Robo advisors gain new, younger clients amid market turmoil

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TD Ameritrade, Betterment and Wealthfront are among robo advisors attracting new clients as younger investors see a buying opportunity amid market upheaval.

Since the market downturn began, TD Ameritrade has seen new-account openings for its automated investing platform jump 150% from the same period a year ago, according to an emailed statement. Wealthfront investment said account signups are about 68% higher since stocks declined, and Betterment’s first-quarter increase is 25% from a year ago.

Automated accounts are generally cheaper because they use computer algorithms rather than human money managers. They’ve been especially attractive to younger investors, who have time to grow their savings before retirement. Wealthfront said its average customer age is 32. Betterment’s is 37.

“Because so many people are talking about the market, more people are thinking about it,” Betterment CEO Jon Stein said in an interview. “Our customers do have a longer time horizon than, say, the average investor — most are investing for retirement, which is a long time from now — 20 to 30 years.”

Charles Schwab also saw increases over the first quarter of 2019. March was one of the San Francisco-based firm’s strongest months for account growth, spokeswoman Marianne Ahlmann said.

The boost in accounts has helped compensate for withdrawals by clients who need cash as much of the economy is locked down by the coronavirus pandemic. At Social Finance, liquidations about double the normal rate have been more than offset by increases in new accounts, according to Gene Kim, a product communications manager.

Bloomberg News
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