Straight Talk

Is a robo-advisor right for you?

What is a robo-advisor?
What is a robo-advisor?

Quite simply, a robo-advisor is an automated online investment advisory service. This type of wealth-management solution has been gaining a foothold in the asset management industry of late. Along with providing automated, algorithm-based portfolio management advice, some robo-advisors offer automatic portfolio rebalancing and tax-loss harvesting.

A robo-advisor provides investors with automated, algorithm-based portfolio management advice without the use of human financial planners. Robo-advisors use the same software as traditional advisors, but usually only offer portfolio management and do not get involved in more personal aspects of wealth management, such as taxes and retirement or estate planning.

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So begs the question on many investors' minds: Is a robo-advisor better than a human one?

Industry veteran Elliot Weissbluth, founder and CEO of wealth-management firm HighTower Advisors, believes a balance exists. The future of financial services will involve a combination of the best of both worlds: the ease and simplicity of technology, coupled with the skilled and holistic human touch, he explains.

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Combining the human touch of traditional financial advisors with the logic, fee transparency, methodology and accessibility offered by robo-advisors is a powerful combination for investors. Clients can access their portfolios and much of the advice they may need online but can still receive the hand-holding and personal advice they need from a human.

Going forward, the best financial advisory firms will combine the best of client-centered technology and the benefits of the human touch in providing advice, Weissbluth believes.

Weissbluth stresses that individual investors need to do their own research to find the best fit when it comes to financial advice.

An investor needs to understand what their specific financial situation is. If their situation is very basic and they are comfortable with a mostly online experience, then a robo-advisor might be for them. If the investor needs more hand-holding and more of a human touch and has more complex financial issues, then a traditional brick-and-mortar advisor might be more appropriate.

Some other key questions to think about when choosing an advisor include: Does the prospective advisor's expertise match your needs? What are the advisor's fees, and how are they paid? And what kind of interaction will you have with your advisor?

—By Jim Pavia, senior editor at large