The $5 Billion Mark Hit by Robo-Adviser Firm Betterment

As financial technology startups broaden the reach of investing services and offer lower fees than many traditional wealth manager, Betterment LLC has becomes the first independent robo-adviser to have surpassed $5 billion in assets under it active management.

Since it was founded in 2008, this pioneer of automated investing has been witness to substantial growth even though it is still a small player in the multitrillion-dollar wealth management industry.

Jon Stein, the co-founder and chief executive officer of the company said that before new clients signed up and current members added funds to their accounts, assets under management were $1 billion just 18 months ago.

Amy Shapero is being brought over in the new role of chief financial officer by Betterment with the aim of helping manage the rapid growth. Shapero has previous experience at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Credit Suisse Group AG even though he has been in the fintech field for a few years only.

In the US, automated online investing is gaining popularity. Management consulting firm A.T. Kearney Inc. estimates that from about 0.5 percent of total invested assets last year, the funds managed by robo-advisers will increase to 5.6 percent in 2020.

With occasional guidance, most of the funds that will be invested with robo-advisers are being managed by the investors themselves and aren’t currently with wealth managers, forecast a study that was conducted by the firm last year.

The pool of funds is large enough to go around and that it was never a question of robo-advisers vs. traditional wealth managers, Stein and others have argued. Customers enter their financial information and goals to get automated advice where the robo-advisers offer online investing powered by algorithms. The average account balance in Betterment is $29,000 and the company has no minimum investment norm. $10 million is the largest amount invested by an individual in the company for wealth management.

However Betterment’s had a troubled path to reach $5 billion. After Britain’s vote to exit the European Union, the firm halted trading for customers from the start of the session at 9:30 until noon on the day and was caught some backlash  just a few weeks ago. The firm acted without alerting its clients beforehand was the main point of contention.

However there is no regret for Stein about about the decision.

“At the height of the media interest on the day of Brexit, we had a nearly 50 percent increase in signups over the previous day,” he said.

An alert to Betterment’s app would be considered, he said. Given the lack of a personal relationship with an individual adviser, what robo-advisers would do in bear markets is a question that has left both clients and outside observers wondering.

Betterment will first have to add more new products, such as its relatively new 401(k) offering that now has more than 150 companies signed on before ad whenever a potential initial public offering comes up and Stein has said that going public is the future he sees for the firm.

Shapero said new revenue streams will be an area of focus.

Putting its valuation at $7000 million, Betterment raised $100 million in a new funding round this year.

(Adapted from Bloomberg)

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