If you're perfectly capable of running your own retirement savings, selecting the right mix of low-cost investments, rebalancing at the right time and not buying and selling out of fear or greed, then good for you.
But the majority of people — maybe the vast majority — are not like that. They may be smart enough to do the right thing, in theory, but they forget or slip up or are taken in by well-meaning friends bearing stock tips or annuity-peddling scoundrels who make nice to them over free steak dinners.
For people with more than $500,000 or so to invest, finding first-class help is hard but not impossible. If you have more than $1 million, you'll have your choice of many of the best financial advisers in town. But until recently, it was tough for people with a few hundred thousand dollars or less to find reasonably priced assistance, especially if they were insistent on putting money in the kind of low-cost investments that would not pay a commission or other fee to the person helping them.
On Friday, the latest entrant in an increasingly crowded field of services trying to serve this customer is introducing its offering, which is called Rebalance IRA. As the name suggests, it exists only to help you with your Individual Retirement Account, perhaps one that you'll fill with money that's been sitting around in several 401(k) or similar accounts at previous employers.
Rebalance IRA representatives will talk with you about your goals, invest your money in a low-cost collection of index fundlike exchange-traded funds that don't try to make big bets on individual stocks, and rebalance the investments when necessary. In exchange, you agree to hand over one half of 1 percent of your assets each year, with a minimum annual fee of $500.
The company's single-minded focus on retirement savings is somewhat narrow, but it makes sense given how much money is at stake and how badly many people mess things up when they do it on their own.
There is more money in I.R.A.'s than in any other type of retirement vehicle, according to estimates from the Investment Company Institute. I.R.A. balances totaled $5.3 trillion at the end of the third quarter of 2012. That's more than the $5 trillion in 401(k), 403(b) and other similar plans; the $4.8 trillion in government retirement plans; and the $2.6 trillion in traditional pensions.
(Read More: More Americans Raid Their 401(k)s to Pay Bills)
According to the Department of Labor, the professionals who run pension plans earned an 8.3 percent annual return from 1991 to 2010. People fending for themselves in 401(k) and similar plans earned 7.2 percent. Nationwide I.R.A. performance figures are more scarce, though one 2006 study by the Center for Retirement Research put the figure for 1998 to 2003 at 3.8 percent annually, roughly 2 to 3 percentage points worse than pension fund managers and 401(k) investors did during that same period.
These numbers are a bit squishy, given that pensions often make bets in markets that 401(k) investors can't access and the high fees that many 401(k) participants pay that pension managers don't. Still, there are about a thousand reasons plenty of do-it-yourselfers (who, after all, did not volunteer to manage their retirement money) would be likely to get worse returns than, say, pension managers.
To start with, large numbers of people make extreme bets. At Vanguard, 10 percent of retirement plan participants invested only in stocks in 2011, while 8 percent had no stocks at all. At least this is better than 2004, when 35 percent of its customers were that far out of balance. Then, there are the emotional challenges. To stick with the mix of investments you've selected, you need to sell things that have done well and buy investments that have lagged recently. That's hard to do.
Then there's the grab bag of other feelings. The bad experience with a broker you may have had in the past. The spouse who may scold you for doing the wrong thing. The fear that may have caused you to bail out in early 2009 or the greed that has you pouring money into stocks today, now that they're looking up again. This can be intensely hazardous to your long-term financial health.
All of this should be self-evident, but because we're playing on the field of emotions, it isn't. Still, it wasn't immediately obvious to Mitch Tuchman, the man behind Rebalance IRA, who started a service for do-it-yourself index investors called MarketRiders in 2008.
A former software entrepreneur, Mr. Tuchman had a midlife conversion to passive investing and not trying to beat the market, and he wanted to help others invest in the same way. "We thought we could build such great software that we could turn everyone into a do-it-yourselfer," he said. "And people said they didn't have time or they didn't care to do it themselves."
MarketRiders charges subscribers $150 a year for instructions on how to adjust their portfolios and when, and it will continue to exist. But Mr. Tuchman, who had also started managing millions of dollars on the side for friends and family who simply could not be bothered to do it themselves, eventually realized that his sideline was where the real mass-market opportunity lay.
So why would you let this guy handle your money? It's a perfectly reasonable question, and plenty of start-ups in the money management space don't do a particularly good job of answering it.