Robo advisors are opening financial services to a younger generation of investors and savers and to a middle class eager for low-cost access to the markets—right?
Not so fast, acccording to a new study by Jefferson National that seems to turn that conventional wisdom on its head.
“If you look at the technology, it’s being adopted by the mass affluent,” said Mitch Caplan, CEO of the Louisville, Ky.-based insurance company. “The research tells us that advisors are using technology to serve older, more affluent clients.”
The found advisors slightly more likely, at 52 percent, to be using robo services for clients with more than $1 million in investable assets than they were for those with less, at 48 percent.
Furthermore, the study found that baby boomers were as likely to be engaged with robo services as millennials, at 49 percent, with Generation X leading early adopters at 70 percent.
“None of this surprises me,” Caplan said. “What we’re finding is that robo advising is about finding a digital experience for people already engaged with advisors, and the AUM is the common denominator. We’re still at the beginning, when you think about the absolute dollars under advisement being in the trillions, and the number of dollars in the robo-advisory movement being in the tens of billions.”
Caplan is no stranger to the digital space. In 1998, he became CEO of Telebanc, an early entrant into the world of branchless, online banking that was later purchased by eTrade. In 2003, Caplan took the helm of eTrade as CEO, leaving the post in 2007.
“At that time you could see where the world was going,” Caplan said. “It’s now clear to me that when you look at every consumer demographic, there is some part of their behavior that is self-directed and another part that requires an advisory experience.”
Just 25 percent of advisors are extremely or very familiar with robo services, while another 31 percent say they only know the name, according to the study.
“Advisors as a group are driven by what’s happening broadly in the marketplace,” Caplan said. “As there is more discussion in the marketplace about how robo advisors are a digital experience which should be embraced and adopted, you’ll see more recognition.”