What are the negatives of robo-advisors?
Robo investing is low-fee and offers a service for newbies through advanced investors. Yet, robos have disadvantages as well as advantages.
Robo-advisors, sometimes called robo-financial advisors, are automated financial advisors that manage your investment dollars for the greatest returns with the least amount of risk. Some offer human financial access, others don’t. The various robo AI providers all offer their own twist to the service.
What’s not to love?
It sounds like the Holy Grail of Investing.
After all, you’re busy, you’ve got some money to sock away for tomorrow. You don’t want to make mistakes when you invest. Why not choose a robot to manage your money? They won’t be caught in malfeasance like Bernie Madoff or Wells Fargo. Or will they?
Don’t get me wrong, I love robo-advisors. I think they offer superb investment management for low fees. But, they aren’t for everyone and they are not all alike.
This article honestly evaluates the problems with robo advisors.
5 Cons of Robo Advisors
1. A con of robo financial advisors – you can’t choose your own investments.
There are scores of asset classes, and if you’re an investor seeking an extremely diversified portfolio that includes more investment choices than diversified U.S. and international stocks and bond ETfs, then you might not be a good candidate for a robo-advisor.
Most robo-advisors offer a limited number of ETFs. If you want a Global real estate ETF in your portfolio or a commodities fund and the robo advisor doesn’t offer it, then you’re out of luck.
Exceptions: M1 Finance allows you to choose your own investments and also offers a robo-advisor to manage them.
2. A con of robo advisors – limited contact methods and hours.
Some robo-advisors only offer email, chat box and text contact. Others have limited phone hours. Several robo-advisors aren’t accessible during the week-ends. This can be a problem, since you’re working during the week and attend to your investments on the week-ends.
Exceptions: There are a few robo advisors with week end contact hours and telephone access.
3. A disadvantage of robo advisors – frequent rebalancing might hurt you.
All robo-advisors rebalance your account. When you start investing, the digital investment advisor assesses your risk comfort and then creates an asset allocation plan. In other words, you have a certain percent of your money in stock investments and a certain percent in bond investments.
After market ups and downs your 70% stock v 30% bond portfolio might drift to an 80% stock v 20% bond mix. When your investment percentages get out of whack the robo advisor sells the over performing assets and buys more of the underperforming holdings to get the mix back to your preferred asset allocation.
Some robo advisors rebalance daily, others monthly, quarterly or other frequency. Excessive rebalancing could result in many transactions and fees. Also, sales in a taxable account can trigger capital gains taxes according to a CNBC.com article.
Exceptions: Less frequent rebalancing, or rebalancing based on 5 -10 percent drift from desired allocation is preferable.
4. A problem with robo advisors – some investors don’t understand that investment values can decline.
The S&P 500 annual investment returns for the past 11 years are predominantly positive:
S&P 500 Annual Returns 2009 – 2019
Data source: http://pages.stern.nyu.edu/~adamodar/New_Home_Page/datafile/histretSP.html
During the lifetime of most robo advisors, 10 years or less, the only negative return year of the S&P 500 was 2018.
Investors are typically happy, when their investment portfolios go up.
When the investment markets go south, as they do every so often, it’s unclear how investors will react. Will they flee their robo investment advisors?
Investors have recently discovered that robo-advisor returns go down as well as up – just like all financial assets.
New entrants into the financial markets might not have realized this basic investment fact. The price for the additional returns offered by the stock and bond markets is price volatility. In other words, prices go up and down.
The data isn’t in yet whether robo-advisor investors fled during the recent market declines.
Exception: There are actively managed robo-advisors that may may handle investment price fluctuations better than others.
Must read: 5 Robo-Advisors With the Lowest Fees
5. A Disadvantage of Robo Advisors – tax-loss harvesting can create headaches at tax time.
Tax-loss harvesting is when you sell a security at a loss for tax purposes. Then you use the loss to offset any capital gains you might have, up to $3,000. You’re not actually eliminating tax payments, you’re just deferring them.
Tax-loss harvesting is only done in taxable accounts, so those with retirement IRA robo-advisors don’t need to worry about this.
There are problems with tax-loss harvesting as they can create excess accounting paper work. Additionally, your robo-advisor must be mindful of the ‘wash rule’ which disallows any loss that occurs when a similar security is repurchased within 30 days. There’s dispute whether tax-loss harvesting is worth it or not.
Exception: Some robo-advisors ask to view your entire investment portfolio, not only the portion invested with the robo-advisor. That way they can avoid violating the ‘wash rule’.
Yes. We like robo-advisors because they allow you to grow your wealth in a sensible way. Robo investing comes in many varieties: with or without financial advisors, passive and active investing strategies, free and moderate fees.
Yes. Robo advisors use bank-level security and most offer two-factor authentication.
Yes. In general, robo-advisor fees are quite low. M1 Finance and Schwab Intelligent portfolios offer free investment management. Other robo management fees are below 1% – lower than most human financial advisors.
Wrap Up – Disadvantages of Robo-Advisors
Clearly, there are some problems with robo-advisors. Yet, in general they provide a sensible investment management alternative to higher fee financial advisors. Despite the cons of investing with robo-advisors, I like the ease and discipline of investing with a robo-advisor for many investors. When choosing to invest with a robo-advisor, read reviews and find the one that’s right for you.
If you’re considering investing with a robo-advisor, check out our free robo-advisor comparison chart.
Disclosure: Please note that this article may contain affiliate links which means that – at zero cost to you – I might earn a commission if you sign up or buy through the affiliate link. That said, I never recommend anything I don’t believe is valuable.