The market for digital financial advice has expanded so rapidly that you almost need a financial advisor to navigate the options.
More than two decades into the automated movement, assets managed on digital platforms are poised to skyrocket.
According to the Aite Group, a consultant to the financial services industry, “robos” will be managing $1 trillion by 2020, or four times the assets managed at the end of 2017. Other research is predicting an even rapider ascent.
Less certain–to some–is what that will mean for hundreds of thousands of investment professionals, whose extinction has been predicted by the most evangelical technologists.
Rob Foregger, co-founder of NextCapital Group, says that is not going to happen.
“In our view, ‘human vs. computer’ is a false choice, and a false debate that’s been hyped in the media,” Foregger told BenefitsPRO.
That’s a telling perspective. As a cofounder of Personal Capital, the third largest independent retail robo-advisory that now manages more than $6 billion, Foregger has been at the forefront of the digital investing movement.
After leaving Personal Capital, he joined with the founders of Business Logic to launch NextCapital in 2014.
The Chicago-based firm’s managed account platform bears similarities to other automated providers. Portfolios are customized based on inputs like age and risk tolerance. Money is allocated to passively managed ETFs and mutual funds.
NextCapital receives no third-party payments, assuring non-conflicted fiduciary advice. Glide paths are administered through proprietary methodology–NextCapital’s is based off its Retirement Index, which tracks asset allocations among the largest target-date funds. Investments are automatically rebalanced in accord with investor goals.
And it’s all done for a relative pittance—25 basis points, according to the firm’s Form ADV filing.
While that could be interpreted as a salvo to incumbent advisor models, Foregger says NextCapital is betting its technology can actually improve investment providers’ bottom lines.
“Our focus is on augmenting the human advisor, and helping them scale the number of clients they can deliver fiduciary advice to,” said Foregger.
Earlier this month, NextCapital announced $30 million in Series C financing led by Oak HC/FT, a venture capital firm specializing in early and growth-stage health care and fin tech companies.
The cash will be used to grow NextCapital’s institutional business, says Foregger. Partner firms can onboard the managed account platform to deliver automated advice through broker and advisor channels. Russell Investments, State Street Global Advisors, John Hancock, and Transamerica are among the institutions using NextCapital’s software.
What the firm does not do is white label one robo-solution, underscored Foregger, who says the firm is focusing on the 50 largest financial institutions.
“We help our partners manufacture their own flavor of personalized, scalable advice,” he said. “Different advice methodologies, capital market assumptions, asset classes, personalization methods—those configuration points are defined by the partner, and allow for a radically different experience from one to the next.”
Partner firms also establish their own price for digital advice. NextCapital charges a one-time implementation and configuration fee, and draws fee revenue from assets managed through its platforms. “The pricing structure is designed to be highly aligned with partner success,” said Foregger.
The company would not supply AUM figures, but a spokesperson said revenue has more than doubled since its last funding round two years ago.
Going forward, Foregger envisions partnerships with DCIO providers, broker-dealers, and recordkeepers with proprietary investments; some will want a seamless rollover solution embedded in the technology; others won’t.
Each entity can brand itself through a bespoke, configurable platform, something Foregger believes all channels will have to do to compete as trillions migrate to automated platforms in the next decade.
“The puck is moving to personalized and scalable advice,” said Foregger, who believes the financial services industry will continue to transition from a focus on product manufacturing to advice manufacturing.
Regulatory initiatives—namely, the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule—have expedited that evolution. But consumer preference will continue to drive the trend, he says, irrespective of whether the rule lives or dies.
“The move is still afoot to kill the rule outright,” said Foregger. “Mixed signals are being sent, but the spirit of the rule is in effect. In general, industry continues to prepare for the fiduciary future. It’s going to be the winning business model.”