Getting Started with Robo-Advisors

Until pretty recently, getting into investing could be a time- and energy-consuming process. You could diligently track and watch stocks, bonds, and funds, creating spreadsheets of historical data, reading up on well-known investors’ strategies, and basically throwing all your free time at the challenge. Or you could take the money-consuming path and pay someone else to do all that for you… but there were often minimum limits that obstructed anyone without $500k in the bank from being able to hire out.

It takes time to make graphs. Or it takes a lot of ca$h to meet minimum requirements.

Luckily we no longer live in that time, and there is a very handy tool at all of our disposal called Robo-Advisors! The basics on robo-advisors is that they are “a method to automate the asset allocation of investments via a computer algorithm.” Alternatively known as the “set it and forget it” method, this takes a lot of the complexity out of investing and hands it over to some robot friends. There are often human advisors stepping in and making some decisions that require assistance (taxes, retirement planning, estate allocution), but other than that, your hard earned money is being put to use by tools and machines that have no awareness of you as a person. This, to me, is the best case scenario because humans make mistakes. When an algorithm is the only thing in charge of making decisions, you’re more likely to come out on top.

Hi, I’m a robot! I can invest for you!

And come out on top is exactly what robo-advisors have been doing as of late! Global assets under robo-advisor management has increased 100% in the last year (from a measly 100 billion in 2016, up to 200 billion in 2017) and is on track to top 8.1 trillion by 2020. And the U.S. has more than 200 robo-advisors in play.

There’s definitely some literature dissuading against them because lots of people are convinced that robo-advisors are steadily approaching a financial cliff, but honestly, the market as a whole is volatile, so would you rather put your faith in a human who has emotions, vacations, dinners with the in-laws, and their own day-to-day to deal with, OR a robot whose sole purpose is maintaining your balance and pushing it up and towards the right? While consolidation among the top robo-advisors is probably imminent, I still like the idea of an impartial party leading my investment strategy.

In that vein, here are my top tips for investing with a robo-advisor:

  1. Just do it! I think a lot of the struggle behind investing is confusion and lack of knowledge. Robo-advisors have helped make investing more accessible and many of them have minimum limits of $500 or $1,000. While that can definitely sound like a lot, it’s really fun to watch that $500 become $550 within a year, and is a great motivator to keep adding.
  2. Set up automatic deposits. I have a set percentage of my paycheck automatically sent to robo-advisors which I find a lovely way to keep funding your investments without having to think about it.
  3. Set it and forget it. Base investment knowledge is all about “don’t touch it!” Once you have an account set up, try your best not to mess with it (that means don’t withdrawal funds!).

Now you may be thinking, this all sounds well and great, but how and where do I go about doing this? I use Wealthfront and Betterment as my robo-advisors (and Vanguard and Ameritrade for directed investments) and have really enjoyed my experience with them. However, NerdWallet is my go-to for a rundown of all the differences. Check them out and let me know if you use a different service!