The rise of the robo advisor has gone through several phases in the wealth management industry. First, traditional advisors were in complete denial. Now, many have swung all the way to the other side and are seeking to out-robo the robo advisors.
As I said on stage at a conference a few weeks ago, you cannot out-robo the robos. In the race to depersonalize your services, you will lose. Riskalyze believes in empowering advisors with great technology that allows them to level the playing field and differentiate based on their unique strengths a name, a face and a connection with clients. That's the way for advisors to win and democratize access to advice.
(Riskalyze, a risk profiling startup, recently launched a hybrid robo service called Autopilot in partnership with CLS Investments.)
But there's a new phase of competition in the space that seems to be arriving: "The junkyard dog approach." Attacking competitors with innuendo, stereotypes, misleading numbers and even downright falsehoods seems to be coming into vogue.
Betterment started this game in a blog post two years ago, illustrated with the image of the advisor as pig and confusing the difference between the old school commission-based boiler room brokers and real advisors who provide the behavioral coaching and guidance clients need to achieve their financial goals. While Betterment eventually retreated by deleting the post, it set a tone.
Now that tone has been used against them in a broadside from their competitor, Wealthfront. I don't know who runs Wealthfront's PR, but you have to admit that it takes guts to drop your minimum from $5K to $500 and simultaneously launch a misleading broadside at your competitor for their fee on even smaller accounts that you still refuse to serve.
This isn't Wealthfront's first time starring in the "junkyard dog" role. Their previous admiration for Charles Schwab flip-flopped into a full-frontal assault when Schwab decided to roll out the Intelligent Portfolios robo competitor.
I know running a growth company in a fast-moving market like fintech takes a certain amount of toughness. I've had the tough but rewarding job of leading our company as we've grown from 4 to 85 employees and $0 to $90 billion on our platform over the last two years.
But if I have any advice for my counterparts at these other companies, it's this: you have to take the high road. This is a business built on credibility and trust. And you are consistently taking the little bit that you've earned and setting it on fire with these kinds of antics.
On the other hand, maybe I should hope that Adam and Jon don't read this piece and keep following the "junkyard dog" strategy. After all, if traditional advisors join the race to depersonalize advice, they will certainly lose.
But if we can level the playing field and give those advisors a technology-empowered platform to democratize access to their advice, it looks like they have a huge head start in the far more important race building trust.
Aaron Klein is CEO of Riskalyze.
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