What is a robo-advisor?

Robo-advisors or Robo-advisers are a class of financial adviser that provide financial advice or Investment management online with moderate to minimal human intervention.  They provide digital financial advice based on mathematical rules or algorithms. These algorithms are executed by software and thus financial advice do not require a human advisor. The software utilizes its algorithms to automatically allocate, manage and optimize clients’ assets.

There are over 100 robo-advisory services. Investment management robo-advice is considered a breakthrough in formerly exclusive wealth management services, bringing services to a broader audience with lower cost compared to traditional human advice. Robo-advisors typically allocate a client’s assets on the basis of risk preferences and desired target return. While robo-advisors have the capability of allocating client assets in many investment products such as stocks, bonds, futures, commodities, real estate, the funds are often directed towards ETF portfolios. Clients can choose between offerings with passive asset allocation techniques or active asset management styles.

The tools they employ to manage client portfolios differ little from the portfolio management software already widely used in the profession. The main difference is in distribution channel. Until recently, portfolio management was almost exclusively conducted through human advisors and sold in a bundle with other services. Now, consumers have direct access to portfolio management tools, in the same way that they obtained access to brokerage houses like Charles Schwab and stock trading services with the advent of the Internet.Robo-advisors are extending into newer business avenues.

The customer acquisition costs and time constraints faced by traditional human advisors have left many middle-class investors underadvised or unable to obtain portfolio management services because of the minimums imposed on investable assetsThe average financial planner has a minimum investment amount of $50,000,while minimum investment amounts for robo-advisors start as low as $500 in the United States and as low as £1 in the United Kingdom In addition to having lower minimums on investable assets compared to traditional human advisors, robo-advisors charge fees ranging from 0.2% to 1.0% of Assets Under Managemenwhile traditional financial planners charged average fees of 1.35% of Assets Under Management according to a survey conducted by AdvisoryHQ News.

In the United States, robo-advisors must be registered investment advisors, which are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. In the United Kingdom they are regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

What are the biggest robo-advisor?

As of October 2017, robo-advisors had $224 billion in assets under management.

The following are the largest robo-advisors by assets under management:

Company Country AUM (millions of US$)
The Vanguard Group U.S. 83,000
Charles Schwab Corporation U.S. 19,400
Betterment U.S. 9,058
Wealthfront U.S. 6,763
Personal Capital U.S. 4,344
Nutmeg Great Britain 751
Wealthsimple Canada 574
E-Trade U.S. 400
Ally Financial U.S. 18

Investment management

Investment management is the professional asset management of various securities (shares, bonds and other securities) and other assets (e.g., real estate) in order to meet specified investment goals for the benefit of the investors. Investors may be institutions (insurance companies, pension funds, corporations, charities, educational establishments etc.) or private investors (both directly via investment contracts and more commonly via collective investment schemes e.g. mutual funds or exchange-traded funds).

The term asset management is often used to refer to the investment management of collective investments, while the more generic fund management may refer to all forms of institutional investment as well as investment management for private investors. Investment managers who specialize in advisory or discretionary management on behalf of (normally wealthy) private investors may often refer to their services as money management or portfolio management often within the context of so-called “private banking”.

The provision of investment management services includes elements of financial statement analysis, asset selection, stock selection, plan implementation and ongoing monitoring of investments. Coming under the remit of financial services many of the world’s largest companies are at least in part investment managers and employ millions of staff. It remains unclear if professional investment managers can reliably enhance risk adjusted returns by an amount that exceeds fees and expenses of investment management.

The term fund manager (or investment advisor in the United States) refers to both a firm that provides investment management services and an individual who directs fund management decisions.

According to a Boston Consulting Group study, the assets managed professionally for fees reached an all-time high of US$62.4 trillion in 2012, after remaining flat-lined since 2007.  Furthermore, these industry assets under management were expected to reach US$70.2 trillion at the end of 2013 as per a Cerulli Associates estimate.

The global investment management industry is highly concentrated in nature, in a universe of about 70,000 funds roughly 99.7% of the US fund flows in 2012 went into just 185 funds. Additionally, a majority of fund managers report that more than 50% of their inflows go to only three funds.

Investment managers and portfolio structures
At the heart of the investment management industry are the managers who invest and divest client investments.

A certified company investment advisor should conduct an assessment of each client’s individual needs and risk profile. The advisor then recommends appropriate investments.

Asset allocation
The different asset class definitions are widely debated, but four common divisions are stocks, bonds, real estate and commodities. The exercise of allocating funds among these assets (and among individual securities within each asset class) is what investment management firms are paid for. Asset classes exhibit different market dynamics, and different interaction effects; thus, the allocation of money among asset classes will have a significant effect on the performance of the fund. Some research suggests that allocation among asset classes has more predictive power than the choice of individual holdings in determining portfolio return. Arguably, the skill of a successful investment manager resides in constructing the asset allocation, and separate individual holdings, so as to outperform certain benchmarks (e.g., the peer group of competing funds, bond and stock indices).

Long-term returns
It is important to look at the evidence on the long-term returns to different assets, and to holding period returns (the returns that accrue on average over different lengths of investment). For example, over very long holding periods (e.g. 10+ years) in most countries, equities have generated higher returns than bonds, and bonds have generated higher returns than cash. According to financial theory, this is because equities are riskier (more volatile) than bonds which are themselves more risky than cash.

Diversification
Against the background of the asset allocation, fund managers consider the degree of diversification that makes sense for a given client (given its risk preferences) and construct a list of planned holdings accordingly. The list will indicate what percentage of the fund should be invested in each particular stock or bond. The theory of portfolio diversification was originated by Markowitz (and many others). Effective diversification requires management of the correlation between the asset returns and the liability returns, issues internal to the portfolio (individual holdings volatility), and cross-correlations between the returns.