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Planning a trip around the world? There’s a robo for that

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Tech companies offer travel tools for even those with the worst case of wanderlust — like Google Trips that stores itinerary information to The Earth Awaits, a free website that offers detailed information about world cities.

Into this crowded marketplace, Wealthfront launched a specialized tool for clients who want to take a lengthy sabbatical or travel for an extended period of time, while factoring in linked investment and retirement accounts.

“This may sound lofty or unrealistic, but when we surveyed our clients we found that taking time off to travel is top of mind, behind only ‘achieving financial freedom’ and ‘retiring comfortably and or early,’ says Kate Wauck, Wealthfront’s vice president of communications, in an email.

Called Time Off for Travel, the feature is embedded in Wealthfront’s advice platform and can estimate how much time a client can afford to take off. It also estimates how much a client will possibly spend based on whether they want a budget or a luxury trip with four star hotels and their usual spending habits.

An “affordability slider” notes how extended travel will impact a client’s other goals, such as retirement age and purchasing a house. Clients can also get advice how they can adjust their budget in order to make a lengthy sabbatical happen.

Wealthfront’s new travel feature appears to have more bells and whistles than other industry offerings, says Doug Fritz, founder and CEO of F2 Strategy.

“It focuses investors on how their money can work for them and broadens the overall value proposition of an investment tool beyond a digital piggy bank,” says Fritz. “I will be curious to see how they actually evaluate a client’s ability to do this and what, if any, liability the might be accepting. How sure are they that their clients are going to be employable when they get back?”

Wealthfront showcased the example of clients Kyle and Kate Parrish who spent a year traveling to 25 countries around the world with a budget of $45,000. They funded it by socking away money every month, selling their car and subletting their apartment. They also did volunteer farm work for free room and board and kept a travel blog that attracted hotels and travel companies which provided services for coverage.

“Kyle and Kate took their trip from August 2016 to August 2017, so they left before we launched Path in February 2017,” says Wauck. “Kyle did let us know however, that he used Path when we launched it (early adopter). He said that the combination of the user interface and design and ability to link all of his financial accounts gave him and his wife more peace of mind on where they were financially while they were traveling.”

Wealthfront says its new tool is geared for millennials who are keen about “collecting experiences to collecting assets,” but a few financial planners say don’t count out older clients who have the same thoughts.

“This is exactly the nature of conversations we've been having with clients since the downturn in 2009, when many people in their late 40's-50's were downsized because of the crash,” says Dennis R. Nolte, vice president at Seacoast Wealth Management in Winter Park, Florida. “We continue to have extensive planning around the early exit from the ‘grind’ and focusing on a new form of self-actualization, be it travel, a new business, volunteering.”

Wealthfront also opened a college planning service to all clients back in May. It was a requirement for clients to have a 529 college savings plan in order to use the tool, but Wealthfront found there was also a need for college planning among clients who don’t have children yet, the firm says.

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