Much has been written and millions have been invested in an investment process increasingly known as "robo-advisors."
These are technology-based advisory firms that use fewer human beings to provide investment services to individuals. In most cases, they will not be located in your hometown, and face-to-face contact will be a virtual experience, at best.
Most industry musings have centered on a basic assumption: The group that will be most challenged by this trend will be the traditional investment advisors. That would be the simple answer, but not the correct one. This is a unique battle within the industry that has few "losers" and some big winners.
Let's examine what's really playing out.
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The biggest winners will be the large investment firms and custodians. You know the names: Fidelity, Schwab, TD Ameritrade and Vanguard. To that point, Vanguard recently announced that it has $4.5 billion on its robo-advisor platform, and the firm hasn't even gone public with it yet.
So where does a Vanguard find $4.5 billion in assets lying around, crying out to have some help and guidance? And do it all without any advertising? The answer is simple: It's in its own backyard.
What Vanguard discovered is that the investor who seems to be willing to pay 20 to 40 basis points (or 0.2 percent to 0.4 percent) for an automated advisor is the do-it-yourself investor who already has an account with Vanguard.
Will Vanguard find some clients who leave an advisor and his or her 1 percent fee for its new robo-advisor program? Sure, it will. However, will it be a significant number in the grand scheme of things? No.
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It's a six-year bull market, and even the most strident do-it-yourself investors are probably coming to the realization they shouldn't confuse a raging bull market with brains. So when Vanguard offered its "trial program," we shouldn't be shocked it had $4.5 billion in takers.
Who among its client group of no-load followers wouldn't want investment recommendations, rebalancing, consolidated statements, a written financial plan and a kind, knowledgeable voice that might actually be the same person for a few years? (That's an assumption on my part, by the way.)
And what Vanguard just learned is it can now get 50 basis points from a client it may have previously been getting less than half of that from (20 basis points from the internal expenses of the fund and 30 basis points from the robo-advisor side). No matter how you do the math, this is a windfall for fund sponsors.
The second beneficiary of the robo-advisor fad, or movement, will be the traditional investment advisor. No matter what their size, all advisors should be pulling out their financials and asking themselves if they can produce all the services for their client that a robo-advisor can for the same price or even a little more.
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If not, you should expect that many advisors will look to "outsource" that part of their practice to a robo-advisor. This is playing out with Fidelity and Betterment, which recently joined forces.
To be sure, the savvy financial advisors will begin using robo-type technology solutions to outsource the things they don't do well or efficiently. This will free them up to focus on "the last three feet" of the investment relationship—sitting with the client.
This will remain the most profitable area of the investment world to live in. Advisors can do more listening, advising, directing and, perhaps most importantly, keeping clients' emotions in check so they don't hurt themselves financially with an impulsive financial move based on a recent financial event or some "gut instinct."
The consumer is the last winner, and this area should have a sign that says, "Under construction."
Read MoreDo you need a robo-advisor?
For all of the chest beating and great pronouncements, the financial services industry may be one of the last to be touched by "consumerism."
Let's be honest: The financial services industry still can't decide if it should put the consumer's needs before its own. The industry doesn't even have the ability to resolve whether a client should be advised on the suitability standard vs. a fiduciary relationship.
And yet, the folks in this industry wonder why Main Street doesn't trust Wall Street. Well, until advisors can agree to put the needs of the customers first, we are likely to still have our share of problems.
“The robo-advisor movement will not make everyone better off; it will just make some more better off than others.
With all that said, here's the good news for the consumer. More than anything else, what the robo-advisor discussion will continue to do is make everyone—fund sponsors and financial advisors alike—ask themselves how they justify their role in the investment process.
The millennial generation, which is overall pretty investment-savvy, should be the biggest consumers of these robo-advisor services.
But that's a ways off, to be sure. Typical retirees today do not have the skills or confidence to make these money decisions on their own. They will not confidently fill out some online forms and ship off their life savings to a robo-advisor.
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It's just not going to happen.
The bottom line is that the robo-advisor movement will not make everyone better off; it will just make some more better off than others. With that said, I'm pretty confident the robo-advisor model will not be putting anyone out of business anytime soon.
—By Nathan Bachrach, CEO of Simply Money