Robo-Advisor Investing Explained


In the past decade, the financial industry has seen a significant shift with the emergence of the robo-advisor. These digital platforms have democratized investing, making it more accessible and affordable for a wide range of investors. Today, robo-advisors are responsible for managing portfolios worth hundreds of billions of dollars, demonstrating their growing acceptance and popularity among investors.

Understanding the Robo-Advisor

A Robo-advisor is a digital platform offering automated financial planning services driven by algorithms, with minimal human intervention. These platforms gather client information regarding their financial status and future objectives via an online survey. This data is then utilized to provide advice and automatically manage the client’s investments.

Robo-advisors emerged in the financial landscape following the 2008 financial crisis, with the first platforms appearing around 2010. Since then, they have seen exponential growth, propelled by technological advancements and a shift in consumer preferences towards more affordable and accessible financial services.

Mechanisms Behind a Robo-Advisor

Robo-advisors operate on intricate algorithms powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI). These algorithms are programmed to make investment decisions based on a multitude of factors, including market trends, economic indicators, and the client’s risk tolerance and investment objectives.

The process of setting up a Robo-advisor account typically involves filling out an online questionnaire to gauge your financial objectives, risk tolerance, and investment timeline. Based on your responses, the Robo-advisor suggests a diversified investment portfolio tailored to your needs. This portfolio is automatically managed by the platform, which performs portfolio rebalancing as needed to maintain your desired asset allocation.

Portfolio rebalancing is a strategy that involves periodically buying or selling assets in a portfolio to maintain an original or desired level of asset allocation or risk. For example, if one’s initial asset allocation was 50% stocks and 50% bonds, the portfolio may shift due to changes in the value of the assets. Portfolio rebalancing brings the portfolio back to its original asset mix.

Tax-loss harvesting is another strategy used by Robo-advisors to reduce the amount of taxes you owe on your investments. It involves selling securities that have experienced a loss to offset the taxes on both gains and income. The sold security is then replaced by a similar one, maintaining the optimal asset allocation and expected returns.

Advantages of Robo-Advisors

Robo-advisors offer several benefits that have contributed to their growing popularity. They are generally more cost-effective than traditional financial advisors, often requiring lower minimum investments and charging lower fees. This makes them accessible to a broader range of investors.

Robo-advisors are available around the clock, allowing clients to access their accounts whenever they wish. Their user-friendly interfaces make it easy for individuals to manage their investments, regardless of their level of financial knowledge.

Moreover, Robo-advisors offer objectivity. As they rely on algorithms to make investment decisions, they are free from the emotional biases that can sometimes affect human advisors. This can lead to more rational investment decisions, especially in volatile market conditions.

Drawbacks of Robo-Advisors

Despite their advantages, Robo-advisors have certain limitations. They may not be equipped to handle complex financial situations that require personalized advice.

Another potential downside is the limited human interaction. Some individuals prefer the personal touch of a human advisor, especially when dealing with complex financial matters.

Lastly, like any online platform, Robo-advisors come with certain risks, including data breaches and other cybersecurity threats. While most platforms have robust security measures in place, it’s always important to be vigilant when sharing personal information online.

Robo-Advisors and Regulation

Robo-advisors hold the same legal status as human advisors. Accordingly, they must be registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and are subject to the same securities laws and regulations as traditional broker-dealers. Most robo-advisors are members of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). You can use BrokerCheck to research robo-advisors in the same way that you would a human advisor.

Assets managed by robo-advisors are not insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). That’s because they are securities held for investment purposes, not bank deposits. However, this does not necessarily mean clients are unprotected. For example, Wealthfront, a prominent robo-advisor in the U.S., is insured by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). As you research robo-advisors, don’t forget to check on the kind of insurance each has to protect your investment.

Popular Robo-advisors

The last decade has seen the emergence of several popular robo-advisors. These include independent players like Betterment, Wealthfront, and Ellevest, as well as established financial institutions like Charles Schwab and Vanguard. Each has its own unique offerings, fees, and account minimums.


Betterment, one of the larger independent players, requires no account minimum for the entry-level Digital account, which charges a management fee of 0.25 percent. For more access to certified financial planners, you can upgrade to Betterment Premium for a 0.4 percent fee, but you’ll need at least $100,000 in the account.


Wealthfront requires a $500 account minimum and charges a 0.25 percent management fee. It offers low expense ratios on its ETFs, no additional account fees, and goal-based planning.


Ellevest, a newer player, markets itself to women but is suitable for anyone looking for client-first advice. It offers subscriptions at $5 and $9 per month providing an array of services, rather than a fee based on your assets under management.

Schwab Intelligent Portfolios

Charles Schwab, a financial powerhouse, runs the second-largest robo-advisor. While you’ll need more money than other robos to get started – a hefty $5,000 – you won’t pay any management fee. You can also upgrade to the Premium offering, which requires a $25,000 deposit, $300 start-up fee, and $30 monthly fee. But you’ll also have unlimited one-on-one access to a certified financial planner.

Vanguard Personal Advisor Services

Vanguard, best known for its lineup of low-cost funds, runs Personal Advisor Services and now Digital Advisor. It requires at least $50,000 to start investing with Personal Advisor and charges a scaled fee based on your assets, starting at 0.3 percent and declining to 0.10 percent for accounts over $50 million. Meanwhile, the new Digital Advisor can also manage your investments at a lower upfront deposit of $3,000 and a maximum $2.50 annual fee for each $1,000 you have invested.

Other larger financial players such as Merrill and Citibank have also entered the robo-advisor field.

Wrapping Up

Robo-advisors have reshaped the financial planning landscape, making it more accessible and affordable for a wider range of individuals. While they may not replace human advisors entirely, especially for more complex financial needs, they offer a valuable service for those seeking a straightforward, low-cost way to manage their investments.

As with any financial decision, it’s crucial to research and consider your individual needs and circumstances before choosing a Robo-advisor. Whether you’re an experienced investor or just starting out, Robo-advisors can be a valuable tool in your financial planning toolkit.


  • Marcus Anderson

    Marcus Anderson is a seasoned investment specialist and a key contributor to MoneyMaver. With a passion for making investing accessible to everyone, Marcus has dedicated his career to simplifying the world of finance and helping people make informed investment decisions. Marcus holds a degree in Finance from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and has over a decade of experience in the financial sector. He started his career as an investment analyst for a major Wall Street firm, where he honed his skills in financial analysis and investment strategy.

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