The origin of the term Robo Advisor comes from combining the words robo (from robot) and advisor, that is, a robotic or automated advisor.
Robo Advisors are also known as automated managers, since in fact, besides advising, they manage your money for you. So a Robo Advisor is a kind of financial advisor that offers an online investment portfolio management service through algorithms, automation, and is usually supervised by a team of expert investors.
Robo Advisors make it easier to create individual investment portfolios for each person, tailored to their possibilities. Portfolio creation and maintenance is fully automated.
The automated manager does it all:
Thanks to automation, this new alternative for capital management offers investors lower costs, and consequently, better returns.
The most common characteristics of Robo Advisors are:
Other less common features:
The first Robo Advisors appeared in 2008 in the US market. They were established with the aim of offering a service for simpler, smarter, more diversified investment.
Before their appearance, human financial advisers, not robots, used wealth management software to automate work, with a commission of between 1% and 3% of investible assets.
Riding on their great success in the US market, they entered the Spanish market in 2014. Although they have not yet achieved the same success in the Spanish market as in the United States, Robo Advisors are stomping in on the financial market and great growth is expected in the coming years.
The typical investment process for a Robo Advisor consists of 3 main steps.
1) First, clients do a test that lets us establish what their financial objectives, capital situation, knowledge of investment and their psychology is.
2) Once the user's investor profile has been established, the Robo Advisor assigns an investment portfolio adapted to the investor's risk profile.
3) Finally, the investors open their account, transfer the capital to be invested, and the Robo Advisor takes care of the rest, periodically rebalancing and optimizing their investment using different algorithms.
The most important Robo Advisors in the US market are:
The European markets feature:
Some investors are reluctant to use Robo Advisors as an investment tool as they think that it is a robot that decides where to invest.
However, that is not the case in the vast majority of cases. It is actually humans, expert investors, who decide where to invest. These are usually driven by long-term strategies. The robot automates everything that can be automated in order to avoid errors, save on costs and simplify the investment process.
Even though more and more people avoid going to their local branch to do banking business, another myth about Robo Advisors is that they cannot offer personal treatment. And that is not entirely tight either. It is in fact true that a Robo Advisor will not be able to offer such a personal, face-to-face treatment as that of traditional banking. The fact is that if it did, it could not offer the very low costs on offer. However, behind the phone call, chat, video call ... there will always be a human ready to help you.
Robo advisors are accessible to all kinds of clients, although the user profile that stands out most is people who feel at ease in the digital world, with technology, engineering, computing and finance.
People who seek the services of Robo Advisors generally want personalized advice to improve the returns of their portfolios and their savings.
What is most striking is that most users are men, and there are not all that many women who seek this type of service. Why? One reason is that, unfortunately, men have historically been better paid than women. However, as society redresses the income gap between men and women, it is to be expected that the number of women investing with Robo Advisors will balance out with the men.
As to age, 40- to 60-year-olds are predominant. Most live in large cities and have an average equity holding of 60,000 euros.
To sum up, automated managers are ideal for those who do not have time to manage their investments, who prefer to invest long-term, and want to start investing with little capital and diversified portfolios.
Concerning tax, Robo Advisors generally apply similar strategies to traditional services:
1) Using assets that in themselves provide tax advantages, for example investment funds (transferable).
2) Using instruments that are specifically designed to obtain tax deductions, for example pension plans.
3) To a lesser extent, applying specific tax optimization techniques.
In Spain—uniquely the only country in the world—it is possible to availing oneself of a tax deferral using transferable investment funds. Spanish investment funds are transferable. But foreign investment funds are also transferable if they register with the CNMV and have more than 500 participants.
In Spain, thanks to this tax deferral, when ordering the transfer, the money reimbursed from the source fund never passes via the participant, so there is no obligation to pay taxes at the time of the transfer and the money is used directly to subscribe the destination fund.
Remember that this possibility of applying deferral is only applicable to natural persons residing in Spain. In other words, a non-resident Spaniard may not apply this procedure, nor can a company.
Thus most Robo Advisors in Spain set up portfolios of transferable investment funds, which means that by definition they can use the transferability procedure for investment funds. This implies the following:
- When an investor transfers funds from another institution to the Robo Advisor, there will be no tax impact (if there are accumulated capital gains)
- When rebalancing or changes are made from one fund to another while they are transferable, no tax will be applied in the process
However, you must remember that:
- The possibility of applying this deferral is only applicable to natural persons residing in Spain
It should be remembered that deferral is not an exemption, it is simply a deferral or delay in the tax bill on capital gains. When we finally liquidate our positions, the corresponding taxes will be accrued on all the capital gains generated.
Even so, once it is understood that this is not a tax exemption, tax deferral is a component that helps improve the final returns due to the fact that we are also earning returns on the unpaid tax. This additional return will be as important or more important depending on the real return obtained by the fund or portfolio.
But on the other hand, it will be unimportant if performance is poor. Put to the extreme, if the yield is nil there will obviously be no tax benefit either. You can learn more on the subject in this study on the real effect of tax deferral.
In general, all Robo Advisors invest long term and they are not recommendable for investors who want to obtain sizeable returns in a short amount of time. In fact, we never recommend investing any capital that will be needed within the next 3 years, since in short periods the market may well be very volatile.
Robo advisors invest long term, since in this way they take advantage of the upward trend in the markets and they can offer considerable returns compared to the speculative investor. Numerous studies show that a good formula for success in the investment world is to establish a systematic plan with as long a view as possible.
In addition, thanks to the long term position, the investor can benefit from compound interest, the "magic" formula that increases returns exponentially as time goes by.
Another long-term benefit of investing with Robo Advisors is lower costs. By carrying out fewer operations, either selling or buying, the Robo Advisor can offer lower costs than those offered by traditional management services.
One of the great characteristics of Robo Advisors is the fact they are automated. Such automation is often based on algorithms. By using algorithms, the Robo Advisor can perform all those tasks where a person does not add value more quickly, efficiently and economically. For example, a Robo Advisor's algorithms are responsible for:
- Creating the investment portfolio—previously established by an expert investor according to Nobel Prize models—according to the parameters of each client: risk level, time horizon, etc.
- Applying such rebalancing as necessary to keep the portfolio aligned with the original distribution.
- Managing buying and selling to improve the tax situation of a portfolio.
- Assisting in operations to change strategy or tactical adjustments depending of the situation of the markets.
Many Robo Advisors use ETFs to create portfolios that are tailored to the risk level of the investor's profile, the horizon of their investment and their financial goals.
They use ETFs for various reasons:
- Because of their broad diversification, that is, when the investor buys into an ETF, he is really buying myriad stocks and other investments in bonds.
- Another reason is that they are passive and thus seek to obtain the same results the stock market offers, making it possible for the investor to obtain the same return as the market without the additional costs implied by attempting to outperform the market.
- They are very transparent, so the investor will know what assets the ETF has at all times and if it is doing its job.
- They are easy to buy and sell.
- They offer low fees.
These characteristics allow the strategy used by the Robo Advisor to work.
“The use of Robo Advisors is an evolution of the technological tsunami which has devastated traditional banking, and affects the financial services industry. The financial crisis has meant users have become dissatisfied with traditional banking, and this has meant that fintechs and Robo Advisors are developing at a rapid pace to better serve consumers of certain banking products. Robo Advisors have helped users of banking products focus on specific financial services, making the entire process simpler, more efficient, and more cost-effective.”
“Robo advisors offer a simple, straightforward, easy investment solution, which fits very well with the needs of a certain kind of client. Especially for those who are able to save and invest, but not enough to gain access to a personal financial advisor. But also for a user accustomed to using the Internet, who is increasingly moving away from the traditional banking sector. They have enormous potential for growth, not because they are going to be the star service, but because they are in a massive market where they are practically starting from scratch. Remember that going from a market share of 0.1% to 1% means multiplying by 10. And in this industry, that is many millions of euros. The big challenge for all these projects is how to differentiate themselves from each other. Indeed, the huge advantages of ease and simplicity become a threat from this point of view. That is why it is key to invest in creating a brand, to achieve recognition by the client, offering a service of the highest quality in usability and customer service.”
"I think we are definitely entering phase 2.0 of robo-advisors. The promise of the robo-advisor boom—which in the United States was more than 5 years ago—has only been partially fulfilled. In general, the robo-advisors bubble has blown worldwide in terms of clients and in assets captured. The focus in this second phase of robo-advisors will be more on personal finance rather than portfolio management, and the big challenge will not be so much on financial products—which to a certain extent have already been invented—but in everything that implies correcting the behavioural deficiencies of humans—the client's and the human advisor's—when making savings and investment decisions. It will also be a phase in which some of the robo-advisors that have disappointed survive and begin to take advantage of real disruptive growth rates, which are now hardly perceptible."
“In my opinion, in the medium term Robo Advisors are going to become a real alternative to investing in banking products, that is, they will be recognized by most people who want to begin investing. It is a matter of spreading the message of the importance of costs and independence in management. Something that is basic and that too many people are unaware of. Traditional banks are still very influential in these decisions, and opening the minds of small investors is a fight against the tide. Still, I firmly believe that sooner or later people will wake up to these facts. It's a matter of patience and persistence."
"We believe that investments in Robo Advisors have only just begun in Spain and that from now on they will show exponential growth, just as they did in the United States where confidence in this type of investment is the same as for investment in the rest of traditional funds. In Spain we are more averse to new forms of investment or savings, especially when the internet is the foremost medium, but with the new generations everything is pointing at a promising future for Robo Advisors, since their presence and management is fundamentally through the network and that generates greater confidence and attraction among young people. We therefore expect to see a growth in money managed by the main Spanish Robo Advisors in the coming years."
"Fintech firms are revolutionizing the financial sector; they use the latest technology, they are easy to use, quick and with very low costs. They are therefore very attractive for the generation Xers and millennials accustomed to using new technologies and looking for alternatives in the digital sphere. It is not surprising that Robo Advisors are gaining so much strength in Spain; fortunately we are seeing this change in the Spanish investment culture. The high commissions and the poor returns offered by traditional banking has made investors explore new alternatives that are more affordable, simple and at the same time with high returns and diversification. That is why Robo Advisors are growing quickly and are considered by many to be the investment of the future. Portfolio customization and a wide variety of investment strategies make this product a suitable choice for any investor."
"Robo advisors more than satisfy the investment needs of the majority. They allow anyone with no knowledge of finance to have a fully diversified portfolio, personalized to their level of risk and with a return that crushes traditional investment funds in the long run. All this with such low commissions that banks simply cannot compete. It is a matter of time before people realize and consign a proportion of their savings there. In the coming years, as Spanish society grows in financial culture because of the uncertainty about pensions, automated managers will experience unprecedented growth. There is currently considerable flight of capital managed by banks to Robo Advisors, and this is expected to become more pronounced in the future. Robo advisors will acquire market shares similar to more financially advanced countries like the United States."
“Robo advisors are a way of investing in low-cost index funds automatically, without you have to concern yourself. Although in Spain this is still a relatively new product, in other countries it already equals active management and everything is pointing towards the same happening here. In this sense, we think that initiatives like InbestMe are going to help popularize this system and make it even easier for all those who want to make a go of this type of investment.”