Personal Finance

More robo-advisors are adding a human touch to their services

Betting on robo-advisors
Betting on robo-advisors

Betterment, a stand-alone automated investing service with about $7 billion in assets, announced Tuesday that it will offer access to human financial advisors.

The robo-advisor will provide customers with three planning options: It will charge a 0.25 percent annual fee for its basic digital plan, a 0.40 percent fee if a customer has at least $100,000 in assets and wants an annual call with a certified financial planner, and a 0.50 percent fee for someone with a $250,000 minimum balance and unlimited access to financial advisors.

Those fees are less than the annual 1 percent that many traditional financial advisors charge their clients.

"This is something our customers have been telling us they wanted from us for a while," said Jon Stein, founder and CEO of Betterment.

"Dozens" of CFPs and registered investment advisors will be providing the human guidance from Betterment's New York City headquarters, Stein said.

The Betterment move follows Charles Schwab's December announcement that it will add human advisors to an automated investing service for clients with assets of $25,000 or more in the first half of the year. Schwab's new service is expected to charge an annual fee ranging from 0.36 percent to 0.52 percent depending on the portfolio.

Investors want digital tools and live guidance

People prefer a "bionic" financial advisor who offers a low-cost, automated investing platform paired with patient, personal advice, according to a recent survey by the Financial Planning Association and Investopedia.

Among people using automated investing services, known as robo-advisors, 73 percent were satisfied with their experience, the survey found. Meanwhile, 75 percent of people who primarily work with a financial advisor said they were pleased.

While people who used robo-advisors were generally satisfied, 40 percent of those surveyed said they were uncomfortable using the services during periods of extreme market volatility.

The Financial Planning Association and Investopedia surveyed 2,002 U.S. investors age 21 or older in August and September about their preferences for planning advice.

Other surveys have found that investors want to merge the benefits of low-cost, easy-to-use technology with the security of a human being.

One in 4 people with $500,000 or more in investable assets uses digital tools and a paid advisor, according to a recent survey by financial services research firm Hearts & Wallets.

"More investors are blending digital services and live advice," said Laura Varas, Hearts & Wallets' founder and CEO. "I think the reason behind it is that investors are evaluating their interactions with [financial services companies] based on their feelings and responses from people at the companies to see if they can trust them. And people trust humans more than machines."