The Robo-Advisor Arms Race
Can upstart robo-advisors compete against scale?
The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.
It was going to happen sooner or later.
When they launched roughly five years ago, tech-driven companies such as Betterment or Wealthfront had the audacious and laudable goal of taking on the incumbents of the gargantuan wealth management industry. Many traditional wealth managers were skeptical of portfolios being driven by artificial intelligence, and adopted a “wait and see” approach. If it became clear that the machines were indeed taking over the wealth management industry, they could then find some way to reverse-engineer their way into the market, using their scale and connections to make up ground.
As the upstarts won new accounts and proved out the robo-advisor business model, the incumbents that dominate the traditional finance scene leaped into action. In 2015, behemoths like Vanguard and Charles Schwab, which each manage trillions of dollars of assets, fought back by introducing their own robo-advisor products. Meanwhile, Blackrock made an acquisition of an existing platform (FutureAdvisor) to enter the market, and just months ago mutual fund giant Fidelity launched its own robo-product called Fidelity Go.
The scale of these companies meant that domination would become inevitable. Vanguard, for example, took its Personal Advisor Services platform from $0 in assets under management (AUM) last year to $41 billion today. By our math, that’s more than all other major U.S. robo-advisors combined.
Charles Schwab, which has 9.3 million existing customers for its discount brokerage services, had no problem bringing customers over to its new platform. It also has $10 billion in AUM already in just a year, which is more than Betterment and Wealthfront combined.
Spokespeople for the independent robo-advisors will tell you that they are building products for millennials, with an eye on a bigger prize. As wealth is transferred to the millennial generation over the coming years, they will be in position to take advantage of this as the brands that millennials trust. We are certain that these startups can evolve into great companies with this mission, but we also wonder if they ultimately left money on the table.
Were they not aggressive enough? Could they have partnered with a bigger institution to roll out their product faster? Could they have gotten a bigger piece of the pie?
It’s hard to say, but the robo-advisor space continues to be an interesting one to watch. It also teaches us an interesting lesson about trying to compete with mega-sized companies, which have scale, expertise, and resources at their disposal.
The 10 Breakthrough Technologies That Will Define 2019
Which innovations will dominate headlines in 2019? According to Bill Gates, watch for these 10 breakthrough technologies to change the world.
The 10 Breakthrough Technologies That Will Define 2019
Gone are the days of turning stones into spears. With the advent of new technologies, we’ve learned to develop tools that not only make living faster and easier every day, but also improve the future of humanity as a whole.
Today’s Chart of the Week draws from the MIT Technology Review, which features Bill Gates’ predictions for the top 10 breakthrough inventions that will capture headlines in 2019.
Top 10 Breakthrough Technologies
1. Gut Probe in a Pill
These swallowable devices can detect and potentially prevent diseases that cause malnutrition and stunted growth in millions of children worldwide.
2. Custom Cancer Vaccines
Personalized cancer vaccines, targeting only the cancerous cells and leave healthy cells alone, could help ensure faster recovery times and pose fewer risks to patients.
3. Meat-free Burgers
Plant-based and lab-grown food products will ideally alleviate the environmental impact of the livestock industry.
4. Smooth-talking AI assistants
The AI assistants of the future will have even more human-like conversations to personally engage customers. Companies would see measurable benefits, with just one breakthrough here garnering a 5% jump in productivity.
5. Sanitation without sewers
Improperly drained sewage causes death in one out of every nine children. Sanitation that doesn’t require sewers would not only prevent exposure diseases but also help turn waste into useful products like fertilizer.
6. ECG on your wrist
While most medical ECGS have up to 12 nodes to detect abnormalities, today’s wearables typically have only one. An ECG on the wrist would help reduce the risk of heart disease by monitoring changes and patterns in daily life.
7. Robot Dexterity
Advancements in robotics will enable the natural dexterity required to complete a greater range of tasks, such as helping an ailing loved one out of bed, doing the laundry, or building toys.
8. Predicting Preemies
Premature births are the leading cause of death for children under five years old. Tests to detect the possibility of a premature birth could be available in doctors’ offices in as little as five years.
9. Carbon Dioxide Catcher
Carbon dioxide catchers filter out CO₂ from the air and capture it for other uses. These include synthetic fuel creation, CO₂ for soft drinks, and plant growth in greenhouses.
10. New-wave Nuclear Power
Traditional nuclear reactors produce ~1,000 megawatts (MW), while these proposed mini-reactors would produce tens of megawatts ─ making them safer, more stable, and more financially viable for potential users.
A Vision for a Better Future
The biggest takeaway?
Seven of the 10 breakthrough technologies stem from the healthtech sector.
While several inventions on this list are years away from becoming a reality, they continue to embody the vision and passion that humans share to create and explore.
How the Modern Consumer is Different
We all have a stereotypical image of the average consumer – but is it an accurate one? Meet the modern consumer, and what it means for business.
How the Modern Consumer is Different
There is a prevailing wisdom that says the stereotypical American consumer can be defined by certain characteristics.
Based on what popular culture tells us, as well as years of experiences and data, we all have an idea of what the average consumer might look for in a house, car, restaurant, or shopping center.
But as circumstances change, so do consumer tastes – and according to a recent report by Deloitte, the modern consumer is becoming increasingly distinct from those of years past. For us to truly understand how these changes will affect the marketplace and our investments, we need to rethink and update our image of the modern consumer.
A Changing Consumer Base
In their analysis, Deloitte leans heavily on big picture demographic and economic factors to help in summarizing the three major ways in which consumers are changing.
Here are three ways the new consumer is different than in years past:
1. Increasingly Diverse
In terms of ethnicity, the Baby Boomers are 75% white, while the Millennial generation is 56% white. This diversity also transfers to other areas as well, such as sexual and gender identities.
Not surprisingly, future generations are expected to be even more heterogeneous – Gen Z, for example, identifies as being 49% non-white.
2. Under Greater Financial Pressure
Today’s consumers are more educated than ever before, but it’s come at a stiff price. In fact, the cost of education has increased by 65% between 2007 and 2017, and this has translated to a record-setting $1.5 trillion in student loans on the books.
Other costs have mounted as well, leaving the bottom 80% of consumers with effectively no increase in discretionary income over the last decade. To make matters worse, if you single out just the bottom 40% of earners, they actually have less discretionary income to spend than they did back in 2007.
3. Delaying Key Life Milestones
Getting married, having children, and buying a house all have one major thing in common: they can be expensive.
The average person under 35 years old has a 34% lower net worth than they would have had in the 1990s, making it harder to tackle typical adult milestones. In fact, the average couple today is marrying eight years later than they did in 1965, while the U.S. birthrate is at its lowest point in three decades. Meanwhile, homeownership for those aged 24-32 has dropped by 9% since 2005.
A New Landscape for Business?
The modern consumer base is more diverse, but also must deal with increased financial pressures and a delayed start in achieving traditional milestones of adulthood. These demographic and economic factors ultimately have a ripple effect down to businesses and investors.
How do these big picture changes impact your business or investments?
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