FutureAdvisor and Betterment are very different robo-advisories, but they share a similar approach. Like all robo-advisors, both rely heavily on Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) in managing your portfolio, although the specifics of portfolio creation and rebalancing differ. Moreover, FutureAdvisor and Betterment both offer tax loss harvesting as part of the package, putting them both ahead of some robo-advisors that make you pay extra for this feature. FutureAdvisor and Betterment do differ in the details as well as in one big way. Betterment is a full-fledged robo-advisor that runs independently of any brokerage, whereas FutureAdvisor is a bolt-on robo-advisor that you can leverage on accounts held elsewhere. We’ll look at how these two services match up to help you decide which one to trust with your portfolio.

  • Account Minimum: $5,000 in investable assets
  • Fee: 0.50% of assets under management (all account sizes)
  • Ideal for older investors with higher asset levels who want to consult regularly with financial advisors
  • Perfect for single investors and partners who don’t want to open joint accounts thanks to the robo-broker’s innovative single-goal household account
  • Aimed at investors who currently have accounts at Fidelity and TD Ameritrade
  • Account Minimum: $0
  • Fees: 0.25% (annual) for digital plan, 0.40% (annual) for the premium plan 
  • Perfect for people looking for simplicity and ease of use
  • Great for those who would like maximum transparency into the assets they are invested in
  • Aimed towards those looking to set and plan for financial goals such as purchasing a home

Goal Setting

Betterment is a standout among all robo-advisors when it comes to goal setting, so it is no surprise that it has the edge over FutureAdvisor in this area. Betterment provides easy-to-follow steps for setting goals and each goal type can be monitored separately. You can add new goals at any time and track your progress with relative ease. Asset allocation is displayed in a ring with equities in shades of green and fixed income in shades of blue. If you fall behind on meeting goals, the platform encourages you to increase automated deposits. This can be a helpful prompt, especially for younger investors who may not feel the urgency to save for longer-term goals.

With Betterment, you can also sync external investments to the account interface to get a more comprehensive view of your progress on goals where you are operating multiple accounts, such as retirement. On the downside, the excellent free planning analysis is marred a bit by constant marketing pitches to fund new accounts. Also, speaking to a financial advisor costs between $199 and $299 unless you upgrade to the premium plan. Overall, however, Betterment has more robust goal-setting features than FutureAdvisor. 

FutureAdvisor’s goal planning tools are likely to confuse less-experienced investors as there are no categories for college or tuition planning, even though FutureAdvisor supports 529 savings plans. All clients have access to extensive financial planning tools at the brokerage holding their assets, but the methods used by Fidelity or TD Ameritrade may generate different projected time frames, asset allocations, and long-term performance projections when compared to the FutureAdvisor recommendations. 

You can review progress through the FutureAdvisor account platform, which features a performance chart that projects portfolio value over time. Details on asset allocation and account activity can also be viewed and plan changes can be made directly from this screen with a few clicks. You can speak with a financial advisor or specialist at no extra charge but the fine print refers to unspecified limitations based on account size. The advisor can offer more goal setting support that may not be covered by FutureAdvisor or the brokerage resources. 

Retirement Planning

In terms of retirement planning, Betterment once again has an edge. The Betterment Resource Center includes dozens of well-written articles about retirement planning. Each goal can be invested in a different strategy so retirement funds can be allocated to one of the higher-risk portfolios while shorter-term goals, like funding a down payment, can be allocated to lower-risk portfolios.

FutureAdvisor works in a similar way with retirement goals broken into five segments: aggressive, moderately aggressive, moderate, moderately conservative, and conservative. FutureAdvisor doesn’t offer much for planning tools but clients have full access to a wide assortment of retirement calculators and resources at Fidelity or TD Ameritrade.

Account Types

FutureAdvisor and Betterment both cover the most commonly used account types, including taxable accounts and traditional IRAs. FutureAdvisor also works for 529 college savings plans, making it potentially more attractive for parents or people looking to save for future education needs. With accounts, however, it really comes down to which ones you intend to use.

Betterment account types:

  • Individual taxable accounts
  • Joint taxable accounts
  • Traditional IRA accounts
  • Roth IRA accounts
  • Trust accounts
  • High-interest savings accounts

FutureAdvisor account types:

  • Individual taxable accounts
  • Joint taxable accounts
  • Traditional IRA accounts
  • Roth IRA accounts
  • 529 college savings plans
  • Single-goal household accounts

Features and Accessibility

FutureAdvisor and Betterment both have a decent range of features. Both offer access to financial advisors, but Betterment offers this at a higher price point than its basic offering. More importantly, Betterment provides full-featured mobile apps for iOS and Android while FutureAdvisor offers none. This omission forces you to review accounts through Fidelity or TD Ameritrade apps.

Betterment:

  • Free financial analysis: The prospective client can get a free analysis of all current investments prior to funding an account.
  • Portfolio and goal flexibility: A mature platform provides coaching and other goal planning resources while supporting impressive portfolio flexibility.
  • Premium plan: Clients can speak with financial advisors at any time for free on the premium plan, which incurs a 0.40% management fee rather than the standard 0.25% fee.

FutureAdvisor:

  • Access to a financial advisor: Clients can speak with registered financial advisors at any time.
  • Client funds held at Fidelity and TD Ameritrade: Clients must open accounts at these brokers or transfer funds from other brokers.
  • Single goal household accounts: This account type provides an innovative solution for spouses and other types of partners who don’t want to open joint accounts.

Fees

When it comes to fees, Betterment once again enjoys a considerable edge. Betterment’s clients pay a 0.25% management fee, increasing to 0.40% for the premium plan that allows you to access a human financial advisor. Betterment also offers a discounted fee on assets over $2-million, dropping to 0.15% per year on the portion that exceeds $2-million. ETFs used to populate portfolios incur low annual expenses that average between 0.07% and 0.15%.  

FutureAdvisor’s 0.50% management fee and high minimum deposit will discourage many investors who can find better value at rivals, including Betterment. Although access to a financial advisor comes with the FutureAdvisor management fee, it is still 0.1% more than Betterment charges for their premium plan with similar access. You may also incur termination costs when transferring funds and have to pay commissions on ETFs and mutual funds not included on Fidelity or TD Ameritrade’s commission-free list. And like Betterment, you also have to pay the relatively low annual fund expenses that FutureAdvisor recommends for your portfolio.

Minimum Deposit

When it comes to minimum deposits, Betterment is much more accessible with a $0 approach. FutureAdvisor, in contrast, requires a rather high $5,000 per goal to use its services.

  • FutureAdvisor: $5,000 per “goal”
  • Betterment: 0.00

Portfolios

Betterment offers five portfolio types based upon classic Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) principles and/or specific investment themes:

  • Standard portfolio of globally diversified stock and bond ETFs
  • Socially responsible portfolio comprised of holdings that score well on environmental and social impact (note: investments may not meet standard requirements for this theme)
  • Goldman Sachs Smart Beta portfolio that seeks to outperform the market
  • Income-focused bond portfolio made up of BlackRock ETFs
  • “Flexible Portfolio” constructed from the standard portfolio’s asset classes but weighted according to user preferences

Betterment accounts are rebalanced dynamically when they deviate from their intended goal allocations. In addition, your portfolio gets more conservative as the target date approaches, seeking to lock in gains and avoid major losses. Clients will appreciate this automated reallocation because most investors don’t have the time or dedication to implement these profitable techniques on their own. 

FutureAdvisor portfolios utilize standard MPT guidelines as well, seeking to maximize your long-term returns through asset diversification and at least four to six rebalances per year. Exposure is taken primarily through ETFs and mutual funds but the fine print states they also buy and sell REITs and fixed income securities. Returns are estimated through a customized Monte Carlo simulation that applies capital market assumptions to project long-term performance.

FutureAdvisor doesn’t buy or sell stocks but the platform permits you to keep a few equities carried into the account as long as they don’t comprise a large allocation. Detailed disclosures are intended to sidestep conflicts of interest when purchasing iShares ETFs and Blackrock mutual funds, which are both owned by the broker’s parent

Broker Assets

Betterment portfolios contain ETFs from iShares, Vanguard, and other well-known fund companies but no individual stocks. FutureAdvisor constructs portfolios with Fidelity and TD Ameritrade no commission mutual funds and ETFs as well as low fee funds from iShares, Vanguard, and other top tier providers.

Tax-Advantaged Investing

Tax-advantaged investing is usually done through tax-loss harvesting, where the impact of capital losses and wash sale rules is considered before the sale of securities. FutureAdvisor and Betterment both offer tax-loss harvesting on taxable accounts at all funding levels with no extra charge.

Security

Both FutureAdvisor and Betterment utilize heavy-duty 256-bit SSL encryption. Apex Clearing Corp handles client funds at Betterment, providing access to Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) and private excess insurance. FutureAdvisor partners with Yodlee, a “trusted 3rd party”, to collect and maintain client information in a secure manner. With FutureAdvisor, your funds are held at Fidelity and TD Ameritrade, who provide SIPC and private excess insurance. Fingerprint, face recognition, and two-factor authentication are available through Betterment’s mobile apps. FutureAdvisor does not offer mobile apps but Fidelity and TD Ameritrade apps utilize state-of-the-art security. 

Customer Service

Betterment once again has the lead when it comes to customer service. Live chat is built into Betterment’s mobile apps and web site for clients to access at any time. Customer service is available by e-mail and phone from 9 am to 6 pm Monday to Friday, and via e-mail from 11 am to 6 pm on weekends. Phone calls to customer service during market hours averaged a relatively slow 2:21 minutes to talk with a knowledgeable representative.

FutureAdvisor’s customer service link opens into a message entry form, with no phone number, live chat, or service hours. Their FAQ is useful but limited in scope, leaving important questions unanswered. The account management page features both live chat and phone number for current clients to talk with an advisor or representative, but prospective clients have no way to get past the paywall without signing up.

Our Take

Betterment was one of our highest-rated robo-advisors in the 2019 review, so it is stiff competition for any full-fledged robo-advisor - let alone a bolt-on like FutureAdvisor. As it is a service in and of itself, Betterment offers a smoother account setup, superior goal planning, and excellent portfolio management at a lower price than FutureAdvisor. If you already have an account with TD Ameritrade or Fidelity and are looking for a robo-advisor experience that won’t require you to change much, then FutureAdvisor does fit the bill. It is worth noting that FutureAdvisor does a fine job of creating a portfolio, but it just can’t match the features and experience that Betterment offers beyond that. If you are coming into this fresh or don’t mind the hassle of changing to access a superior product, then Betterment makes more sense.

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Methodology

Investopedia is dedicated to providing investors with unbiased, comprehensive reviews and ratings of robo-advisors. Our 2019 reviews are the result of six months of evaluating all aspects of 32 robo-advisor platforms, including the user experience, goal setting capabilities, portfolio contents, costs and fees, security, mobile experience, and customer service. We collected over 300 data points that weighed into our scoring system.

Every robo-advisor we reviewed was asked to fill out a 50-point survey about their platform that we used in our evaluation. Many of the robo-advisors also provided us with in-person demonstrations of their platforms.

Our team of industry experts, led by Theresa W. Carey, conducted our reviews and developed this best-in-industry methodology for ranking robo-advisor platforms for investors at all levels. Click here to read our full methodology.