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Ch.8 Robo-Advisors and Digital Wealth Management

  • Robo-advisors are the most visible fintechs driving innovation and disruption in investing and financial planning. These new entrants have faced an uphill battle to acquire customers, with many start-ups pivoting to serve incumbents or being acquired.

  • Incumbent financial institutions have been fast-followers, launching successful robo-advisor services that have captured most of the assets under management (AUM) in the robo segment.

  • The wealth management industry manages $100 trillion in investments with 3 distinct activities: financial planning, investing, and operations.

  • Digital wealth management uses technology to automate and improve the customer experience, while generating fees and commissions from asset acquisition, portfolio management, and automation of back-office operations.

  • Many successful fintechs in wealth management are working behind the scenes to partner with incumbents and provide business-to-business (B2B) products and services.

  • The future of digital wealth management is a hybrid model of a human advisor supported by computer algorithms that automate boring tasks and improve the customer experience.

Spoiler Alert: Goliath Beats David

Robo-advisors have captured the attention of both the media and the public with catchy advertising, innovative designs, and their low-cost approach to investing. These fintechs offer automated online investment portals that use computer algorithms to provide customized portfolio recommendations to individual investors. Robo-advisors first emerged in 2008 and gained popularity as a low-cost and simple alternative for investors unwilling to pay for the services of an investment advisor or do-it-yourselfers.

Everyone loves a David versus Goliath story with an entrepreneurial start-up defeating a larger incumbent. Unfortunately it didn’t work out as planned; Goliath won.

The following quote from the industry newsletter, Backend Benchmarking, summarizes the state of the robo-advisor industry: “In the end, robo advice is a story of adoption at major firms, not one of disruption by independent start-ups.”

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