Robo-Advisor vs Financial Advisor: Which Is Better?
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Robo-Advisor vs Financial Advisor: Which Is Better?

Dion Lim
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I started out as an investment and personal finance clutz when I first joined Seedly.

But thankfully, with the guidance of the Seedly team and the help of some  useful investment guides, I was able to kick start my investment journey during Black Monday 2020.

However, as I continue to make investments and get better at personal finance.

I can’t help but wonder if I should engage someone more experienced, like a financial advisor, to help me manage my investment portfolio.

And more importantly, my finances as a whole.

Pistachio Wanting To Improve her Investment Game

Especially since I could potentially spend up to $397,056 by the age of 30 — that’s a lot of money I’ll need to put aside.

With more financial services becoming going digital, alternatives like robo-advisors have emerged in the investment scene.

This got me thinking, “Could robo-advisors one day replace financial advisors?”

After all, a study has noted that robots could potentially wipe out 20 million jobs by 2030.

Pistachio Deciding Between Robo-Advisor and Financial Advisor

So.

Robo-advisors vs financial advisors, which is better? And which of the two should I choose?

The Emergence of Robo-Advisors and What Are They?

Introducing Robo-Advisors

As the name suggests, robo-advisors are robot advisors.

To be specific, they are digital platforms — driven by models and algorithms — that provide investment services with little to no human supervision.

They will help to build and manage your investment portfolio based on your risk profile and investment objectives.

It’s basically a low-cost financial product for investors with a passive investment strategy.

Since a lot of investors, like myself, don’t have a lot of capital to begin with, this is what makes them increasingly popular today.

Comparison Between Robo-Advisors and Financial Advisors

Introducing Financial Advisor

On the other hand, financial advisors are professionals who help you make decisions with regard to money matters, personal finances, and even investments.

Essentially, both have the same objective of helping people discover their financial needs and providing suitable recommendations to achieve their financial goals.

But, which of the two is better?

Fight Between Robo-Advisor and Financial Advisor

After reading through the discussions in the Seedly Community, here are a few key differences between the two:

1) Cost Incurred

Cost As Basis of Comparison

Financial advisors typically charge anywhere between 2% to 3% (or sometimes more) of the value of your portfolio, while robo-advisors usually charge less than 1%.

As an investor, you’ll want to keep these fees as low as possible.

Because in the long run, they’ll eventually eat into your returns.

The reason why robo-advisor fees are a fraction of the cost of a financial advisor is because (almost) everything is done by algorithms and computers.

This limits or minimises human intervention, so there isn’t as many man-hours or labour involved.

Overall, robo-advisors have the advantage here as they are a low-cost alternative to financial advisors.

And this is great news for undergraduates or fresh graduates like me who don’t have a lot of capital but wish to start investing early.  

2) Depth of Portfolio Management

Depth of Portfolio Management As Basis of Comparison

When you first sign up with a robo-advisor, you’ll need to complete an online questionnaire to create a profile which details your risk appetite and investment objectives.

Subsequently, the robo-advisor will recommend you a few investment portfolios that are tailored to your profile.

Think of it as taking a personality test in order to find a career path that suits you best.

On the other hand, a financial advisor will perform an in-depth financial assessment to understand stuff like:

  • your short-term and long-term goals (eg. saving up for a wedding in five years time)
  • your commitments (eg. paying for a BTO flat or a car loan)
  • your investment objective (eg. to retire by 65 years old)

This is where a financial advisor shines because an online questionnaire can only reveal so much.

Whereas a financial advisor is able to understand your unique circumstances and provide more personalised financial solutions to help you better reach your financial goals.

#3 Level of Contact

Level of Contact as Basis of Comparison

Robo-advisors make use of algorithms to automatically buy and sell assets.

Depending on the type of portfolio you are on, robo-advisors are able to react immediately to market changes.

This is a more efficient method as compared to a financial advisor where you would need to meet him or her in order to discuss and adjust your portfolio based on your objectives.

(You could speak over the phone as well, but I guess it’s always easier to discuss such matters in person!)

That being said, money is something that is extremely important for us to be able to achieve our aspirations and dreams.

Unlike robo-advisors, a financial advisor is able to show empathy which is something you might need when dealing with something as important as money.

 #4 Level of Control

Level of Control as Basis of Comparison

With robo-advisors, you’ll usually build a passive, indexed portfolio.

All you need to do is fund your account, and let the algorithms do the work of rebalancing and adjusting your portfolio as required.

With a financial advisor, you can choose to be as active as you want.

You have greater investment flexibility and can actively adjust your investment portfolio to your liking.

Note: adjusting your portfolio will incur fees (either through market commission, platform rates, and also your advisor’s fees) so even though you have the option to do it as often as you’d like, you should still try to limit it as much as possible to prevent fees from eating into your returns

#5 Type of Services

Type of Service as Basis of ComparisonThe services offered by robo-advisors are usually limited to investments only.

You pick a portfolio, put money into your account, and the robo-advisor will invest it for you.

With financial advisors, they can also provide additional services such as insurance, tax planning, retirement planning and estate planning.

If you need help with investing with your CPF or Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS), they can also provide advice and guidance.

Basically, a financial advisor is more than just an investment manager.

The good ones also act as life coaches, educators, and planners to help you succeed in life.

Naturally, these value-added services are also why financial advisors cost more than robo-advisors.

So… Which of the Two Is Better?

Can’t decide between a robo-advisor or a financial advisor?

Well… you should really be making our decision based on your needs as an investor.

Type of Investor

Are You a Beginner or an Experienced Investor?

Given the low cost and barrier to entry, robo-advisors are arguably better for beginners who have less capital and less confidence about investing.

That being said, you should still understand what you’re getting into and not just blindly sign-up with a robo-advisor after reading this.

Alternatively, if you’re more experienced, then you might need more options in order to fulfil your investment objectives.

As such, a financial advisor is probably a better idea.

Are You an Active or Passive Investor?

If you have a passive investment strategy, then a robo-advisor might be all you need.

However, if you’re a more active investor and would like to learn more about investment opportunities, then a financial advisor might be a better choice.

A good financial advisor should be able to answer your questions, give context, and provide recommendations.

In a way, having access to a mentor who can provide sound financial advice and information is extremely invaluable for someone who is just starting out.

Do You Have Time or No Time?

If you don’t have time, a robo-advisor that automatically rebalances or adjusts your portfolio for you is a life-saver.

A financial advisor, however, requires frequent meetups to perform checks on your financial health and investments.

It’s not a bad thing.

But since it’s a more personalised service, it’s understandable that face-to-face interaction is needed to make sure that your interests are taken care of.

Thoughts on Investing With Robo-Advisors or Financial Advisors

Ultimately, the biggest factors when deciding whether to go with a robo-advisor or a financial advisor would be how advanced you are as an investor, and what type of investor you are.

Personally, I believe that setting aside a part of our investment portfolio to invest in robo-advisors is something worth trying!

Portioning Part of Investment Portfolio to Robo-Advisor

And while many of us would like to go only invest with the “best” robo-advisor

The truth is there is no “best” robo-advisor.

Rather, it’s what suits us and our investment portfolio best.

As always, we should ALWAYS do our due diligence to find out more about a financial product before putting our money in.

After all, it is still OUR own money that we are investing with.

How Can I Find out More About Robo-Advisors?

Have questions about robo-advisors?

Want to learn more about the different types of robo-advisors in the market?

Well, you’re in luck!

We’ll be having a special SeedlyTV episode, RoboWars 2: Choose Your Fighter, on 6 May 2020, 8pm!

Seedly TV Episode 4

Where there’ll be representatives from Autowealth, EndowUs, Kristal.Ai, StashAway, and Syfe who will be answering your questions LIVE.

In fact, you can even start asking your questions now!

I Have A Question About Robo-Advisors!

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About Dion Lim
Busy undergrad by day, an aspiring entrepreneur by night. Fuelled by floorball and doodling, I chomp on bite-size pieces of finance to prep for an adventure that won’t make me yawn.
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