Some of Wall Street's newest investment advisers don't have a degree in business or a corner office in Manhattan. They're also not human.
Dubbed robo advisers, they are automated investing services that rely on computer models to manage investor portfolios.
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While investment advisers have relied for years on computer models to fine tune their clients' portfolios of mutual funds, for example, the advent of fully automated investing services emerged just in the last five years.
Users typically access their accounts online or on mobile devices. By not enlisting the services of an investment professional, the robo advisers cost less than traditional investment accounts.
"Your adviser may take you to lunch, go to the ball game, whatever, but ultimately they're going to determine an allocation based on some questions and then put it in play," said Frank Trotter, executive vice president at EverBank. "Robo advisers do much the same thing."
Is this investment approach a good fit for you? Here are four questions to ask yourself when considering whether to have a robo adviser handle your investments:
1. ARE YOU A HANDS-ON INVESTOR?
When working with a robo adviser, at the outset, investors answer questions meant to assess their risk tolerance, investment goals, years left before retirement and other factors. The responses are then used to come up with an asset allocation crafted to deliver returns in line with the investor's financial goals.
As the investors provide more money over time and as the factors driving the market shift, the computer models automatically buy or sell shares to rebalance portfolios.
"If you personally wish to be an active investor, make a lot of decisions, be in and out of different securities, these things are not for you," Trotter said.
1. HOW COMPLEX IS YOUR PORTFOLIO?
Some robo advisers link to retirement accounts or allow users to transfer money from their bank accounts. Generally, they are suited to investors who want to set up a stream of income into an investment account. This can get more complicated when the investor has a portfolio that includes trusts, charitable giving and other investments beyond stocks.
In such a case, relying on a robo adviser may be limiting, said Eric Godes, chief wealth advisory officer at Federal Street Advisors in Boston.
"Robo advisers fall short when you're trying to coordinate your various financial needs and probably various financial accounts to make sure that they're all working in concert with each other," Godes said.
3. DO YOU NEED AN EAR?
Does a wild market swoon make you dial up your investment adviser in search of some reassurance or someone to bounce ideas off? That's generally not an option with a robo adviser.
Consider if that would be a problem for you, say, if the market experienced another major downturn as it did following the financial crisis in 2008.
Would you feel more comfortable knowing you could call upon your adviser to discuss their strategy or touch on their prior experience in similar market downturns? With robo adviser services, you're not paying for that type of access.
4. ARE THE FEES REASONABLE?
Low cost investments have been a big draw for investors in recent years, and that that's a big selling point of robo advisers.
Charles Schwab & Co. launched its own robo advisory service earlier this year. Dubbed Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, the service creates a portfolio of ETFs, or exchange-traded funds. Investors only pay fees related to operating expenses on the ETFs.
Another robo adviser, Bloom, offers to take over management of investors' 401(k) accounts for between $1 and $15 a month, depending on the size of the account.
Then there's WiseBanyan, which doesn't charge any management, trading or portfolio rebalancing fees.
The New York-based company, which caters to younger investors and invests in ETFs, instead expects to make money off a la carte services such as a tax-loss harvesting, a process that involves selling investments that have declined in value at a loss so that the investor can use them as a write-off against their taxable income.
WiseBanyan plans to roll out the service later this year.