The Popularity of Robo Advisors: A Lesson in FinTech

Jeff Broth

What are Robo advisors, and why are they increasingly popular in the investment landscape? This is an important question, and one which requires careful analysis. Robo advisors are essentially automated investment algorithms. US, Canadian, UK, European and other investors are taking to Robo advisors in their droves. These Robo advisors serve as a popular way to actively manage an investment portfolio, sans all the high fees, commissions, and charges that are typically associated with employing investment professionals.

Instead of using human fund managers, sophisticated software is used to actively buy/sell financial assets. From an investment perspective, Robo advisors makes sense. Casual investors may not have the time, or the wherewithal to understand market mechanics and manage their financial activity from minute to minute, or trade to trade. That’s where Robo advisors come into the picture. Among the many benefits of utilizing such cutting-edge technology are the rebalancing of financial portfolios, and the re-investment of dividends. Merits aside, it’s important to understand the following aspects of Robo advisors, before picking one to use.

  • Robo advisors are still in their infancy stages, and full testing needs to take place. Several leading investment experts believe that the only way to fully justify the inclusion of Robo advisors as part of an investment paradigm is if they have been tested during recessionary times.
  • Robo advisors are not necessarily as flexible as human fund managers. Algorithms are not 100% customizable to personal investor preferences, so it’s important to pick the right Robo advisor for your needs. The emotional components of investing are only addressed through human fund managers – Robo advisors have not advanced to that level yet.
  • Robo advisors do not guarantee the best results across the board. Simply because it’s a robot advisor, and devoid of emotion, doesn’t mean that it can predict or anticipate the best investments at all times. True, it removes the emotional component from investing and picks based on technical and fundamental aspects – but that is not always a barometer of future performance. Risk is an inherent component of all forms of investing activity.
  • Robo advisors are not fully understood. Unfortunately, the pace of technological change and progression has outstripped human adoption of it. Multiple examples abound, such as the cryptocurrency boom which began in 2007, but only really started taking root in 2017. Much the same is true of Robo advisors which have significant upside potential vis-à-vis technological innovation and investment merit.
  • Robo advisors can assist you with actively-managed financial portfolios by reducing your tax losses. Tax loss harvesting is a subject unto itself, but there are significant cost savings that can be enjoyed through Robo advisors.
  • Robo advisors are cost-effective solutions especially when compared to fund managers, and investment gurus. This is the primary reason why they’ve disrupted the financial landscape. A Robo advisor could offer free services to clients whose asset base is $10,000 or less. The cost of using a Robo advisor service will increase incrementally for greater investment amounts.

Features to Look for in the Best Robo Advisors

Several of the factors listed above are sacrosanct in your decision to choose one Robo advisor over another. One of the leading Robo advisors currently on the market is offered by BMO. Clients are advised to thoroughly read the BMO SmartFolio review to ensure that they understand precisely what they’re getting before accepting a Robo advisor to take care of portfolio management.

The SmartFolio system used by BMO has already received plaudits from across the financial world. The adoption of FinTech technology doesn’t always meet with success when it is infused into traditional banking models – but in the case of BMO, it is resonating well. As the first large-scale Canadian bank to use a Robo advisor-style algorithm as part of its investment portfolio management system, BMO has succeeded where many others have not even ventured.

Canadian investors have the option of choosing a conventional investment approach to managing their portfolio, i.e. fund managers, in addition to partial semi-management of their own activity. However, the infusion of automated algorithmic software to process decision-making and trading activity is a welcome boost. The BMO SmartFolio paradigm is unique: BMO is the oldest Canadian bank, yet it is using the latest technology, and it is the first major Canadian bank to do so. The system generates stability, credibility and a combination of professional/self-management of account activity. Therein is its strength.

The integration of BMO online banking with SmartFolio’s wide range of automated actions is certainly reaping dividends. Multiple ETFs can be traded, accessed and managed via the BMO Global Asset Management System with SmartFolio. For the first $100,000 in asset value, the annual rate is just 0.70%. Any amount over $500,000 is billed at an incremental annual rate of 0.40%.

Multiple types of accounts are available, including tax-free savings accounts, joint investment accounts, registered retirement income funds, investment accounts, and registered retirement savings plans etc. The Robo advisor style platform is user-friendly, stable, and adaptive to changing technological constraints. Overall, Canadians are taking to it in their droves, and other banks are exploring ways to introduce similar technology to their clients.

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