Robo-Advisors vs. Human Advisors

April 24, 2017

Investors have a choice today that they did not have a decade ago. They can seek investing and retirement planning guidance from a human financial advisor or put their invested assets in the hands of a robo-advisor – a software program that maintains their portfolio.

Why would an investor want to leave all that decision making up to a computer? In this era of cybercrime and “flash crashes” on Wall Street, doesn’t that seem a little chancy?  No, not to the financial firms touting robo-advisors. They are wooing millennials, in particular. Some robo-advisor accounts offer very low minimums and fees, and younger investors who want to “set it and forget it” or have their asset allocations gradually adjusted with time represent the prime market.

A cost-conscious investor may ask, “What’s so bad about using a robo-advisor?” After all, taxpayers and tax preparers use tax prep software to fill out 1040 forms each year, and that seems to work well. Why shouldn’t investors rely on investment software?

The problem is the lack of a human element. Investors at all stages of life appreciate when a financial professional takes time to understand them, to know their goals and their story. A software program cannot gain that understanding, even with input from a questionnaire.

The closer you get to retirement age, the less appealing a robo-advisor becomes. The software can’t yet perform retirement planning – and after 50, people have financial concerns far beyond investment yields. Software planning does not equal retirement planning, estate planning or risk management.

Additionally, robo-advisors have never faced a down market. They first appeared in 2010. Passive investment management is one of their hallmarks. How skillfully will their algorithms respond and rebalance a portfolio when the bears come out?

Does a robo-advisor have a fiduciary duty? Many investment and retirement planning professionals assume a fiduciary role for their clients. They have an ethical and legal duty to provide advice that is in the client’s best interest. How many robo-advisors have developed the discernment to do this?

The robo-advisor “revolution” may be fleeting. Why, exactly? The whole robo-advisor business model may invite the demise of many of these firms. Ultimately, robo-advisors may be remembered for the way they stimulated the financial services giants to offer low-minimum, low-cost investment tools. It appears the traditional approach of working with a human financial advisor may be hard to disrupt. The opportunity to draw on experience, to have a conversation with a professional who has seen his or her clients go through the whole arc of retirement, is so essential.

At HFG Wealth Management, we embrace a holistic method of financial planning known as Financial Life Planning™. We believe this is a financially effective and personally rewarding approach to creating a practical, lasting financial plan. As financial professionals using the life planning approach, our purpose is to assist individuals and families in creating a long-term vision that is consistent with their core values. At HFG we recognize that life events and life transitions can impact your financial responsibilities and your vision of the future. We are here to provide you with tips and strategies to get you started and help you reach your financial and life goals at every stage. For more information, please visit or call 832.585.0110.



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