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Wells Fargo’s Robo is Pricier Than Competitors

March 28, 2017

Wells Fargo is betting that having access to a live financial advisor will convince clients to put up higher minimums and pay more for its robo-advice platform than for its competitors’ platforms, the Wall Street Journal writes.

The company’s Intuitive Investor automated advice service requires a $10,000 minimum investment and costs 0.5% of assets annually, according to the paper. The minimum may change during the testing phase, which the company is conducting with its own brokers and executives before letting investors try it, Angie Lai, director of digital programs at Wells Fargo, tells the Journal. But the pricing is likely staying the same, she says.

By contrast, Merrill Lynch’s Edge Guide Investing platform and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios only require a $5,000 minimum, while Wealthfront requires $500 and Betterment has no minimums, the paper writes. All of these platforms charge fees ranging from 0.25% to 0.45% of assets, except Wealthfront, which only starts charging 0.25% on accounts with more than $10,000, according to the Journal. Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, meanwhile, comes with a hefty $50,000 minimum but charges only 0.3%, the paper writes.

But Wells Fargo’s pricing reflects that clients will have access to a financial advisor by phone, as well as to Wells Fargo Advisors’ investment expertise, Lai tells the Journal. Betterment also believes human advisors should come at a premium, but it offers clients the option to get help from live advisors for an extra 0.15% to 0.25% fee, according to the paper.

What’s more, Wells Fargo and other full brokerages aren’t necessarily competing with pure robo-advice pioneers such as Betterment and Wealthfront, William Trout, a senior analyst at research firm Celent, tells the Journal. Rather, they’re aiming to tap into their existing client base, he says. Wells Fargo is targeting its retail bank clients who currently don’t receive any form of advice, Lai tells the paper.

Wells Fargo Advisors had partnered with robo-advisor SigFig in November to launch its digital advice platform. It’s one of several large brokerages to get into the robo game in recent months. Most recently, Goldman Sachs posted a job ad seeking help designing a robo-advisor.

Mutual-fund giant T. Rowe Price announced a platform earlier in March, Merrill Lynch launched its digital advice platform last month, and Morgan Stanley is introducing one later this year.

By Alex Padalka
  • To read the Wall Street Journal article cited in this story, click here.