NEW YORK (MainStreet) While most advisors admit that online financial guidance is here to stay, they claim the threat of being replaced by virtual advisors doesn't worry them believing clients favor the "human element" of face-to-face meetings. Meanwhile, one so-called "robo advisor" has cobbled together enough media partnerships to tap into 100 million Web users a month.
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Nearly three-quarters (74%) of financial advisors surveyed by Fidelity at a recent executive forum said the financial advice provided by online platforms is a positive industry trend that is here to stay. And more than half (54%) believe these "digital advisors" cannot replace the human element of personal advice. But when asked for one word to describe online advisors, the financial executives offered "needed," "complementary" and "disruptive."
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While consumers are just becoming familiar with such online financial advice services as Wealthfront, Betterment and FutureAdvisor, one startup is poised to rocket to top-of-mind awareness. And the co-founder and CEO of SigFig, Mike Sha, brings his experience as a senior manager with Amazon to the task.
SigFig has established a number of high profile online partnerships by providing investment portfolio dashboards to USA Today, CNN, Yahoo and others. All told, the media liaisons can put the brand in front of 100 million Web users per month, according to RIABiz. Sha says his competition is not other online advisors, but the traditional brokers with whom most investors are already doing business. His goal is to capture $1 trillion of assets under management from the Merrill Lynchs and Charles Schwabs of the world. That's a lofty goal considering SigFig currently manages less than $50 million in assets, according to its latest Form ADV filing.
Investors can upload a report of their holdings to the service, which will then recommend improvements based on a model portfolio. Consumers may keep their assets where they are and make the changes to their investments with their current brokerage firm. SigFig charges just $10 per month for the ongoing analysis and recommendations, but earns additional revenue from referral deals with the brokers.
Old-school financial advisors are a part of the profit strategy, too. If an investor is looking for some face-to-face time, SigFig refers them to an advisor within its network and takes a 20% referral fee for life, for its efforts. Perhaps the "robo advisors" really do know what they're doing.
--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet