Skip to content
Business
QuickTake

Robo-Advisers

488157176
Updated on
From

As a society, we’ve decided we trust robots to weld our cars together but we’re not ready to let them drive. How about investing our savings? Automated financial services, known as robo-advisers, are software programs that use algorithms to do what flesh-and-blood financial advisers do, but at a far lower cost. The startups that launched the industry said the rise of robo-advisers would both disrupt the $20 trillion field and give millions of investors access to the kind of smarts only the well-to-do have been able to afford. It’s not yet clear whether robo-advisers can outperform their human counterparts on anything other than price — no small matter. Either way, the big players in the field have decided the idea has enough promise for them to try to beat the newbies at their own game.

U.S. assets managed by robo-adviser services are expected to reach $166 billion this year, up 10-fold from 2014, according to the Aite Group, which estimates that the total will rise to more than $435 billion by 2018. The field was pioneered by startups like Wealthfront Inc. of Silicon Valley and Betterment of New York, but much of the growth is now being grabbed by traditional giants in money management. Charles Schwab Corp. started its automated version in March 2015, reeling in $5.3 billion by year-end. The world’s largest mutual fund manager, Vanguard Group, entered in 2015 with a part-robo, part-human service, which attracted $12 billion in its first eight months, and last year, Fidelity Investments began offering automated portfolio services for its existing clients. BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest asset manager, agreed to buy FutureAdvisor in 2015. Morgan Stanley is augmenting its 16,000 financial advisers with machine-learning algorithms that suggest trades, take over routine tasks and send reminders when your birthday is near. Even century-old TIAA, the retirement and insurance company, has its own robo service. Robo-advisers are also emerging in Europe and Asia. In response, Wealthfront and Betterment are racing to add new features, including a hybrid service by Betterment aimed at more affluent clients that offers human advice.