Ellevest Knows Their Customer

At the end of last year, I decided to try Ellevest, an automated advisory platform that specializes in serving women’s distinct needs.

Ellevest’s email communication and marketing have stood out to me. Ellevest understands their audience.  The emails sent by Sallie Krawcheck, cofounder and chief executive, resonate with my beliefs. Her communication strikes the right balance of sensitivity to women’s issues, responsiveness to current events, and emphasis on the importance of financial goals/investing, while also coming across in the same organic language one would use with their best friends. Emails from other Ellevest team members are equally relatable and informative.

I even received beautiful flowers in the mail around the New Year from Ellevest. The flowers were delivered by Bouqs, a company that delivers farm to table flowers and is a provider that I personally use frequently, so this gesture was on point. 

The passive investment platform is much like the others. However, the infographics are nice and the user interface is more attractive than competitors.

While I wouldn’t be surprised if Ellevest expands beyond its focus on women (though I have not heard anything to support this), I am confident Ellevest understands its consumer base and will continue to reach out and serve women uniquely.

Impact Investing Gains Momentum

The polarizing political climate appears to be serving as an impetus for some firms to take socially responsible investing more seriously.  At today’s Impact Investing conference hosted by The Economist in NYC, Audrey Choi, Chief Executive of Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing, said there is research that shows that 70% of investors want to align their investments with their values.

Not surprisingly millennials are interested in impact investing. Audrey Choi also referenced research that that millennials are two times as likely to buy or divest stocks based on their personal beliefs.

Most speakers throughout the day were aligned in that they wanted to see impact investing become more than just a sleeve of an investor’s portfolio; impact investing should be mainstream as suggested by the full name of the conference, “Impact Investing: Mainstreaming purpose driven finance.”  Jackie VanderBurg, Managing Director and Investment Strategist of US Trust and co-author of “Gender Lens Investing: Uncovering Opportunities for Growth, Returns and Impact,” explained that gender lens investing, like other responsible investing should not operate in a silo.

Another common theme throughout the conference was that impact investing is smart investing. Understanding sustainability and opening one’s eyes to the different geo-political risks that face our world, is wise and exposes a company to less risk. For example, Audrey Choi, shared a statistic from the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB), which found that 93% of companies stand to be impacted by climate change or the need to defend against it, but only 12% of companies are disclosing the risk.

A roadblock in the world of socially responsible investing is proving to investors that they do not have to compromise return when investing according to their beliefs.  As Jackie VanderBurg said in reference to gender lens investing, “Gender lens investing is not small, soft and pink. It is smart investing. Gender lens investing is the deliberate, intentional integration of gender-based data into financial analysis with the expectation of finding additional opportunities and mitigating risk”.  Money managers and personal investors must apply the same rigorous process to impact investments as they would with any type of investment. 

Joshua Levin, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of OpenInvest, a robo-advisory that permits clients to choose investments supported by their personal beliefs, brought up another challenge: intermediaries. He gave the example that when people first started out investing, people invested to have an impact; that impact may have been to start a factory or own part of a company to influence a company’s decisions. Now with so many intermediaries, investors no longer think of investments as having an impact. Now people invest for diversification.  With a platform like OpenInvest, people can have an impact by choosing not to invest in a company if the company is not aligned with their personal beliefs. 

Many speakers were also in agreement on other challenges facing impact investing: reliable metrics, more products across asset classes, and more education for consumers and advisors alike.  After attending this conference, I am hopeful that firms are working to address the roadblocks to impact investing. While perfect solutions may not be possible this should not impede the value that can be added from investing in a socially responsible way.

No lumber, no slumber: Canadian robo steps up

As I point out in my recent report on robo advisors in Canada, price points for digital advisors are on the high side, even for the lumbering Canadian advice market. Especially as these robos are not known for standout service, as other bloggers have noted.

So should it be a surprise that Invesco Canada has developed plans to roll out Jemstep in Canada, the digital advice service the parent company acquired in January 2016?

Opportunity beckons

The truth is that the roll out has relatively little to do with the small Canadian market, and everything to do with the US, and eventually, the UK, markets. Invesco has been digesting Jemstep for more than a year now, quietly making Jemstep’s robust aggregation and client servicing functions available to those advisors who want them.

Fine tuning is fine, but at some point, it’s time to go big. With prices for robo tech on the wane, there is pressure on Invesco top brass to make something of this acquisition. Indeed, Peter Intragli, CEO of Invesco Canada and head of North American distribution, signaled this launch a while back. It is also worth noting that stand alone Canadian robo WealthSimple is taking a similar tack to Invesco, launching in the US and hiring London based consultants to guide its UK entrance. I’ll talk more about the thinking behind both firms' move in a later post.

Technology, Training & Compliance in Light of the Fiduciary Standard

Capturing retirement assets is paramount for brokerages. When thinking about the word saving, it is hard not to think about retirement.  Brokerages are constantly looking for rollover assets, and as baby boomers retire, this search has never been more significant — which is why, when the DoL Fiduciary Rule was proposed, brokerages quickly reacted.

  April 10, 2017, when Phase 1 of the DoL Fiduciary Rule goes into effect, is quickly approaching.

  My latest report, The Quest for Retirement Assets: When the Light Shines on the Fiduciary Standard, explores ways that brokerages are reacting to the DoL rule. Brokerages continue to rethink their operating model. Brokerages are questioning their existing technology: Can it support a new business model? How should training be embedded and amended to support compliance with the DoL Rule? In my report I lay out some of the challenges facing brokerages, as well as best practices for compliance and training.   Regardless of whether the DoL rule is delayed, changed, or repealed, advisors need to know how to clearly communicate their offering to clients as it relates to the fiduciary standard. Investors are more aware than ever of the fiduciary standard. Even if the DoL relaxes its stance, there is no doubt that investors will continue to pressure advisors to act as fiduciaries. It won’t be long before clients ask for proof that portfolio transactions and ideas are made in their best interest.  

In the world of robo 2017, C.A.S.H. is king

For those of you who seek yearly prognostication, here we go. I see four factors or trends driving the evolution of robo world in 2017, and attempt to capture them here with a simple, suitable acronym: C.A.S.H.
  • Cross border activity: We’re now seeing robo advisors extend their reach across national borders. This is not just the case in Europe (think German-UK robo Scalable and Italy’s Moneyfarm, which launched in the UK) but in North America as well. I comment on the planned entrance of Toronto based robo Wealthsimple into the US market in Financial Planning.
  • Asset managers will continue to seek distribution, launching robo advisory platforms that enable the advisor to market their products. They’ll also want a share of advisor profits.
  • Synergies with CRM, compliance and other tech providers will deepen, as robos become more tightly integrated into the wealth management ecosystem. It’s no coincidence that two of the portfolio optimization software providers featured in my last report offer robo advisory platforms.
  • Hedge fund-like robos will prosper in an more volatile economic environment. These robos will use passive instruments to take a position on the market, and in some cases, allow users to “steer” (or apply their own views to) investment decisions.
Taken together, these trends signal the “mainstreaming” of robo advisory capabilities. Robo advice platforms are now less a “nice to have” than a core part of the incumbent advice offer. As such, these platforms are becoming increasingly bound up in the larger industry infrastructure. Those robos that seek to keep themselves distant or apart from this ecosystem will find themselves exposed, and short of cash, once the current funding cycle dries up.

Roll over, don’t play dead

In my most recent report, Wings of a Butterfly: Regulation, Rollovers and a Wave of Optimization Software, I discuss the challenges the DoL conflict of interest rule poses to the $7 trillion IRA rollover business. These challenges center on the need for advisors to break down 401k plan costs and make apples-to-apples comparisons of proposed rollover solutions.   Why focus on the rollover? First, the rollover decision serves as a touchstone in the relationship between client and advisor. Trust sits at the center of recommendation to roll over, and seldom are the vulnerabilities of the client so exposed. The importance of the  rollover decision is further magnified by timing. It often takes place at the apex of client wealth, where the consequences of missteps for the investor can be severe. For the advisor, the rollover offers a unique opportunity to capture assets, or at least advise on their disposition, as well as present a coherent strategy for drawdown.   The implications of the decision to roll over extend beyond the client advisor relationship to firm strategy, of course. They are particularly relevant to product development and distribution. I’ll discuss these implications in a later post.

New Year New Tech New Research

In your new year resolutions, did you pledge to understand more the technology that scares you? Or at least the one that some people (aka analysts like me) claim will replace you? If the answer is “No” and you are working in the field of Investment Research, whether producing, consuming or distributing it, then you may […]Continue reading...

Motivations behind Outsourcing in Wealth Management

This year Celent surveyed technology providers that service wealth management firms. The goal of the survey was to learn the motivations and strategies of wealth management firms that outsource components of their business to third party vendors.  The last time we did this survey was five years ago. From the survey, we learned that one […]Continue reading...

Wells Fargo rides herd on DoL

It’s no coincidence that Merrill Lynch launched its new robo platform the same week it decided to exclude commission based product from IRAs. Likewise, the decision by Wells Fargo to announce a robo partnership with SigFig suggests that despite the pronouncements of pundits and industry lobbyists, DOL is hardly DOA. It takes a brave man to […]Continue reading...

DOL or DOA? The Election and the Conflict of Interest Rule

It’s one of those watershed moments. Clinton wins, and the Department of Labor (DoL) conflict of interest rule takes hold and likely gets extended beyond retirement products to all types of investments. Trump wins, and DoL gets slowed down and perhaps even rolled back. Assuming Clinton wins (which appears likely) firms will need to gear […]Continue reading...