Winner: Vanguard Personal Advisor Services
Runner-Up: Personal Capital
Honorable Mentions: Ellevest & Wealthsimple
Digital-only platforms currently lack the high degree of sophistication and customization needed for complex financial planning. Therefore, investors looking for more personalized advice and tailored portfolio allocations still need to work with live advisors. In order to justify the level of customization being offered, such services typically have higher investment minimums than digital-only products.
Due to its position as one of the largest asset managers in the world, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services can build comprehensive plans with live advice for all of its robo clients for a low fee of 0.30%, a sizable discount compared to similar offerings that offer live advice. At Vanguard, all planning centers around the direct client–advisor relationship. Working with an advisor, users can plan for multiple long-term investment goals and receive a complete illustration of their financial life by building a personal financial plan encompassing all of an investor’s various accounts. While their digital planning tools are not as robust as those offered by Personal Capital, their individualized approach, available to all clients, stands out. For those with complex planning needs, Vanguard is a quality option due to their emphasis on the human experience and their low costs.
Personal Capital also excels in this category due to their best-in-class digital planning tools. Their free digital planning tools are flexible and can handle a broad set of income and spending goals. When the digital planning tool falls short, all Personal Capital investors have access to live advisors to handle complex planning needs. Through their tiered service model, the level of portfolio customization and advice services offered increases with the amount of assets under management. For those investing more than $1,000,000 with Personal Capital in their Private Client service, they offer custom portfolios that include individual stocks and bonds as well as exposure to private equity.. Compared to other leading digital advice providers, the biggest detriment to Personal Capital are high fees, which currently start at 0.89%. Fees aside, Personal Capital was one of the few advisors in our ranking with a perfect score in the financial planning category.
Both Wealthsimple and Ellevest earned honorable mentions for complex financial planning. Investors in their highest service levels, Wealthsimple Generation and Ellevest Private Wealth, receive individualized planning and investment services comparable to those offered by Personal Capital’s Private Client offering. Ellevest, which specifically caters to women investors, also has the unique feature of offering career coaching to help their clients navigate salary negotiations and other career challenges. Wealthsimple, on the other hand, provides live advisors to all of their clients, regardless of service level. Both platforms also have better accessibility, as Vanguard and Personal Capital require $50,000 and $100,000 minimum investments, respectively.
The Robo Ranking™ is the only comprehensive ranking of robo advisors that includes not only the features and services, but also portfolio performance, sourced from real accounts tracked by Backend Benchmarking. The Robo Ranking™ goes well beyond performance and grades the robos across more than 45 specific metrics. We scored each robo on various high-level categories, such as features, financial planning, customer experience, access to live advisors, transparency and conflicts of interest, size and tenure, account minimums, costs, and performance. Each metric where we grade the robos is specific and unambiguous. See the full scoring rubric here