SigFig is on a roll.
Earlier this month, the robo adviser secured a place on Pershing's platform as an option for its advisers. Then it landed a deal with UBS to develop a robo for its 7,000 advisers.
Then on Tuesday, the San Francisco-based startup tied itself to still more prominent names across the financial services industry, announcing $40 million in new funding, much of it from asset management giant Eaton Vance.
Providing $33 million, Eaton Vance is the lead investor in a round that also includes Comerica, New York Life, Banco Santander SA's InnoVentures fund, Bain Capital Ventures, Nyca Partners, Union Square Ventures and some additional support from UBS, which also has an equity stake in SigFig.
SigFig CEO Mike Sha declined to state SigFig's valuation as a result of the new round of funding. The firm had raised nearly $20 million in four previous rounds of funding, mostly from VC firms.
"We designed this round actually to include a lot of high quality financial institutions," Sha says. "We are working with these institutions to power technology in the wealth management space, so what better way to involve some of those firms than through an investment syndicate?"
Despite UBS's larger interest in SigFig, Sha says his firm will remain neutral and that in this syndicate of investors, "no one party has special rights… no one firm has a controlling stake."
The funding will provide for a "pretty dramatic expansion of the team and platform," Sha says, and help ensure SigFig remains "neutral and independent. We can build an independent standalone business that won't get swallowed by another big institution."
Industry observers compared Eaton Vance's investment to that of other asset management firms that have bought into robo advice platforms, including Invesco's deal for Jemstep and BlackRock's acquisition of FutureAdvisor.
"I speculate [financial institutions] are adding funds to robos because they see the technology as a way to sell more products to investors and eventually make their money back in product sales and distribution," says Bill Winterberg, founder of FPPad.com.
Eaton Vance is a minority investor in SigFig and not in a position to drive their business or force them to use their strategies, says Thomas Faust, CEO of Eaton Vance.
With SigFig being their first and likely sole fintech investment, Eaton Vance is interested in learning about the digital advice evolution that will change the market, Faust says.
"We think this a special time in the evolution of investment advice, a critical time," he says. "We want to be close to that."
Faust sees robo advice platforms expanding beyond their current base of low-cost ETFs and start including more complex investment vehicles, including custom beta strategies.
"As robos grow up, it will become a tool for clients of all types," he says.
The funding announcement is the third for an online advice platform this year, on the heels of Personal Capital receiving a $75 million boost from a Canadian firm and a $100 million infusion provided to Betterment in March.
The trend challenges earlier industry predictions that independent robos would die off, drained by a lack of financial support and a tough competition to gain client assets. A survey of CEOs by industry research firm Tiburon Strategic Partners in March found that the majority thought funding to online advice firms would stagnate or grow only modestly this year.
"I’d stick with my broad view," says Chip Roame, managing partner of the Tiburon, Calif.-based research firm. "Only the best robos are getting funding. We count 40-plus robos. Along with Future Advisor which BlackRock bought and LearnVest which Northwest Mutual bought, the funding has started to narrow to the leaders.”
HERE TO STAY?
Roame says that the DoL fiduciary standard and the SEC pronouncement that it, too, will have a fiduciary standard by next April have helped the robos.
“My guess is still that 30 of the existing 40 independent robos will wilt,” he says. "Betterment, Personal Capital, SigFig, Wealthfront, FutureAdvisor, LearnVest, are some of the likely survivors along with Financial Engines, Vanguard, Schwab, Morningstar and TD Ameritrade."
Winterberg noted the larger stakes that industry firms are placing in digital wealth management, but questioned the corporate line regarding the adoption of robo tools.
Quote“My guess is still that 30 of the existing 40 independent robos will wilt,” says Chip Roame, managing partner of Tiburon, Calif.-based Tiburon Strategic Advisors.
"Financial institutions want to sell their products more efficiently," Winterberg says. "I don't believe these deals have anything to do with emphasizing the value of advice or increasing investor access to fiduciary advice."
Sha however argues that through these partnerships, SigFig will be able to reach more investors and provide them financial advice.
"Technology is here to stay," Sha says. "What industries today are not being transformed by technology? Why should wealth management be any different?"
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