The term ‘robo advice’ can lead to confusion about the kind of service provided by such companies. It originated in the US and has migrated over to the UK, but the two countries actually use financial terms in very different ways.
In the UK, the firms referred to as 'robo-advisors' may offer one or even both services. For example, at Scalable Capital we offer advice on request (“investing with you”) as well as comprehensive, discretionary investment management (“investing for you”) as part of our service.
With the discretionary service we create, monitor and manage portfolios for our clients so that they don’t have to be involved in decisions around asset allocation and don’t have to be in charge of making changes to their portfolios based on current market movements. We focus on helping our clients with the money they are ready to invest in the capital markets, after running a suitability check to ensure they don’t take more risk than they should. As part of this service, we don't offer advice on which tax-wrapper might be the most suitable to use, for example.
As part of our advisory service, however, we conduct a more comprehensive analysis of a client’s financial situation - also looking at a client’s debt, tax wrapper usage and already invested amounts to provide the client with a recommendation regarding a suitable investment solution, restricted to the Scalable Capital portfolios, as well as the correct tax wrapper for their situation.
The term “robo advisor” typically refers to investment management companies that have automated part of the investment process. These firms typically do not provide advice, though exceptions might exist. For example, at Scalable Capital, we do not provide advice but we provide a discretionary investment service - we manage your money. The more sophisticated robo advice solutions use technology not just for a smooth, mobile or web-enabled sign-up process, but also at the core of their investment methodology, giving you a better return for every unit of risk you're exposed to and ensuring your risk tolerance isn't breached.
Traditionally, retail investors had three options when they wanted to invest their savings:
A fourth option, delegating the allocation decisions to a private wealth manager or a private bank, wasn't available to them unless they could invest upwards of £1,000,000 or even more, as some private banks have increased their minimums to £5,000,000 in recent years.
Investing at one's own discretion is time-intensive and investors typically find it impossible to attain information that the market has not already priced into current securities prices. Many investors also feel they lack the professional experience and the specific financial education to make the right decisions.
When they invest into actively managed funds to get access to a diversified portfolio managed by a professional, investors are often disappointed by the high fees of such funds that make it rare for them to outperform the benchmark they've set for themselves. The FCA's Asset Management Market Study that was published in November 2016 summarized that "overall, our evidence suggests that actively managed investments do not outperform their benchmark after costs. Funds which are available to retail investors underperform their benchmarks after costs".
Investing into passive index-trackers seems to be a good solution and indeed ETFs have been able to attract a significant share of global assets over the last 2 decades. However, the investor still needs to decide on the crucial question of how much to invest into each ETF - should they invest 40% into equities and 60% into bonds? What about commodities? And what geographical regions - maybe they should have a larger focus on their home market, but what impact would that have on a potential lack of diversification that would expose them to unnecessary risks while leading to impaired returns?
IFAs would be a way to delegate those decisions to someone else, but they are not accessible for everyone and many investors shy away from high hourly fees.
Robo advisors offer a solution for investors that can solve all their issues. They offer an easy, more accessible and intelligent solution to the problems faced by most retail investors, as well as potentially offering advice to people who need it. The Financial Times therefore predicted a “fight for survival” of traditional wealth managers in an article from May 2016.
As mentioned before, DIY investors typically struggle with portfolio allocation and end up in suboptimal portfolios leading to higher than expected drawdowns (often leading them to exit their investments altogether) and to lower returns than they could have earned for the risk they were exposed to. They also lack the tools to systematically monitor the risk in their portfolio and make the right adjustments to bring it back in line if required.
Whether a robo advisor is the right solution for you depends on the way that they are set-up and your personal circumstances. We suggest you consider the following criteria:
The money you invest with a robo advisor is typically sitting in an account with an independent custodian bank, which holds your cash as well as your assets for you at any stage during the investment process. You can learn more about this very important topic in our "Security" section.
Robo advisory does not mean that there is no one to talk to when you need help. It simply means that many aspects around the investment process are automated to save you time and money. All investment and portfolio allocation decisions, however, are monitored by a team of investment professionals. At Scalable Capital you can reach the team easily via the online chat function, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply by calling through to the office to ask any question about your investment. We also offer webinars and organise investment summits frequently, for which you can register on our "Events" section.
The degree of sophistication of a robo advisor's technology varies significantly. Some merely use technology in the client communication, for example, to make the sign-up process easier and paperless, but only peripherally or not at all in the portfolio optimisation process.
We believe that Scalable Capital has one of the most sophisticated technologies in the market, using a proprietary algorithm that simulates market risk and automatically adjusts client portfolios when needed. The benefit for the client being a better understanding of risk, better risk-adjusted returns and more peace of mind. Our technology enables us to keep your portfolio risk constant, even as market environments change. This is not something traditional providers or other robo advisors typically provide, as it requires a sophisticated technology.
Every single client portfolio is monitored and adjusted individually. Our algorithm makes use of data about current and historical returns of different ETFs to generate thousands of scenarios for the likely future development of each client portfolio, keeping in mind the characteristics of each ETF such as volatility and correlations with other ETFs. You can read more about this in our "Better Risk Management" section, as well as in our section on "Evidence-Based Investing". Scalable Capital employs a team of dozens of software engineers and experts with PhDs in financial econometrics to ensure its technology is delivering the best outcome for its clients.
Yes, absolutely. Robo advisors typically ask you to complete a questionnaire regarding your investment goals and horizon, as well as your risk preferences and experience, and then tailor your portfolio according to these specifications. At the same time, offerings vary between different investment services, so it is worth checking thoroughly and making sure your individual circumstances are taken into account as far as possible. If you feel like your situation is complicated or would like further assistance it may be worth using our Financial Advice service.
The mobile apps and websites robo advisors have built are typically user-friendly, intuitive and accessible. If you are comfortable navigating a website there is no reason why a digital investment manager, as robo advisors are often called, would be too complex a service for you to use. If you like to use mobile apps to stay up-to-date, you can use a robo advisor's app to check the performance of your portfolio at any time of the day and wherever you are. Again, depending on the provider of your choice, the features of the mobile app will differ.