Robo Advisor Trading

Robo advisor platforms are on the rise as investors strive for the best returns. Promising minimal fees and slick mobile apps, online robo-advisor services offer a hands-off approach to portfolio management. But what are the pros and cons? Find out as we guide you through the key definitions, services, costs and more. We’ll also consider how to test the investing performance of those companies topping the latest list of reviews.

What Is A Robo Advisor?

Robo advisory platforms use intelligent software to provide automated investment management services, meaning minimal human supervision.

Sometimes also known as ‘digital advice platforms’ and ‘automated investment management’, all are born from the trend towards utilising fintech (financial technology), to automate investment decisions, thereby reducing costs.

How Does A Robo Advisor Platform Work?

Users fill out an online questionnaire providing information on their current financial situation, including target returns and risk appetite. With that data, algorithms then automatically invest in suitable markets, from stocks and forex to real estate and cryptocurrency.

Services

The standard features most of the largest providers offer are:

  • Portfolio rebalancing – Algorithms frequently rebalance portfolios to maintain favourable class weightings. Balancing bands are used to assign each asset class a target weight and a respective tolerance range. The whole portfolio is then automatically rebalanced when one holding fluctuates. Whilst previously a timely and costly endeavour, algorithms automatically process the data, removing almost all of the cost.
  • Tax-loss harvesting – For taxable accounts, a robo advisor can automatically sell securities at a loss to offset against short-term capital gains. Essentially, the platform will hold at least two ETFs per asset class. Then if the FTSE 100 were to drop in value, for example, the platform would automatically sell to secure a capital loss while simultaneously investing in an alternative FTSE 100 ETF.
  • Financial planning services – The best robo advisors offer other tools to help customers grow their personal capital, including retirement planning. But when it comes to decisions that will impact your retirement pot, it becomes increasingly important to choose a provider carefully. This means reading performance reviews and analysing the statistics.

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Fees

Robo advisor fees are low. The market even includes Charles Schwab and Axos, among the industry’s largest, whose services appear free. So how do robo advisors make money?

  • Management fees – Websites normally charge a management fee based on assets under management (AUM), ranging from zero to 1%, although most are between 0.25% to 0.5%. Traditional human advisors usually charge upwards of 1%, so robo advisors are cheaper. The cost savings stem from algorithms crunching the data and executing trades. Platforms also pursue indexed strategies that employ low cost and commission-free ETFs.
  • Interest earned on cash balances – known as cash management, interest earned flows to the advisor, not the user. If an online advisor has a large number of accounts with cash asset allocations, this can quickly add up.
  • Payment for order flow – Often robo advisors will maximise their returns by collating funds from deposits, interest, and dividends from stocks. They then execute fewer, bigger block orders. Firms benefit from preferable pricing terms as a result of the greater order sizes.
  • Marketing – Robo advisors also promote specific products to users, from mortgages and life insurance policies to credit cards.

Robo Advice Vs Human Advice

Human advisors offer a personal touch and sometimes decades of experience in goal-based investing across global markets. However, look at the average robo advisor performance in 2021 vs the historical annual returns from using only human advisors, and it’s clear technology is helping close the gap.

Fortunately, many advisory platforms across the U.S.A, Europe, UK and beyond, also offer a hybrid business model. This means human advisors are on hand to answer questions. Setups vary from access to a dedicated financial advisor to a pool of rotating support.

Note the trade-off if you opt for a hybrid model are higher minimum investments and an increase in management rates.

Robo Advisor Vs DIY

If you’ve spent decades learning individual stocks and markets without the help of robo advisors, why change now? The truth is many will continue to see healthy average returns on DIY platforms, such as Robinhood.

But for entry-level investors, digital advisors allow you to break into the market, requiring an average minimum account investment of just $500. They’ll also help prevent rash decision making in the event of a market downturn.

There are also some investors using Python code to build their own bespokse software, blending the digital advisor theory with the DIY mentality. Of course, there’s no guaranteeing the highest rate of returns with this approach.

Overall, the choice of using a robo advisor or to DIY will depend on individual preference.

Robo Advisor Vs S&P 500

Growth charts may show robo advisors are on the rise, but can they beat the market? The usual benchmark for this is the S&P 500. Performance in previous years and 2021 shows most robo advisors are not beating the market. Now that isn’t to say a robo advisor is either are good or bad. Automated platforms simply aren’t designed to beat the market. Instead, they aim to automatically invest in line with your investment goals and risk appetite.

Is A Robo Advisor Suitable For You?

Opening a robo advisor account is a sensible option for:

  • Beginners – A digital advisor will help bridge that initial financial knowledge gap until users are more comfortable managing their portfolio independently.
  • Time strapped professionals – One of the benefits of a robo advisor is that if you’re tight on time, you can put it on auto-pilot.
  • Investors with straightforward strategies – With simple asset allocations, such as 70% stocks and 30% bonds, a human advisor may not be needed to rebalance your portfolio.
  • Investors looking for support – If you want to chase returns in a new market, a robo advisor could help inform your strategy using data-driven machine learning. Online platforms are also sensible if you’re looking for alternative support to a fully dedicated human advisor.
  • Use cases – You can now open joint robo advisor accounts, for example. Combining your personal capital can help increase your AUM and the portfolio construction process retains all the usual options, including stock picking and investing in Bitcoin.

Automated trading accounts are less suitable for:

  • Investors seeking a human touch – Automated dashboards struggle to offer the same customer journey that a hands-on human advisor can.
  • Clients with multiple accounts – For investors having to manage company benefits packages, 401ks, and other accounts, automatic portfolio-management services may not be the slickest solution.
  • Users seeking a customised approach – Online platforms don’t offer tailored savings planning or guidance on how to manage asset allocation in some other accounts.
  • Dealing with disruption – Automated advisors using artificial intelligence (AI) aren’t geared up to guide you through unforeseen changes to your business plan, such as coming into a significant inheritance.

Finding The Best Robo Advisor

The best robo advisors deliver a seamless sign-up process with straightforward portfolio management and comparison tools. Accounts at the best firms will have also leveraged the latest technology to deliver strong security features and responsive customer service.

We’ve already run through typical rates, but it’s worth getting quotes and being wary of any robo advisor offering zero fees. Once you have all that information, a simple cost comparison chart on Excel can help you make a final decision.

Among the top 10 names currently topping the roboadvisor rankings are mostly from the US, such as Vanguard, Charles Schwab, Betterment, Wealthfront, TD Ameritrade, eTrade and Ally. Outside of the US market, Fidelity and Nutmeg are popular in the UK.

In Canada, Wealthsimple and Questrade are emerging as icons. Some of these big robo advisors now boast valuations of over $500 million.

Open source (API) startups and robo advisory white-label platforms are also emerging in Australia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Germany, Luxembourg, Indonesia, India, Singapore, Ireland, and the UAE.

We’re seeing a trend of traditional brokerages with strong track records, such as Interactive Brokers, entering the market too. This is all good news for prospective users as companies will become increasingly competitive.

Pros And Cons

Advantages

There are several benefits to automated investment software:

  • Easy access – It takes just a few minutes to answer initial survey questions and start investing. The best companies also detail the different types of accounts, include demo videos to show how it all works, and offer user-friendly mobile web apps. In addition, users don’t need to obtain licenses to open an automatically managed portfolio account.
  • Less human error – A quick look at online forums and you’ll be flush with quotes from investors who have fallen victim to emotional decisions. Robo advisory platforms help reduce certain risks, including letting emotions steer portfolio performance results. For example, using a robo advisor during a bear market and recession could help you keep your nerve.
  • User-friendly – Digital advisors predominately appeal to younger demographics, such as Millennials and Gen X. However, the evolution of technology is seeing the target market extend to include high-net-worth clients and retirees. Both are now more comfortable sharing data and utilising technology for wealth management. In fact, one-third of retirees now use digital tools to manage personal capital.

Disadvantages

Limitations to consider before joining a robo advisor:

  • One-size-fits-all – There is limited personalisation for users seeking advanced portfolio management services, including retirement planning and sophisticated trust fund administration. For many, if it’s a choice of robo advisors vs a target-date fund geared towards your date of retirement, the latter seems like the safer approach. With that said, the US market in particular, is home to a growing number of digital advisors that allow you to invest through Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and Roth IRAs.
  • Assumptions – One of the negatives is the assumption that new clients understand the consequences for their portfolio yield when answering initial survey questions, such as ‘what is your risk tolerance?’ Because investment fundamentals aren’t explained, clients may be disappointed when they don’t receive the highest rate of returns.
  • Limited guidance – Whereas human advisors may be able to point you in the right direction for support with legal issues or the best savings accounts, robo advisors work with data and algorithms. They’re simply not equipped to deal with the full spectrum of investor needs.
  • Promotions and offers – Unlike some in the trading industry, robo advisors don’t usually offer attractive sign-up bonuses and promotions. Of course, still compare offers at your top 3 or 5 options, but they won’t play such a key role when choosing a provider.

Other Considerations

Expense Ratios

Despite the significant growth rate of robo advisors, it’s still early days in their history. As a result, it’s difficult to accurately report on their performance. Returns could well stem from short term market trends or the weight of asset class allocation.

With that said, expense ratios can be a helpful way to consider the investment propositions on offer.

Expense ratios are the fees flowing to the investment fund firms, index funds, mutual funds, plus the ETFs in a portfolio. The fee will be removed before returns are shared between investors.

Expense ratios should be under 0.2%. So when looking at options, use a calculator to measure the total cost of management fees plus expense ratios.

Regulation

Most robo advisors worldwide are considered ‘human advisors’ in the eyes of the law. In the USA, for example, their official title is ‘Registered Investment Advisor’ (RIA).

Therefore, they must sign up with the US SEC before launching services online. Their status also means they are considered a fiduciary, subject to the same laws and regulations as standard broker-dealers.

It’s worth checking the legal status of an online platform in your country before you sign-up, also keeping abreast of the latest news for any changes.

Insurance

In many countries, portfolios are considered securities for investing rather than bank deposits. This raises the question of insurance. Fortunately, at most firms managed assets will be insured.

Wealthfront, for example, one of the largest providers, is insured by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SPIC).

Education

Before you sign up for a robo advisory website, explore the educational resources available. Some providers offer online books, PDFs, newsletters, podcasts, and videos that detail everything from the latest market trends to investment planning templates.

You can also find outlooks on green and socially responsible investment strategies, including Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) products.

For further guidance on educational tools, see here.

Are Robo Advisors Right For Day Traders?

Promising lower fees and minimum investments than traditional advisors, digital platforms could be a sensible choice for novice investors and those short on time.

But despite the success stories in this emerging landscape, clients seeking customised, hands-on solutions may prefer a dedicated human financial advisor.

Overall, users looking for the best returns will need to carefully consider how a robo advisor fits into their overarching investment strategy.

FAQ

What's a robo advisor?

Robo advisors are a new form of financial advisor that use data and algorithms to make automatic investment decisions based on the user’s preferences.

How do robo advisors differ?

The main ways robo advisors differ are: investment options, management fees, minimum account investments, and access to supplementary human advice.

How much starting capital do I need to open an account?

One of the main benefits of a robo advisor is that minimum account requirements can be as little as zero.The minimum average account size is $500. Note some providers will demand upwards of $10,000.

Do I need to be a technology expert to use a robo advisor?

No. Robo advisors have easy-to-use dashboards ensuring clients can quickly open an account and start trading.

Are robo advisors risk-free?

Using a robo advisor does not eliminate the risks associated with trading. Ensure you think carefully about your risk tolerance when you open an account.