Lockdown & market uncertainty lead to a surge in B2B robo-advisors

Efi Pylarinou is the founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer – No.3 influencer in the finance sector by Refinitiv Global Social Media 2019.

Digital investing, advice and portfolio management is on the rise. A surge in account openings across the board, is now well documented. The first quarter of 2020 has seen a sizable increase in activity compared to 2019.  TD Ameritrade’s automated investment offering reports an increase of 150%. Betterment has publicized account opening increases of 25%. Wealthfront reports a 68% rise since the market downturn.

Vanguard`s all-digital offering launched in late March, so figures are not available. Schwab has also confirmed the overall trend of an uptick in account opening, but no one has reported AUM figures yet.

The Robinhood debacle surely shifted several accounts to other digital platforms but it also revealed that a large portion of Robinhood`s clients were consumers that have very small amounts to trade (interest in fractional shares) and also use their margin allowance to leverage their plays.

The US market is witnessing an increase in consumer interest to start investing during this downturn. I believe that we will maintain increased levels of users on digital platforms.

Go Digital or Die is not debatable anymore in wealth management. There will be variations of Digital but no more only physical.

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a webinar hosted by Bambu, the B2B robo-advisor out of Singapore. Bambu has grown since 2016 globally with offices n Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, London, San Francisco, and Dubai. They offer all the picks and shovels needed to launch any variation of a Digital investing offering. Their narrative is about creating 21st century investors. They have the backing of Franklin Templeton and have partnered with Refinitiv and Apex.

Since Bambu is not a B2C provider, they embarked on a consumer sentiment analysis by using advanced Google search analytics. Some of their findings show consumer changes and preferences. Naturally, their results have a US bias as it is the largest market in digital advice and investing. During this crisis, there has been an upsurge in searching for Financial advisors.

Consumers are increasingly interested in Long term digital advice.  

Retirement advice, tax optimization and harvesting, are highly sought.

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`Retirement planning` has been strongly trending which is unexpected. People close to retirement prefer traditional channels of advice typically. This trend shows us that there is a reversal and a huge opportunity. It can also mean that consumers realize that there is value in paying an advisor to plan for retirement from early on.

The value of retirement Advice is on the rise.

Bambu`s analysis confirmed (what I knew from fund flows reported by several data providers globally) that there was a huge shift from Fixed income to Equity ETFs. This has resulted in an unexpected inflow into Equity ETFs despite the market downturn.

Eric Balchunas, senior Bloomberg ETF analyst, reported that Vanguard Q1 ETF inflows were at a record $47 billion and this was ALL Equity ETFs, as fixed income ETFs were net $0.

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QQQ the Invesco ETF tracking Nasdaq, also saw peak inflows (via Bambu)

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What Bambu added to the picture, that the hugely positive Equity ETF inflows came also from a consumer shift from investing in individual stocks to investing in ETFs.

Consumers are de-risking (diversifying) from individual stocks into ETFs.   

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Consumers are inquiring about Rebalancing. Digital advice on managing portfolios is on the rise which is a shift from stock picking.

None of the US Robo advisors have announced any firings and some are even hiring analysts, developers, and managers.

Bambu reports a very busy month, which shows that Digital in wealth is not going away and variations will be the norm depending on the geographic region and the area of focus.

Uncertainty and the lockdown has strengthened the B2B robo advisor segment.

Go Digital for Financial advice, rebalancing, tax harvesting.

Recording of the Bambu webinar with lots of graphs and details.

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Wildfires and disasters- ecosystem opportunity to leverage InsurTech and innovation

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Wildfires and disasters- terribly good opportunity to leverage InsurTech and innovation

Image Take a US $8 billion dollar insurance business that serves more than 7 million customers annually regarding residential real estate assets valued at more than US $5 trillion, that’s working in a regulated, politically hyped environment and one might see opportunity for innovation.  Throw in significant exposure to regional wildfires and urban area earthquakes, […]

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Source All economic theories assume a Homo economicus; which in plain English means a totally rational investor. We forget this basic assumption which makes all models ill-fit to our emotional and unstable behavioral profiles. This point cannot be ignored anymore, as we seek to deploy technology to offer customized financial advice and goal-based services. Deep dive […]

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Robo-advisory: Women, Freemium, and Subscriptions

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Spring has brought lots of action even in the commoditized robo-advisory segment.

Three picks capture the flavor of the day in US robo-advisory.

  • Ellevest, the B2C standalone robo focused on women, raised $33million from a select group of investors[1].
  • Betterment, the hybrid standalone robo, drops account minimum for customized portfolios for retail clients too.
  • Charles Schwab adds a subscription-based financial planning offering (Not one size fits all).

Ellevest is in its 4th year and remains focused on empowering women. The offering includes a significant educational and coaching service for business women. What became clear from this recent funding round, is that the only viable part of the business is actually the HNW part. Ellevest Private Wealth Management is the premium service targeting HNW females and most of the capital raised will go into growing this business. This makes me believe that Ellevest doesn’t actually belong to the robo-advisory category but to the `Financial Wellness for Women in Business` category.

Betterment, on the other hand, has gone hybrid in two ways. Both in terms of offering a 100% DIY asset allocation service and with an advisor lite possibility; and having a B2C business parallel to a B2B business for financial advisors and for corporates (e.g. Uber). Financial advisors using the Betterment platform didn’t have an account minimum anyway. Now Betterment drops the 100k account minimum for individuals that want a customized portfolio allocation through the Betterment Flexible Portfolios offering. Their Premium service for 40bps now has no minimum. Betterment`s move comes in response to demand from existing retail clients to be able to customize their exposure in certain asset classes. The business decision of offering this flexibility at no cost, confirms that Customer is King and will remain so forever and ever.

Charles Schwab subscription service rhymes with Apple`s news service. For $30 a month, Schwab offers a financial planning package. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium (rebranded name) is offered at $30 a month after a one-time $300 fee with a $25k minimum. Asset allocation is from a universe of 50+ ETFs, including a financial plan with a customized roadmap and unlimited one-to-one guidance from a CFP professional. Regulated financial-investment advice at $630 for the 1st year and $360 annually thereafter.

Schwab Intelligent Advisory (the original robo name) was at 28bps per annum 0.28% of assets.

Think of the 300,000 Schwab Intelligent Advisory accounts ($37 billion). Some will remain in the free, no-advisory offering. But a significant part will switch over to Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium and get advice. Evidently, any account with enough assets ($125k seems to be the magic number) will switch over.

What will this move do to the rest of the large players? When will Vanguard follow suit?

This is another discount brokerage moment in the investment industry. This is the subscription financial advice retail moment. Michael Kitces, the cofounder of XY planning Network XYPN, has deployed a successful subscription-based business for financial advisors, thus proving that it works at the B2B level. Now Schwab is pushing for a B2C implementation.

[1] Rethink Impact, PSP Growth, the Melinda Gates’s investment fund Pivotal Ventures; PayPal; Wynn Resorts co-founder Elaine Wynn; former Google and Alphabet chairman Eric Schmidt; former top aide to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett; and Mastercard. Source.

Sources: Schwab on Bloomberg; Betterment on FP; Schwab on ThinkAdvisor.

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Efi Pylarinou is the founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer.

 I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

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Marketplaces and gateways for financial advisors – Schwab’s approach

I’ve been a fan of  Bill Winterberg and his FPPad channel. If Alexa is in your Christmas shopping cart, you should know that Bill is on Alexa for you to listen while putting on makeup or shaving in the morning. Just say “Alexa, enable FPPad”.

In early November, Bill covered the Impact2018 annual event by Schwab for advisors. The Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, the infamous Schwab Robo-advisor, that we have covered on DailyFintech from the start of the robo movement, is not what was the focus at Impact2018. This is an annual event for advisors who are being empowered by brokers, custodians, tech companies, asset managers, and banks.  The sponsor of the Impact2018 FPPad interviews was Envestnet | Tamarac. As a side note (not an insignificant one) Blackrock invested in Envestnet by acquiring 4.9% of shares. The world’s largest asset manager buying a piece of one of the largest adviser technology providers. Add to that that Blackrock owns another 5% through its passive financial products.

 Charles Schwab in a way has it all. For the 100% DIY investor, there is Schwab’s brokerage arm and the free robo service (continuously criticized for the high cash allocation). In the middle, there is an automated investing management offering with a free personal finance guidance (with financial advisors) with only a $5,000 minimum balance requirement. And at the other end of the spectrum, a rich and improving marketplace for in-house (using Schwab as a custodian) and third-party advisors.   

Andrew Salesky is a 20yr Schwab veteran that now runs the Digital Advisor Solutions at Schwab. His vision is to transform Schwab into a Digital Services organization. He is focused on serving and empowering financial advisors, both those in-house but also with third parties in the Advisory space.

Schwab scores high when benchmarked as a Digital Services organization, for the in-house custodied part of the business.

First and foremost, they have mastered the Digital Account opening, which is now a completely paperless workflow for advisors which takes 5min to open an account (regular account, pension, or charitable). This electronic authorization, itself gives the end customer a great experience. The first impression always creates a predisposition, and Schwab has its advisors back covered in 80% of account opening cases. The remaining 20% is the so-called NIGO (Not in good order), which means incomplete or incorrectly filled applications; and Schwab is tackling this business opportunity by experimenting with technology that can serve electronically advisors’ customers in this case.

Second, the Schwab Advisor Portfolio Connect, is an all-in-one solution at no fee, that is simple and efficient. Its main advantage is an operationally efficient portfolio management solution. The magic happens behind the scenes, taking advantage of ‘custodial data direct’. Advisors using this service don’t need end of day downloads and reconciliations and creating performance reports, billing and other crucial reports because all is completely automated.

On top of these digital capabilities for all Schwab advisors, the Digital Advisors Solutions department is strategically positioning Schwab as a Marketplace and a Gateway for third party advisors. This is multifaceted.

First is the MarketSquare. I love the name by the way. It feels like Piazza San Marco or some such. Schwab advisors can research technology vendors and products to help them make better-informed buying decisions, see product ratings and reviews from peer advisors, who understand the specific needs of independent advisors. The MarketSquare is creating an advisor community and tech vendors compete for their attention.

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 Second is the OpenView Gateway: Third party advisors can enjoy secure, high-quality integrations, for example with Orion, Salesforce, Addepar, and at same time have access to Schwab data. These integrations combine the best of Schwab and third-party capabilities and include many of the major technology tools firms depend on, including CRM, portfolio management, financial planning, trading & rebalancing, risk analysis, and more.

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Several other tech vendors are in the pipeline to be listed on the OpenView Gateway. Advyzon a provider of CRM solutions, client reporting, billing, document management, and a client portal; and LifeYield allows advisors to get their ‘Taxficient Score’ for all their clients to measure their tax efficiency.  Reports can be shared directly with the clients to show where they are adding value.

 

Last week I took a look at Morgan Stanley’s “WealthDesk” rollout for its advisors which is an integration of Morgan Stanley’s Goal Planning System. In Incumbent Robo-advice platforms, software, products: A look through Morgan Stanley’s WealthDesk platform I highlighted the Machine learning support through “Next Best Action” tool.

Schwab’s approach is very different that Morgan Stanley’s. “WealthDesk” is the integrated toolbox that MS advisors operate their business on. Schwab allows for 3rd party advisors and in-house advisors more choices of vendors and in that respect each advisor can tailor their toolbox differently. The “WealthDesk” toolbox is not available for 3rd party advisors.

MS is focused on empowering and retaining its current advisory network of 16,000 advisors. Schwab is increasing its outreach through a marketplace approach that if successful, can become the app store for tech targeting advisors (with genius capability and a community tying them together).

The end customer will decide of course; Financial advisors are being served through Fintech vendors that offer them dazzling choices. The platform that can help advisors make smart choices for their toolbox, will be the winner.

MS claims that their integration is ahead of the curve. Schwab positions itself as hub that filters tech vendors continuously and offers integration a la carte plus peer reviews.

Stay tuned.

Efi Pylarinou is the founder of Efi Pylarinou Advisory and a Fintech/Blockchain influencer.

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