Forget Robos. Rich Clients Want Human FAs, Citi Says

Register now

(Bloomberg) -- It's OK, Charles Schwab and BlackRock: Robo advisorswon't be taking away your high-net-worth clients.

At least, that's what Citigroup is telling clients in its recent fintech report, which has already been garnering headlines.

"We see the advent of robo-advice as an example of automation improving the productivity of traditional investment advisers, and not a situation where there is significant risk of job substitution," Citi analysts led by Ronit Ghose wrote in their report. "Higher net worth or more sophisticated investors will, in our view, always demand face-to-face advice."

The note comes after Betterment, one of the robo advisors referred to in the report as a first-mover in this industry, doubled its total funding to $205 million and boosted its valuation to $700 million. Online financial advisors such as Betterment, Wealthfront, and Personal Capital seek to use new technology and algorithms to offer better returns than traditional advisors that have long dominated the space.

While Citi doesn't believe that wealthy individuals will start flocking to this type of advice, it did say the technology that robo advisors use has a role to play in wider asset management. "We believe the services offered by advisors have the potential to be augmented by virtual and robo-advice tools, increasing individual advisor productivity, and ability to service more clients, or in more user-friendly and/or sophisticated ways," the note said. According to research firm CB Insights, the venture capital advisor of Citigroup, Citi Ventures, participated in Betterment's 2014 round of funding.

The bank also points out that the global asset management industry is massive, with more than $69 trillion in assets currently under management. Mutual funds and ETFs account for about $30.4 trillion and $2.6 trillion, respectively. Citi says this is a good comparison for the addressable market for robo advisors, since they tend to invest in managed funds and not individual stocks.

So how large could the robo industry actually become?

Citi estimates that robos currently manage about $20 billion. While that figure could increase quite significantly, it will likely still pale in comparison with the global asset management industry. The bank cites a previous forecast by McKinsey & Co. that robo advisors could eventually expand to encompass $13.5 trillion worth of assets, assuming that 25% of affluent households (defined as $100,000 to $1 million in financial assets) and 10% of high-net-worth individuals (in the $1 million to $30 million bracket) are enticed by automated investment advice.

"This is not a human vs. robot competition where one will win," Betterment CEO Jon Stein said in an e-mailed statement. "There will be customers who want an online driven solution and there will be customers who want the in person relationship, but even those people will expect better technology as part of the relationship." 

Read more:


For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Robo advisors Automated investing Financial planning