Vanguard and Charles Schwab’s rollouts of robo-advice platforms have surpassed standalone robo-advisors partly due to an existing connection to a large client base, but their true draw may lie in offering the human element in the process, Bloomberg writes.

Yet robo pioneers Wealthfront and Betterment may have more of an in with younger clients, according to the newswire.

Vanguard, which has grown to $3.4 trillion in assets through the sale of low-cost index mutual funds, has been able to attract $12 billion to its Personal Advisor Services platform since its launch in May through December, the newswire writes. Meanwhile, Schwab’s Intelligent Portfolios service, launched early 2015, was able to attract $5.3 billion. Both far surpass Wealthfront and Betterment’s $3 billion each, according to Bloomberg.

Part of Vanguard’s success is due to the fact that 90% of its robo-advisor client base came from existing connections with the company, according to Bloomberg.

But the real difference between the industry vets and the startups is that Vanguard and Schwab pair up their robo-advice customers with a human advisor, according to the newswire.

At Vanguard, customers have to speak with an advisor after answering the typical robo-advisor questionnaire, which determines portfolio allocation based on risk profiles and goals, Bloomberg writes.

That chat lets Vanguard advisors fine-tune the plan based on savings and other assets, Karin Risi, managing director and head of the retail investor division at the company, tells the newswire. Meanwhile, Schwab’s robo-platform customers, while not required to talk to a human advisor, can contact an FA by phone or email, Bloomberg writes.

“There is something about money that is different from booking a hotel,” Nancy Koehn, a Harvard Business School professor, tells Bloomberg. “People have anxiety about money. I think the human element matters even if you don’t use it.”


Vanguard CIO John Marcante tells that human advisors can also help talk clients “off the ledge” when markets are choppy, as well as manage expectations and provide emotional support. The “improvisational capabilities” of robo-advisors remain limited, writes.

But Wealthfront and Betterment believe there’s room for both types of companies in the robo-advice market, projected to grow to $285 billion by 2017, according to Aite Group data cited by Bloomberg.

In part, it’s because they’re going for younger investors, according to Adam Nash, chief executive officer of Wealthfront, the newswire writes. Around two-thirds of Vanguard’s robo platform customers are retired or approaching retirement, and around half of Schwab’s robo clients are over 50, Tobin McDaniel, president of Schwab Wealth Investment Advisory, tells Bloomberg.

“The presence of Vanguard and Schwab — consumer-friendly companies — is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Burton Malkiel, author of A Random Walk Down Wall Street and a champion of index investing who’s currently the chief investment officer of Wealthfront, tells the newswire.