This post will show you how to pick a robo-advisor in the digital wealth management era. Long gone are the days of paying 1% – 3% for a traditional wealth manager to manage your money. Today, you can use free wealth management tools online to manage you money yourself!
Thanks to the internet and innovation, fees are going down. A robo-advisor has made wealth management more accessible to the masses.
How To Pick A Robo-Advisor
One of the reasons why I'm an Apple user is because I appreciate good service. When I dropped my Macbook one evening and my hard drive stopped working, it was incredibly easy to schedule an appointment with the Genius Bar at my local Apple store. They fixed my hard drive and recovered my data within 30 minutes and away I went.
Peace of mind is worth the premium, which is why I'm a fan of the hybrid robo-advisor Empower. Empower not only has the best free financial tools online to track your finances, it also has a sophisticated digital wealthy advisory business with human financial advisors to provide financial guidance.
Robo-advisors, aka algorithmic advisors deploy sophisticated investment algorithms to help invest your money in the best risk-adjusted way possible. You essentially fill out a profile about yourself and the algorithm will go to work to recommend and implement their recommendations for you.
But because Empower also has financial advisors, you also have someone to talk to about your portfolio. In fact, you can sign up fo free and get a free consultation worth $799 today.
Leverage Technology To Your Advantage
I used to have a hard time trusting computers to do anything for me. But after spending 13 years covering some of the largest mutual funds and hedge funds in America, it's clear that algorithmic investing, or more commonly known as quantitative investing or scientific investing have done well.
For example, Bridgewater Associates run by Ray Dalio is the largest hedge fund in the world with over $120 billion dollars. It's a macro quantitative fund with tremendous performance. Famous hedge funds run by George Soros, David Tepper, and Steve A. Cohen can't even compare.
A good quant fund or algorithmic advisor is all about having good people. At the end of the day, the investment variables are created by people and continuously tested for maximum returns. Spending time understanding people's backgrounds and then trusting them to do the right thing is a huge part of letting other people run your money.
After all, the reason why you want someone else investing your money is because your expertise lies elsewhere. You've got more interesting things to do with your time. Just make sure you understand all the fees you're paying. Here's a look at the average advisor fees by brokerage to give you an idea.
In this article, I'd like to provide a brief primer on the benefits of using a robo-advisor to manage your money. There are a plethora of rob-advisors that exist today. But my main focus is on Empower, a hybrid rob-advisor that uses both humans and technology to help you manage your money.
Target-Date Fund Investing
The core offering by robo-advisors is very similar to investing in a target-date fund. A target-date fund works by taking your desired retirement age (without taking into account risk appetite), and slowly shifting your stock/bond split more heavily to bonds as you approach your retirement date.
Empower needs investors to transfer over their assets in order to create those target-date fund accounts, and they can only see the assets they hold. Once you give them your assets, they allocate them to create a balanced portfolio, but only within that account. That's a valuable service, but for investors with multiple accounts already, it may not be the right solution.
Empower charges up to 0.89% on your assets. Empower manages about $20 billion of client's money and generally targets the more sophisticated investor. The more assets you have with Empower, the lower the fees.
Vanguard's target-date funds charge 0.17%. The expense ratio for Wells Fargo’s index-based target-date funds ranges from an average of 0.35% to 1.63% per year. For the two classes of Fidelity’s actively managed Freedom funds, the average annual expense ratios are 0.57% and 0.60%.
Target date funds are very popular for 529 college savings plans.
A Top Down View Of Your Overall Finances
In order to get a balanced recommendation for your investment portfolio, it's important for the robo-advisor to see what your overall financial picture looks like. For example, let's say you own a lot of real estate like I do (~35% of my net worth).
If you believe in modern portfolio theory, then it's important to take into account the other parts of your net worth when filling out Pesonal Capital's simple questionnaire in the beginning.
Here's a sample portfolio that Empower will create for me after inputting my answers. I'm a relatively high risk tolerant investor who is happy to buy more stocks if there is a 10% price correction.
Deeper Tax-Loss Harvesting
Both digital wealth advisors do tax-loss harvesting, but they do it in different ways. Empower conducts tax-loss harvesting on the assets you've given them from the moment you create an account. They handle future losses.
Accounts at any other brokerage can be moved to Fidelity or TDAmeritrade without a tax hit. It's called a “transfer in kind.” It means you don't have to sell what you have and buy something else. This approach logically seems better since it looks at your overall wealth.
Free 401(k) Management Advice
Since none of the robo-advisors can actively manage money in a 401k, the majority just ignore it. Empower, on the other hand, looks at your entire portfolio holistically.
They manage around your 401k with the assets you choose to give them. They also show you how to cut fees and rebalance within your portfolio (without charging on the assets in the 401k). It’s the extra step that makes sure you have a fully diversified portfolio – not just a single diversified account.
Given that 401(k)s account for most of Americans' retirement savings, Empower's ability to work with them makes it much more valuable.
Below is Empower's free Investment Checkup tool that analyzed my 401(k) It showed that I was paying $1,748.34 in fees a year I had no idea I was paying!
More About Algorithms For Investing
The algorithms Empower have are built on data going back over a 100 years where available. Their back testing has been done in some of the most extreme financial corrections. They have held up well so far.
Empower's algorithms seek out commission-free ETFs within your broker to eliminate trading costs. iShares are funds that trade commission-free. Fidelity has 100s of commission free ETFs, as two examples. Since they aren’t trading underlying equities, trading costs are rarely if ever an issue.
Empower has a team of seasoned CFAs and PhDs who create and maintain the algorithms. Empower also has as an academic council who help inform us of financial developments. Check out my Empower review in more detail.
Robo-Advisors Are The Future
Empower is an excellent choice for those who want the lowest fees and can't be bothered with actively managing their money themselves. It is the premier rob-advisor today. In the long run, it is very hard to outperform any index. Therefore, the key is to pay the lowest fees possible while being invested in the market.
Invest your idle money cheaply, instead of letting it lose purchasing power due to inflation. You don't need to fund your account to see what type of portfolio they'll construct for you. Sign up and see what Empower has to offer.
About the Author
Sam began investing his own money ever since he opened an online brokerage account online in 1995. Sam loved investing so much that he decided to make a career out of investing by spending the next 13 years after college working at Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse Group. During this time, Sam received his MBA from UC Berkeley with a focus on finance and real estate.
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In 2012, Sam was able to retire at the age of 34 largely due to his investments that now generate roughly $250,000 a year in passive income. He is very focused on building more passive income through real estate crowdfunding to arbitrage lower valuations in the heartland of America.