you, well, refresh your memory about your connections.

This week, Refresh announced that it will be acquired by LinkedIn (probably because of the Bits and Bytes bump!), so the company will soon be sunsetting its standalone app and rolling in its dossier capabilities into LinkedIn. I’m pretty happy about this move, because Refresh has been one of my go-to apps for a while, and I’m glad to see how the technology can enhance the value of LinkedIn as all of us continue to develop meaningful relationships with clients and colleagues everywhere.] Today, I’m excited to announce that Refresh has been acquired by LinkedIn.

Here are the stories that didn’t make this week’s broadcast:

External IT Upgrade Democratizes Access to User Activity, Improving Advisors’ IT Security and Workflow from ExternalIT

External IT, a cloud-based IT outsourcing firm that focuses on RIAs and Broker Dealers, today announced a new capability to be part of its best-in-class Cloud Desktop solution. The enhancement to the recently redesigned platform creates a visual and easily readable interface to view user activity that tracks login location, IP address, time and device, along with the specific applications launched.

FPPad Bits and Bytes for April 3, 2015

Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes for April 3, 2015

FPPad Bits and Bytes for March 27

On today’s broadcast, Schwab reveals details about its Institutional Intelligent Portfolios™ platform for advisors, LearnVest gets acquired by Northwestern Mutual, and Periscope becomes the latest trendy app for live video streaming.

So get ready, FPPad Bits and Bytes begins now!

(Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes on YouTube)

Today’s episode is brought to you by Total Rebalance Expert, the industry’s leading tax efficient and multi-custodial rebalancing platform – now available anytime, anywhere on any device with TRX Edge.

Total Rebalance Expert

Sign up for a demo in the next two weeks and receive 50% off your set-up fees by visiting fppad.com/trx

Here are the links to this week’s top stories:

Technology details of Institutional Intelligent Portfolios™ from Schwab Advisor Services from FPPad, and

Charles Schwab Unveils Institutional Intelligent Portfolios Details from BusinessWire

[There were two big stories this week you need to know about, so let’s begin with Schwab Advisor Services, as the company announced details of its Institutional Intelligent Portfolios™ solution created for you, the financial advisor, that will be released in the second quarter of this year.

Institutional Intelligent Portfolios is an automated investment management solution that allows you to add your firm name, logo, and contact information to the platform as well as design your own portfolios, provided that you choose from a pool of about 200 ETFs.

Now if you custody over $100 million dollars with Schwab, there’s no platform fee, but if you custody under $100 million, Schwab will charge users a platform fee of 10 basis points. And no matter what, you can’t allocate less than 4% in cash for any of your custom portfolios.

So what does this mean for your business? You now have yet another technology solution to offer a low-cost automated investment service to emerging clients, but IIP has the potential to be “free” if you custody enough assets with Schwab AND you ignore the drag on returns due to the 4% minimum cash requirement. But for that rock bottom price, you’re giving up some control.

If Schwab decides to change the available ETF options, or decides to require a higher minimum cash allocation, well, it’s their way or the highway. And don’t forget, this is not a set and forget business model.
These are people that we’re talking about signing up for automated services; they’re more than just users. Your business may already be spread thin today, and unless you’re thoughtful about a new strategy for serving this market, you may not be setting yourself up for success.

So will you be adding IIP and its ETFs to your RIA ASAP for your VIPs, or will you be SOL and suffer from FOMO? Hashtag LOL.] 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).”

Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. to acquire LearnVest from FPPad

[Next up is the surprising announcement this week that LearnVest, the New-York based financial planning startup, has agreed to be acquired by Northwestern Mutual, the largest direct provider of individual life insurance, AND one of the top 10 biggest independent broker-dealers in the financial planning industry.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, and rumors have been flying in every direction about valuation, revenue, burn rates and more.

Now a lot of times LearnVest has been mischaracterized as another robo advisor, but the company actually employs over 40 full-time financial planners, and they built their own proprietary financial planning software and tools because existing solutions were too complex and time consuming to use.

So while financial planning has been the big focus of LearnVest, I don’t think that was a big factor in this deal at all.

According to CEO John Schlifske, Northwestern Mutual advisers created over 400,000 financial plans last year. If you take LearnVest’s number of clients in their February 2015 Form ADV Part 2, at best they delivered 3,700 plans in the last fiscal year, not even 1% of the Northwestern Mutual’s volume.

For me, this deal is all about lead generation. By acquiring LearnVest, Northwesten Mutual now gets access to the over 1.5 million people who use LearnVest’s free mobile app or subscribe to LearnVest’s content. Schlifske was quoted saying that LearnVest “is expected to continue providing unbiased planning,” so assuming that’s true, what’s the upside for Northwestern Mutual?

How does one bring together “best-in-class products” with a “cutting-edge client digital experience,” without an inherent conflict? The jury’s still out on this one, so be sure to watch future broadcasts as this story develops.] According to the Wall St. Journal, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co., said it would acquire New York-based online financial planning startup LearnVest Inc.

Here are the stories that didn’t make this week’s broadcast:

Twitter’s Periscope App Lets You Livestream Your World from Wired

Periscope is consensual voyeurism. That’s not a new idea—millions use Twitch to watch other people play videogames, while YouTube, UStream, and a dozen others have tried to make businesses out of live-streaming video—but it feels like the right platform and the right time.

Tax-Loss Harvesting for Everyone from Wealthfront

We’re proud to announce that our daily tax-loss harvesting service will be made available to all Wealthfront taxable accounts, starting in April. 

Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes for March 27, 2015

Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes for March 27, 2015

FPPad Bits and Bytes for March 13

On today’s broadcast, Schwab and Wealthfront duke it out over automated investment supremacy, Fidelity wants to be the first final app for Apple Watch, and learn what screencasting app I use to delegate work so I can be more efficient.

So get ready, FPPad Bits and Bytes begins now!

(Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes on YouTube)

Today’s episode is brought to you by Croesus, the affordable all-in-one portfolio management & CRM software for RIAs. Over 9,500 investment professionals use the Croesus application to manage more than $700 billion in assets, and Croesus is offering a 50% discount on set-up fees for Advent Axys users until June 30th.

Croesus

To learn more about Croesus or to sign up for a free trial, visit fppad.com/croesus.

Here are the links to this week’s top stories:

Charles Schwab Launches Schwab Intelligent Portfolios™ from Business Wire

[This weeks top story features, no surprise, Charles Schwab and Wealthfront, as this week many of us witnessed round one of what could easily be a 12-round match between the industry heavyweight and the up-and-coming contender. Allow me to bring you up to speed in less than 60 seconds:

In June of 2014, Wealthfront crossed a billion dollars in AUM and paid homage to Charles Schwab for building a world-class company (foreshadowing). Then in October, Schwab announced it would release it’s own automated investment service called Schwab Intelligent Portofolios™ in the first quarter of 2015, and offer it with no management fees.
So in January of this year, details emerged that Schwab Intelligent Portfolios generally will have higher cash positions than similar allocation strategies, allowing Schwab to earn revenue on cash that is swept to Schwab Bank.
This week, Schwab officially rolled out Intelligent Portfolios on Monday, so on Tuesday, Wealthfront’s CEO Adam Nash criticized Schwab, remember, the same company he venerated just 9 months ago (does that count as a another pivot?), citing high cash allocations as quote “almost criminal.” Schwab countered on Wednesday, saying Nash was misleading and quote “presented a very loose interpretation of facts.” Now you’re up to date, and with a little bit of time to spare!

So why is this news for you? According to Schwab’s press release, the company plans to release Institutional Intelligent Portfolios™ in the second quarter, a version of the service that allows financial advisors who custody client assets with Schwab to use the solution with their own firms’ branding.

For a yet-to-be-disclosed fee (here’s a hint: I bet it’s 25 basis points), advisors can modify and customize asset allocations in Institutional Intelligent Portfolios™, or they can choose to use existing portfolios for no program management fee.

And second, while Schwab and Wealthfront battle it out, you have a huge opportunity to get in front of investors caught up in this story to communicate how you’re different from automated investment services. Yes, you do offer portfolio management, but you offer so much more, so it’s time you start controlling the conversation instead of allowing others to control the conversation about you.] Charles Schwab today launched a fully automated investment advisory service, Schwab Intelligent Portfolios™, the only investment advisory service using sophisticated computer algorithms to build, monitor, and rebalance diversified portfolios based on an investor’s stated goals, time horizon and risk tolerance – without charging any advisory fees, commissions or account services fees.

Fidelity® to Launch Financial App for Apple Watch™ from Fidelity

[Next up is news from Fidelity Investments, as this week the company rode the wave of interest in the Apple Watch announcement by revealing a financial app for the new product. If you remember waaaay back in my third episode, I told you about Fidelity’s Market Monitor app for the ill-fated Google Glass, so it’s not surprising that the financial services company is also leading the industry on embracing Apple’s foray into wearable computing.

So again, what’s the takeaway for you? While Google Glass has floundered perhaps for being a little too intrusive, the Apple Watch and other devices on your wrist may actually lead to some incremental productivity increases in your daily routines. So will Apple Watch prove to be popular among advisors? Only time will tell. Thank you, I’ll be here all week! Try the veal!] Fidelity Investments® announced today a first-of-its kind financial app for Apple Watch. Through a unique design and experience, the Fidelity Mobile® app for Apple Watch conveniently gives customers a distinctive overview of global markets and alerts on stocks and investments in real-time right on their wrist.

How I Finally Learned To Delegate By Creating Video Tutorials With Screencasting Software from Kitces.com

[And finishing up this week’s broadcast is a recent post from Michael Kitces on his Nerd’s Eye View blog about learning to delegate work to others. I’m sure you’re heard time and time again that you need to delegate work to be more efficient with your own time, but some things are just easier if you do them yourself instead of showing someone else how to get the job done. So what was the breakthrough for Kitces? The answer was screencasting software.

Screencasting software allows you to record your computer screen and also record your narration of what you’re doing. When you’re finished, you can share your screencast video with colleagues or even with clients by uploading it as a private video online.

I make screencasts for my own business, and I even use them for graphics for Bits and Bytes broadcasts. The tool I prefer is Camtasia for Mac, they also have a version for Windows, and if you keep an eye out, you’ll often find a coupon code for 50% off.] For me, the “breakthrough” in how to delegate effectively came from using screencasting software – tools that record what’s happening on your computer screen, paired with the audio of you talking while you’re sitting in front of it.

Here are links to stories that didn’t make this week’s broadcast:

Envestnet | Tamarac™ Rings in 2015 with a Record Year of RIAs Adopting its Portfolio and Client Management Platform from PRNewswire

During the previous 12 months, Tamarac has added approximately 150 RIA firms to its roster of clients, bringing the total to more than 800 firms managing client assets in excess of $500 billion. The dramatic increase in RIA clients has had an exponential effect on the number of financial accounts residing on the Advisor Xi platform, which now number more than 1 million.

Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes for March 13, 2015

Watch FPPad Bits and Bytes for March 13, 2015