This year’s biggest story in the U.S. asset management industry is the rise of online investment advisor Wealthfront, which has increased AUM of about $500 million a year ago to $2.6 billion today.
Most of Wealthfront’s clients are affluent millennials in their 20s and 30s who have never invested before.
They are attracted to Wealthfront because it offers an easy-to-use, algorithm-driven investment management platform that emphasizes low costs.
By charging an advisory fee as low as 0.20 percent of AUM and using low-cost index funds and tax-efficient strategies, Wealthfront claims to add about 4 percent annually to clients’ average after-fee, after-tax returns, compared to traditional money managers.
Most of the media attention given to Wealthfront thus far has focused on millennials’ affinity for automated investment advice (i.e., machines replacing humans as advisors).
However, there is more to the story, and advisors can learn much about positioning their practices by studying Wealthfront:
Here are a few high-level points to consider:
Plain-English communication: Wealthfront does a great job communicating its value proposition in simple words and short ideas, avoiding financial jargon.
Time-efficiency as a client benefit: Here’s a concise benefit statement that few other advisors have used: “Do you have the time to invest well? Wealthfront invests your money for you with a minimal amount of work.”
Cost-savings: Wealthfront’s average client portfolio is estimated to be about $90,000. The firm says it can manage all-in costs of a portfolio of about this size “for less than a night at the movies” (about $20 a month). That’s a thought-provoking line.
Investment motivation: Wealthfront encourages people to take their money off the sidelines (e.g., banks, money market funds) and “be an investor.” It’s an important message to communicate, not only to young people but also to other segments such as women and risk-averse retired people.
Transparent and accessible: Rather than dwell on automation, Wealthfront focuses on its benefits such as being able to view all investment accounts at once and seeing a complete record of fees. These are compelling advantages, especially for younger investors. The platform itself is accessible, with an opening minimum of just $500.
Tax-sensitive: Although Wealthfront handles taxable and retirement plan accounts, its core market clearly is affluent investors who want to minimize tax impacts in taxable accounts. In other words, it’s positioned diametrically opposite hedge funds, many of which are tax-insensitive.
All of these points can become a bigger part of your business plan for 2016. If they do, your practice will continue to grow with the same market dynamics Weathfront is capturing.