The product has several major votes of confidence. One is a previously unannounced collaboration with Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services, a platform for nearly 3,000 RIA firms. Fidelity will now provide information and education on Betterment to those advisors, although they will not be required to use it.
"(We) share an interest in helping advisors realize that digital advice should not be perceived as a threat, but rather an opportunity to evolve," David Canter, an executive vice president in Fidelity's Institutional Wealth Services unit, said in an email. "Betterment Institutional is an exceptional solution for many of our RIA clients that need a scalable, automated platform," he added.
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"Advisors have been coming to us and saying, 'This is great. I love what you guys are doing. I'm using it myself for my personal accounts. How can I use this for my clients?'" Betterment founder and CEO Jon Stein said in a recent interview. The company made the The 2014 CNBC Disruptor 50 List earlier this year.
The product was also shaped in partnership with the two heads of major wealth advisory firms. One is Steve Lockshin, founder of Convergent Wealth Advisors, AdvicePeriod and Fortigent. The second is Marty Bicknell, CEO of Mariner Holdings, which includes Mariner Wealth Advisors and Montage Investments. Lockshin and Bicknell are investors in Betterment and plan to use the product with some of their firms' clients (AdvicePeriod and Mariner for now). About 25 RIA firms have also been using the beta version of Betterment Institutional.
The cost for professionally advised users will be similar to Betterment's current retail fees, plus whatever the RIA charges for additional services. Betterment now costs 0.15 to 0.35 percent of average annual assets, depending on the amount of money invested.
Betterment Institutional will feature a 0.25 percent "platform" fee regardless of assets. Stein said that with the RIA charges, the total cost for their clients would likely range from 0.50 to 1 percent. That will usually be below the 1 percent or more that advisors typically charge to clients who meet a minimum account size, say $10,000 or even $1 million.
The idea is that advisors will provide services that Betterment can't, such as estate planning, in-depth financial guidance, trust and other family-related asset management. Betterment will be used to handle the bulk of actual client investments, including the rebalancing and tax-efficiency work that's typically done using disparate types of software or even by hand.
Through Betterment, RIAs get a custom website featuring their branding. Clients will use the site to sign up and monitor their investments; RIAs can also review the portfolios on the back end through their own dashboard or even work with clients in real-time over shared-screen technology.
Fidelity's Canter said that RIAs can use the Betterment service to better attract new business segments, especially those with investment amounts that previously fell below their thresholds. Fidelity research from May found that 56 percent of RIA and broker-dealer firm leaders plan to "embrace digital advice by incorporating it into their existing businesses or partnering with a digital advisor."