Are Robo-advisors with no hedging gear, suitable for the 21st century?

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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.

I`ve been waiting for the quarterly Backend Benchmarking Robo Report, to gain insights into the US digital advisory market that is the largest by many metrics (AUM, # standalone fintechs, # incumbent offerings, years in the market, types of offerings). In the first quarter of 2020 on the `positive` side, we have seen a large funding of $112 for Stash which claims to have crossed the $1billion AUM and 4.5million customers. The race is on amongst standalone robo advisors to build a full stack offering that can include investing and banking services. Stash for example, the micro-investing fintech, has already added a debit card through Green Dot (see more about Stash here). Betterment, Acorns, Sofi, and soon Wealthfront have debit cards for their saving accounts.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Vanguard the incumbent that has the lion`s share in AUM – $148Billion – and remains a pure investment platform showing no signs of integrating any personal finance tools to its offering.

Investment accounts + saving accounts + debit cards – the new normal for standalone robo-advisors

This is clearly where we are heading to. Robo-advisors like Betterment or Acorns, that were investment offerings first, need to keep their earlier customers who moved their savings to them for a better, cheaper, hassle-free investment service. Other more recent customers may not care so much about robo-advisor performance because their reason to move may have been a high-interest rate savings account, fully digital with a branchless experience. WealthFront for example, is a strong believer of branchless banking and has a vision of Self-driving money.

As I look at the performance comparison from the Q1 2020 performance Backend Benchmarking Robo Report, I am reminded of what Paolo Sironi says repeatedly, `we humans are not rational`. Vanguard has accumulated $148billion AUM without being the top performer over the 4year period of the report. SigFig, Fidelity Go, and Axos Invest (ex WiseBanyan) are the long-term top performers.

What was more striking to me was the top performer during the March stock market debacle. A new kind of robo-advisor, Titan Invest, that was launched just 2yrs ago was identified as the top performer based on its relative performance to its benchmark.

Titan invest, is a different kind of robo advisor that has accumulated $75million and charges 1% in fees. It is an all-equity investing platform (100% equity) whose bread and butter is not low-cost ETFs but individual stocks. It banks off hedge funds and copies some of the hedge fund techniques. However, Titan has no minimum investment requirement and is open to any US retail investor.

Titan filters individual stocks from the major holdings of hedge funds and creates personalized portfolios of 20-30 stocks based on the risk profiling of its clients. Some of its holdings (reported in its blog) include Amazon, Microsoft, and Netflix (up during Q1) and TransDigm and Credit Acceptance (big losers in Q1). In late February, Titan started shorting the S&P 500 appropriately for each portfolio and was therefore able to reduce its drawdown.

The Robo report, reports that in March the Titan Flagship fund returned 8.02%, in a period where the S&P 500 was down 13.79%.

Titan performance

Screen Shot 2020-05-11 at 10.24.44Titan was the only robo-advisor that beat the S&P 500 and its benchmark.

Titan admits that this the first time they use a personalized hedge. Their stock selection combines a quantitative filtering of common hedge fund holdings (based on different measures) and a subsequent fundamental and event analysis.

In their recent Q1 2020 investment letter, they also mentioned that in mid-February they initiated a position in Uber, as they think that the company is in the early stages of a powerful transformation. (see more here)

Titan Invest is a Ycombinator child. No VC investment. $2.5million seed round. It follows an actively managed approach.

The market will show whether active management of this style, pays off. It will also decide whether using hedges to protect portfolios from sharp drawdowns, will become more mainstream.

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Will Stash stay on Craig`s list as a market leader?

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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.

The closing of the Motif and the $112million funding of Stash, have sparked interesting conversations. It is clear that there was affection in the market for Motif. Maybe towards the founder or because they started with an innovation that didn’t catch on (Motifs never became a household name) or because they persisted for nearly 10 years or because maybe their timing kept being wrong. Too many pivots whose timing didn’t work out, like launching an offering for advisors and an institutional offering with structured products around 2017. See more in my post from 2 weeks ago, Digitization in the brokerage business is shrewd – Motif investing is closing

Craig Iskowitz weaved a rich coverage of Motif`s story on May 1st with lots of data and back flashes on how Motif was perceived along its journey. 13 Roboadvisors That Might Become Victims of the COVID19 Crisis is a great read for anyone in wealth management. In the last part, he shares a robo-advisor ranking in an effort to start thinking about who will not survive in these markets. The Ezra Group divided 38 providers into to three groups: Market Leaders, Up & Coming, and Watch List.

I`ll just pick on the first group `The Market Leaders` only because it contains Stash who definitely has us all looking at why it was able to raise this large amount of funding (Series F) in these market conditions.

Craig includes in `The Market Leaders` the big old names of Vanguard and Schwab that are pure investing giants, along with micro-investing apps like Acorns and Stash and MoneyLion (which is more focused on banking and lending).

He makes a point about the large number of paying clients that these three apps are serving. 15+ million customers compared to 30 million Vanguard clients. These are numbers as of January 30, 2020. This month we should be getting updated numbers as Q1 2020 from Backend Benchmarking which will definitely show an increase, as we have unofficial evidence already of a spike in account openings across all digital offerings. In the #ItzOnWealthTech Ep. 46: The Mad Rush into Digital Advice with Bill Capuzzi, Bill Capuzzi CEO of Apex Clearing mentioned that they saw a 200% increase in new account opening in March.

For Stash to stay on Craig`s list and to not disappoint their investors, they need to execute well on their re-bundling. They cannot afford to stay only in investing like Schwab and Vanguard. They already started their re-bundling in 2019 and effectively their roadmap to becoming a fuller stack. They used their Series E funding to partner with Green Dot`s Banking-as-a-Service and introduce a debit card. After one year they have acquired 750,000 banking customers and continue to pay up to acquire more (see Tearsheet sources below).

With Lending Tree as one of its key recent investors, they must be planning to add credit to their services. With the dazzling choices of Baas and Saas offerings, there is no secret sauce for almost anything. The trick is the go-to-market strategy that can create network effects. And this is where maybe Stash has a first-mover advantage. Is the optional `Stock-Back` reward program that they also introduced last year something that has actually worked for them?

On May 1, Pulse 2.0 reported that `nearly $10 million Stock-Back rewards have been earned by Stash customers since the launch of the debit rewards program almost a year ago.`

 Stash customers earn `0.125% Stock-Back rewards on all of your everyday purchases and up to 5% Stock-Back rewards at certain merchants with Stock-Back bonuses`.

If all $10million stock-back rewards were earned at 0.125%, then that translates to Stash having processed $8 billion in payments through their debit card. That is an average $10,000 per banking customer per annum. If all purchases were at merchants included in the Stock-Back deal offering clients an average of 2.5% stock-back, then it translates into $400million in payments and around $500 of purchases per customer.                        Is all this worth the Stock-Back patent?

Stash actually keeps investing in it Stock-Back program. They introduced 200 more stocks for 2020. Their digital design allows them to change easily the amount of the reward and offer special deals for certain periods and target different groups of subscribers. For example in May, they increased their rewards for CVS, Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Disney to stock-back rewards of 2% from the usual 0.125%. (Details here). Their picks obviously are the best way to build customer loyalty, as all these are top choices for most people during the lockdown. They also offered 3% for two food delivery stocks, Seemless and Grubhub only for plus subscription customers.                                                                                         This kind of customizable service is definitely Fintech innovation.

It would be good to know what percentage of Stash customers actually opt-in the Stash Stock-back reward program. And then, what is the actual distribution of rewards that were paid out amongst the individual stocks like Amazon, Starbucks, Walmart, and the diversified fund which is paid out as a reward when you make purchases at merchants that are not publicly traded and on the Stash list.

Are business analytics of Stash customer behavior confirming that once a customer receives a reward in a stock of a company whose products or services they consume, they actually become more familiar with the company and allocate more investment funds to the company? This is the narrative that Stash is floating around as they report that they are seeing an increase in customer deposits. Stash is hinting that there are network effects from the Stock-Back Rewards into their investment business.

It is worth monitoring Stash to see

  • Number of Banking customers growth
  • Average account size growth through follow-on investments
  • The Stock-Back reward program growth
  • Follow-on investments of stocks in the Stock-Back program
  • What value there is in the Stock-Back patent they refer to
  • Any new smart credit offering

Sources-

Tearsheet reports that Stash reached $1 billion in AUM in February 2020, with 4 million customers on the platform (not clear how many are paying any subscription which ranges between $1-$9 per month with $0 minimum). However, only 750,000+ are banking customers.

Nerdwallet April 2020 comparison shows that the customer acquisition cost for Stash is very high. They are still paying a lot to lure new customers.

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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.

Screen Shot 2020-04-13 at 11.39.35

`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.   

Screen Shot 2020-04-13 at 11.36.58

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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Mortgages for `Branch-Never` clients is the next re-bundling item  

`Allocating capital and managing the risk on the debt side of our personal balance sheet is larger, more complex, and determines whether we reach our goals or how far away do we end up. This is primarily where we all need advice (human, bionic, hybrid) in the first place, and subsequently in the investment segment of our finances`

This is an excerpt from a post I wrote nearly 3yrs ago The vertical integration of SoFi has the core entry point right! One of the points I was making is that offering mortgages first and then expanding into wealth management, is the way to go during this digital transformation and cannibalization of several financial products. Simply because the value add of advice on the debt side is significant and easier for the end customer to understand.

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.

Since then, the digital mortgage market has evolved – US players like Roostify, Mojo mortgages, or ElliMae – and several partnerships have been established. For example, Ally Financial partnered recently with digital mortgage disruptor Better.com; or HSBC with Roostify.

Since then, the market reality is that several Fintechs in the investment part (e.g. robo-advisors) have cannibalized products and services, while increasing customer acquisition costs. As a result, they have been forced to expand their initial laser focused offering. Which brings me to the recent announcement of Wealthfront, the digital-only standalone robo-advisor, that plans to add mortgages to its offering.

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Wealthfront started on the asset side of our personal finances and is now enriching its offering on the liability side. Sofi did the reverse. Wealthfront, however, has been analyzing data for its clients around home pricings and mortgages, as part of their saving goals towards mortgage down payments. So Wealthfront is not starting from zero. They see demand (they always have been) on customers that are `Branch-Nevers` as they call them.

At the same time, Varo Money the mobile-only banking app (with no banking license yet) has been offering unbeatable free checking and high-yield savings accounts, and plans also to add mortgages and more once they get a banking license. Both Sofi and Wealthfront have added cash and savings accounts.

What a mashed-up market!

From unbundling, integrating, then re-bundling and consolidating. Over and over again.

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Vanguard undercuts Digital only `advisory ` offerings

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. The Vanguard effect is well known in the ETF market and now it could extend into the digital advisory space. The Vanguard Digital Advisory service is pending SEC approval. Vanguard`s […]

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2 Tug-A-Wars and 3 trends in Digital wealth

Abaka  conversational AI for financial advice I took the rolling escalators to the Gallery at King`s Place where the annual Robo investing 2day conference takes place, thinking about The cash piles that wealthy people are stacking away in the UK market – FFI = Funds Flow Index by Calastone The frustration of the asset management […]

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Robo-advisors have not reduced the Cash Pile

It was four years ago that Schwab and Vanguard stepped into the robo-advisory market and leapfrogged the standalone top US robo advisors, Betterment, Wealthfront, and Personal Capital. SigFig was also a big contender at the time but has pivoted since into a predominately B2B business.

Anyone interested in reviewing the baby steps in grabbing market share and luring those holding cash to invest, can review a series of past posts[1].  Fintech startups and incumbents with low-cost investment asset allocation services, great customer onboarding, and relatively simple investment choices; have been trying to serve Unadvised Assets.

Current market snapshot

The top five robo advisors by AUM are 3 Fintechs and two incumbents. They have accumulated over $187 billion in AUM.

robo-advisors-with-the-most-aum-2019-750x375

Source: Robo-advisors With the Most Assets Under Management -2019

The growth has been double-digit, the kind that VCs like. Despite the fact that robo-advisors have clearly not lowered the customer acquisition cost (CAC) and ironically, in most cases have been deploying the same old-fashioned channels to acquire customers[2]; VCs have been generous in funding them. Just for the top three Fintech robo-advisors, Betterment, Wealthfront, and Personal Capital VCs have invested ($275, $204, $265) nearly $745million.

The market share (as measured by AUM) amongst the top 5 US robos, is 20%-80% between Fintechs and incumbents.

One of the metrics that I had chosen to follow from the very beginning of the robo-advisory trend, was Unadvised Assets – cash in physical wallets and in checking & savings accounts. For me, Unadvised Assets are a measure of the market opportunity for robo businesses. Deloitte reported in 2014 that in the US there were close to 13 trillion of such, unadvised assets.

Looking at the Q3 2018 U.S. Federal Reserve report[3] and recent Money data, from grandmothers to hedge funds holding cash, in overnight money market funds, to checking accounts and currency; I realize that

Robo-advisors have had none or negligible impact on Unadvised assets.

In the US, Unadvised assets continue their solid growth. In 2016, I had reported $13.4trillion and now we are looking at $14.5trillion. An 8+% growth over the past 3yrs.

Unadvised assets in the Euro area, have grown from a total of 10.3 trillion EUR to 11.8 trillion EUR – a 14+% growth over the past 3yrs.

In the UK, from 1.56trillion GBP to 2.4 trillion GBP – a 5+% growth over the past 3yrs.

Cash continues to be up for grabs, for robo-advisors, for P2P lenders, for crowdfunding platforms, and tokenization platforms.

When will Unadvised Assets shrink? Will the digitization of capital markets (with the rich variety of technologies and business models) overtake the trends in fiat monetary policy, public markets, and human behavioral psychology?

[1]Nov. 2015 Salivating for Unadvised assets: a videographic

March 2016 Digital Wealth management: a videographic update

Nov. 2016 Oh, the things you could do with the enormous Cash pile!

[2] Advertising, mailing services, cheap initial offers….

[3]https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/z1/20181206/z1.pdf

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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The `robos` in the front-office – takeaways from Swiss innovators


Watch the gap; between the Attention Economy and financial services.

 Market forces are fiercely at work to start closing this gap. I shared insights around this reality and ways that financial services players can participate successfully in this transformation, during my opening talk at the annual event by the Bank Innovation Competence Center[1], at Unil, HEC Lausanne. I also listened to different perspectives regarding `Les robots au front-office`.

Actual experiences and learnings from:

  • A Swiss private bank with a global outreach – Julius Bear
  • A Swiss online Bank with an in-house robo solution – Swissquote
  • A Swiss cantonal bank innovating through Fintech collaborations – BLKB/True Wealth B2B
  • A Swiss bank using chatbots – PostFinance/ELCA.

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Julius Baer, a 10yrold pure wealth manager[2], has already deployed a Digital Investment Advisory suite – called DIAS – in their Luxembourg operations and is in the process of adopting it in its home base. This is a technology stack deployed to empower the Relationships managers of JB so that they can focus on relationships, offer customized insights and reduce the burden of the ever-growing regulatory requirements.

Undoubtedly, the unbundling of financial services that have been instigated by standalone Fintechs, has essentially commoditized several aspects of financial services. Wrapping value-added advice around products and transactions is inevitable and that is what JB is aiming at. For now, and from JB`s experience, there has been no JB customer that has left from private banking to go to a standalone robo-advisor.

 Swissquote, the Swiss tech born online bank, has developed its own `robo` offering. Their heavily quantitative approach is well known from the suit of their financial products and services. An online automatic but discretionary approach to investing was a very natural extension of their successful e-trading business. One of their first learnings was that personalization is needed for the automation process. Through a close collaboration with Neuroprofiler, a Swiss-born behavioral finance risk profiler out of the Kickstart accelerator, they offer a dynamic automated risk profiling with gamification elements[3].

Swissquote`s robo is used by some of their end clients but also by asset managers and financial advisors that use the Swissquote technology. The two main learnings are that one of the main in-house uses of their robo capabilities, is from existing customers that leave cash in their accounts without doing anything. Think, for example, a customer using the Swissquote e-trading platform that has often cash that is not at work.

Evidence that robo-advisors can be of value-add to customers that leave cash sitting in their accounts due to inertia.

Swissquote is continuously improving their offering by experimenting with Big Data and AI that can enrich the interaction with customers beyond and in addition to their dynamic risk profiler. Think of an algorithm that sends an sms asking `Dear Efi, ahead of BREXIT, would you want to consider switching off the robo algorithm?`.

Digifolio, is the BLBK robo advisory offering powered by the B2B technology of True Wealth, a Swiss robo that also runs its own B2C offering. BLKB is the most innovative Swiss cantonal bank with an early online mortgage offering and a digital earthquake insurance offering. Digifolio was launched in the summer of 2017 (with a minimum requirement of 5k CHF). One of their main learnings up to now, is also that success can be clearly attributed to the effectiveness of Digifolio to move existing customers from cash in their account, into investing.

As early as 2015, I had introduced the concept of `Unadvised assets`[4] and since, have been looking at ways that Fintechs can `nudge` and grab the piles of cash.

3yrs ago, my 2min view

Digital Wealth management: a videographic update, March 2016

In addition to robos, Oh, the things you could do with the enormous Cash pile! November 2016, in which I looked at `competing` unbundled Fintech offerings.

Thanks to the market feedback shared at the BAICC event, I will be updating the `Unadvised Assets` perspective to check if there has been any noticeable impact on the cash pile possibly from rise automated investing offerings at the B2C and B2B2C level.

PostFinance, a Swiss financial service provider that has been investing in Fintechs for a while, has launched a text chatbot in collaboration with ELCA, a Swiss IT company. Postfinance is the first Swiss bank launching a customer-facing chatbot on its website. This is part of their business goal to offer 24/7 service with no queuing (as in the case of live online chatting with an `agent`) as one of the advantages of text chatbots is the simultaneous handling of requests.

The global chatbot market is expected to reach $1.23 billion by 2025according to a recent report by Grand View Research[5]. The challenges however to adopting chatbot technologies are not negligible. As ELCA explained, there needs to be a clearly defined business goal before designing a suitable chatbot, that of course, needs to be trained with the relevant content. Add to this, the complexity in the chatbot market because of the incompatible between text chatbot interfaces and voice user interfaces. In simple words, the language used and the content for training text chatbots is very different from that of voice chatbots. For example, in text chatbots often answers are provided in the form of links, which cannot work in voice chatbots.

Tech integration is always more complicated than it seems at the surface. Both because of legacy system integrations but also because experimentation maybe needed until the suitable product fit is determined in each use case. Pictet has been using chatbot technology internally, to modernize communication between the front office and compliance. This is a functionality that is also built behind the scenes of the JB DIAS system too.

[1] Agenda BAICC – EE – Seminar Robotics in FS – Agenda f (master). http://www.baicc.news/a-propos-baicc/

[2] JB separated in 2009 from its asset management business.

[3] Neurprofiler is a MiFIDII-compliant customer risk profiler for Financial Advisors.

[4] Salivating for Unadvised assets: a videographic, Nov. 2015

[5] https://www.techradar.com/news/support-agents-versus-conversational-chatbots

Book one hour with Efi – Ask me anything (AMA) for 0.10BTC – Efi@dailyfintech.com

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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Unadvised Assets ’16

Robo-advisory: Women, Freemium, and Subscriptions

subscription

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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High-quality Low-cost, Active Index investing

`Jack` Bogle passed away this past January. No matter what investment camp you belong to, he has undoubtedly impacted investment thinking, products, and services.

Last summer, Victor Hagahni and James White – Victor is the Founder and CIO of Elm Partners, and James is Elm’s CEO – wrote an article Is Vanguard More Rolls Royce, or Hyundai? that highlights an investment world particularity:

With most products and services – cars, doctors, food etc – better quality normally goes hand-in-hand with a higher price. Not so with investing.

They even quoted Bill McNabb, former CEO of the Vanguard Group saying:

`The whole cost argument from an investment perspective is counter-intuitive.` 

Listening to Bill McNabb`s short interview[1] at the 2019 Academic and Practitioner Symposium on Mutual Funds and ETFs, he makes a very important point that is not well understood.

Over the past ten years, we have transformed the investment management space into

A low-cost product space

It is NOT a transformation into

A passive beats active space

The growth of robo-advisory (apologies for the umbrella term) is Not about passive over active. Robo-advisory is about the widespread use of low-cost products. We live in a world that it is becoming more difficult to imagine high-cost investment products.

One of the best examples of low cost, active and passive management, is Elm Partners. 12bps, tax harvesting, portfolio construction based on economic fundamentals and other liquid risk premia in addition to equity market Beta.

Listen to Victor Hagahni and James White discuss with me their approach which is for accredited investors only. Their offering includes less than half a dozen investment programs and the possibility of SMAs. Elm Partners does not aim to do everything for everybody. Low cost and transparency, are paramount for their business.



You can also follow their quarterly reporting on Seeking Alpha, here. You can follow their thoughtful research here. You can savor Victor`s TEDx Talk Where are all the Billionaires? & Why should We Care?: where he uses the puzzle of the missing billionaires to help us understand why most investors fail to capture the returns offered by the market. This actually leads into the main reasoning for Elm Partners investment strategy, the so-called “Active Index Investing.”

[1] Former Chairman and CEO of Vanguard, Bill McNabb Discusses the Future of the Investment Industry from the 2019 Academic and Practitioner Symposium on Mutual Funds and ETFs. Presented by UVA Darden and the Investment Company Institute. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8UQvkKbFZo

Book one hour with Efi – Ask me anything (AMA) for 0.10BTC – Efi@dailyfintech.com

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

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