2019 Best Robo-Advisor Awards

Interactive Advisors, a service offered by Interactive Brokers (IBKR), offers a wide range of portfolios from which to choose. At the lower end of the cost scale, you will find rules-based automated portfolios from the firm’s Smart Beta (0.08% management fee), Diversified (0.20%), and Asset Allocation models (0.12%), while actively managed portfolios run by money managers are at the higher end of the range (0.50% to 1.5%). Portfolios invested according to ESG strategies, including some of the Smart Beta portfolios, are marked in the list with a green leaf. Existing IBKR customers can partition a portion of their existing portfolios and invest in one (or more) of those offered.

As of late September 2019, portfolios managed by Interactive Advisors can be opened with a minimum balance of $1,000, making these more complex offerings available to a wider range of customers. The portfolios managed by boutique money managers have varying minimums, some as high as $120,000, though most are in the $10,000-$30,000 range.

IBKR got into the robo-advisory space in 2015 when the company purchased Covestor, which allowed investors to follow an advisor and mirror the advisor’s trades. Covestor had been executing trades on IBKR’s platform since its launch to the public in 2007. Following the Covestor acquisition, the service was renamed, and it was relaunched earlier this year as Interactive Advisors.

The service is currently weak when it comes to helping customers plan for their goals, but a feature added over the summer of 2019 makes it easier to assess one's progress.

Pros

  • Wide range of portfolios offered

  • Most portfolios include baskets of stocks rather than ETFs

  • Actively managed portfolios are run by boutique wealth managers. Clients mirror their trades

  • The PortfolioAnalyst tool lets you consolidate and track all of your financial accounts

  • Customers can borrow against their accounts at relatively low interest rates

Cons

  • Some of the actively managed portfolios have very high minimums

  • The process of opening and funding an account is more difficult than at other robo-advisories

  • There is little help for goal planning

  • Not immediately obvious what your actual costs will be

  • You need a large account and a high cash balance to earn interest on idle cash

Account Setup

3.9

If you aren’t already an Interactive Brokers customer, you’ll go through a short questionnaire to open your account. You can browse through some high-level overviews of the available portfolios but you can’t see the details until your account is funded. 

You can view the available portfolios by scanning through risk scores or providers. If you’re logged in, you can see the current contents of each portfolio as well as recent transactions made by the portfolio managers.

Recently added portfolios include one focused on China, Thematic Disruptors portfolios from Global X, and a line up of ESG Smart Beta models.

Goal Setting

2.7

The website has a few tools for setting goals, but not many. Right now, you define your own goals and timing for their achievement and you’ll be able to see projections of the likelihood of their attainment. The recently-added Goal Tracking tool lets you visualize your progress towards your financial goals.

Clients can use the IB Investors’ Marketplace to search for financial planners and professionals. 

Account Services

5

Interactive Advisors is among the handful of robo-advisors that offers margin lending as well as loans against the value of your portfolio, although both of these require a regular Interactive Brokers account in addition to the advisory account. Interest rates for both are a maximum of 3.9%. You can earn up to 1.9% interest on the cash in your account, but there are multiple restrictions that will keep small balances from earning anything. However, if you own more than 100 shares of an individual stock or ETF, you can participate in Interactive Brokers’ stock loan program, which can generate some passive income on your holdings.

Interactive Brokers’ PortfolioAnalyst feature lets you consolidate all your financial accounts in one place so you can get a picture of all of your assets. You can see summary values for each individual financial institution or consolidated across all financial institutions and different time periods, including current and prior balances, returns and percent change in value. You can also compare your returns to over 200 benchmarks or create your own. Again, you do need to have a separate Interactive Brokers account to access this tool.  

Clients that also have a full Interactive Brokers trading account can use the company’s bill pay service and debit card, but there is no checking account available.

Portfolio Contents

5
  • Individual stocks: Most portfolios contain fractional shares of individual stocks. Some portfolios have up to 300 stocks.
  • The platform offers ETFs from Vanguard, Wisdom Tree, Legg Mason, State Street, and others. 

You can choose socially responsible portfolios from among the offerings or go through the process of entering the ticker symbols you want to exclude from any portfolio that contains individual stocks. There are also portfolios that follow certain market sectors, including real estate, consumer discretionary spending, and utilities. This allows investors to take sectorial positions, which is something not many robo-advisories offer. You can also invest in a general global portfolio that includes equities and fixed income from across the globe. This level of portfolio customization is rare within the current robo-advisory industry and it is one of the main reasons that Interactive Advisors may be a better fit for well-informed investors who want that level of control. 

Portfolio Management

3.4

Actively managed portfolios are rebalanced based on the portfolio managers' decisions. The more passively managed portfolios are rebalanced quarterly for most portfolio families and monthly for the State Street Global Advisors portfolios. You can see how your portfolio is performing, along with its asset allocation, on the website or on your mobile device.

Interactive Advisors is essentially a mirroring service that allows you to follow a portfolio manager. This is a fundamentally different offering than other robo-advisors that run algorithms based on Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) to manage your portfolio. The rebalancing is ultimately based on the corresponding actively or passively managed portfolio, so you will still need to do some aspects of portfolio management for yourself, such as backing out of the riskier investments as your investment time horizon nears.

Every portfolio offered by Interactive Advisors has a performance summary that you can examine. Of the three portfolios we looked at, all out-performed the indexes chosen for comparison by a considerable margin. Each portfolio description includes a great deal of performance detail. 

User Experience

3.4

Mobile Experience

The Interactive Advisors website is mobile responsive, so you can log into it from a browser on your device and have the exact same experience that you’d have on a desktop computer.  We had some issues accessing online chat on the mobile web (though not on the desktop). The Interactive Brokers native mobile apps for iOS and Android do not allow access to Interactive Advisors in its current incarnation, though customers who also have a regular trading account with IBKR can see their robo portfolios. 

Desktop Experience

The website looks and performs best on very large screens.  On a notebook computer, we had to do a lot of scrolling around to see the information displayed.  Sorting through the many portfolios takes some diligence as you are initially presented with the actively managed, and higher cost, selections first. You have to go back to the menu and choose a different portfolio style to see the choices that incur fewer fees.    

Every portfolio offered by Interactive Advisors has a performance summary that you can examine. Each portfolio description includes a great deal of performance detail. 

Customer Service

5

Interactive Advisors offers live online chat for prospective and current customers. Customer service is available for Interactive Advisors-related issues 9am-5pm ET, Monday through Friday. There is 24/6 customer service for existing Interactive Brokers clients. Several questions posed during the review process were answered within an hour by email.  

Education & Security

4.8

You’ll find articles and videos on the Interactive Advisors blog pages that are interesting and nicely laid out. The “Outlook” section of the SmarterInvesting site, which is devoted to topics of interest to Interactive Advisors customers, is extremely out of date, however. 

Interactive Brokers was one of the early adopters of tight security measures. Their website and mobile apps are encrypted.

IB carries excess SIPC insurance on all accounts.  

Commissions & Fees

5

Since there is such a wide range of fees charged, you may have to break out a calculator to figure out your actual costs. The least expensive portfolios incur a 0.08% annual management fee while the most expensive carry a 1.5% fee. The higher cost, actively managed portfolios have much higher minimums for participation, so they are not included in the $5,000 portfolio.

  • Monthly cost to manage a $5,000 portfolio: $4-$10
  • Monthly cost to manage a $25,000 portfolio: $20-$250
  • Monthly cost to manage a $100,000 portfolio: $80-$1,500

Is Interactive Advisors Right for You?

This set of portfolios is among the most complex that we saw during our review process. Their recent change from a $5,000 minimum to $1,000 might intrigue new investors who want to dabble in international assets. For investors who know their way around how index funds are constructed, IB’s robo-advisory service offers a sophisticated way to be automatically invested. 

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.