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 robo-advisers 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. Robo-advisers 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 robo-advice 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. As of January 2016, within the last year, several financial tech firms have introduced digital platforms that cater to financial advisers seeking to capitalize on the growing demand for digital advice.
The primary difference between the two versions is how the clients interact with the platform. With the business-to-client version, clients interact solely with a robo-adviser with little or no human contact. With the B2B version, 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, around 50 companies have entered the digital advice space, but only a few have come out with a B2B version for financial advisers. So far, three companies have emerged as the leaders in this space, but several more are readying a product for launch within the next year.
Betterment is already an established leader in the direct-to-consumer space competing with Wealthfront and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios for the top position. As of February 2015, it had $1.4 billion in assets under management (AUM) serving more than 65,000 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 when Schwab entered the adviser digital platform space it would be a game-changer. Schwab's direct-to-consumer platform, Intelligent Portfolios, raced to the top in the two years it has been available, and after six months, its Institutional Intelligent Portfolios are on pace to overtake Betterment. The big advantage Schwab has over competing platforms is the availability of 14 of its own ETFs that help keep costs low. However, adviser clients can construct customized portfolios using more than 450 ETFs from 28 asset classes. Advisers can self-brand the application using their own logo and contact information. Advisers 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.
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 advisers. 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 advisers 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. Adviser fees range from 0.10% for assets under $10,000 to as low as 0.05% for assets over $100,000.