The emergence of digital advice is disrupting the relationship between clients and the financial advisory world like never before; first came direct-to-client virtual adviser platforms in the form of roboadvisers such as those offered by Betterment and Wealthfront. A business-to-business (B2B) version surfaced that provides the same virtual advice experience but with a financial adviser as an intermediary. Roboadvisers are designed to interact directly with consumers and provide low-cost investment advice, while the “hybrid” adviser creates the opportunity for consumers to interact virtually with access to a human adviser for personal counseling.

Although the roboadvice market is thus far only a small fraction of the multi-trillion-dollar advisory market, the speed at which it is growing has traditional financial advisers scurrying to find ways to capitalize on the trend. Within the past few years, several financial tech firms have introduced digital platforms that cater to financial advisers seeking to capitalize on the growing demand for digital advice.

Key Takeaways

  • Roboadvisors have changed the face of financial advising for individual investors.
  • These are automated, digital-only, investment platforms that offer ultra-low costs and low starting minimums.
  • While traditional advisors may fear the inroads made by these algorithmic platforms, many of them have created B2B advisor-focused versions for traditional advisors to serve to their own clients.
  • Here we look at just a few of these new digital tools that traditional advisors can use to get an edge in this fast-moving technological arms race.

Retail vs. Professional Roboadvisor Platforms

The primary difference between the two versions of roboadvisors - that is, those targeted directly to individual investors vs. those aimed at professional advisors - is how the clients interact with the platform. With the retail direct-to-client versions, clients interact solely with a roboadviser with little or no human contact.

With the advisor-focused B2B versions, clients can conduct most of their planning and investing on a digital platform, but they also have access to a traditional financial adviser who can provide more personalized financial counseling when needed. In most cases, the platforms can be adviser-branded, which appears to clients as a custom-built application. Clients enter through their own portal, where they can access risk assessment and portfolio modeling tools. Portfolio management tools include automated trading, rebalancing, tax-loss harvesting and automated recordkeeping.

According to Fidelity research, more than 100 companies have already entered the digital advice space, but only a few have come out with a B2B version for financial advisors. So far, three companies have emerged as the market leaders in this space, but several more are readying a product for launch and vying to take market share.

Betterment

Betterment is already an established leader in the direct-to-consumer space competing with Wealthfront, Acorns, and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios for the top position. As of mid-2019, the company had $16.5 billion in assets under management (AUM) serving more than 400,000 clients.

Betterment introduced its institutional version in 2015. It offers a wide range of diversified portfolios consisting of low-cost exchange-traded funds (ETFs). All portfolios are managed through wrap accounts so the management fees include all trading and transaction fees. Betterment charges financial advisers from 0.15% to 0.35% on managed assets. There are no account minimums, but accounts with $50,000 or more have access to automatic tax-loss harvesting.

Schwab Institutional Intelligent Portfolios

It was assumed that when Schwab entered the roboadvisor space it would be a game-changer. Indeed, Schwab's direct-to-consumer platform, Intelligent Portfolios, raced toward the top in the years since it has been available, and now its Institutional Intelligent Portfolios is on pace to overtake Betterment.

The big advantage Schwab has over competing platforms is the availability of 14 of its own in-house ETFs that help keep costs low. Advisor clients can also construct customized portfolios using more than 450 ETFs from 28 asset classes. Since it is white-labeled, advisors can self-brand the application using their own logo and contact information.

Advisors with more than $100 million in AUM with Schwab can access the platform for free. The fee is just 0.10% for advisers with less than $100 million AUM. All accounts have access to automated portfolio monitoring and rebalancing, and accounts with at least $50,000 have access to automated tax-loss harvesting. The account minimum is $5,000.

Trizic Accelerator

San Francisco-based Trizic is a serious player in the digital platform space. Its Accelerator software enables advisers to offer their clients an authentic digital experience while providing complete online backroom support for advisors. It offers a white-label interface that allows advisers to customize it with their own logo and theme.

Trizic has a broad range of securities, mutual funds and ETFs that enable advisors to create custom model portfolios for their clients. Although Trizic has signed a licensing deal with TD Ameritrade to make Accelerator available to its advisers, Trizic adviser clients can link the platform to their own custodian. Clients have access to automated trading and rebalancing, flexible model-based portfolio construction and tax-optimized portfolio management. Advisor fees range from 0.10% for assets under $10,000 to as low as 0.05% for assets over $100,000.