By Christopher Robbins/ FA-mag.com
Vanguard is probably best known for their low-cost mutual funds and ETFs, but its robo-advisor service is earning superlatives as well.
Vanguard’s Personal Advisor Services tops the first edition of “The Robo Ranking,” a report released this week by Martinsville, N.J.-based Backend Benchmarking, the publishers of “The Robo Report.” Like “The Robo Report,” the ranking incorporates the researchers’ real-time performance analysis of roboadvisor portfolios.
“Vanguard has a compelling offer: professionally managed accounts, rebalancing, live advisors, full-service financial planning and a portfolio that has outperformed over the past two years, all for a management fee of 0.30 percent,” said the report, which also notes that Vanguard’s low-cost indexing approach has proved especially successful in the two-year study period that the report is based on. Vanguard also benefits from its size. At over $110 billion AUM, the Personal Advisor Services offering is the world’s largest robo-advisor.
Drawbacks to Vanguard’s offering include limiting Personal Advisor Services to proprietary funds and low levels of transparency: The company does not make the performance and construction of their model portfolios available online.
The researchers combined performance, as measured by Sharpe ratio and returns compared to a normalized benchmark index, and cost with qualitative measurements of a robo-advisor’s services, platform, company and features.
An overall “robo score” was granted using 45 metrics organized into eight main criteria: performance, cost, the quality of financial services offered, user interface and customer experience, product features, access to live advisors, transparency and conflicts of interest, and account minimums. Finally, the researchers also gave some weight to the size and tenure of robo-advisors, arguing that larger and longer-tenured products are less likely to be discontinued.
Based on Backend Benchmarking’s overall scores, Betterment offers the second-best robo-advisor, earning high marks for user experience, including an intuitive website and simple but high-quality planning tools, according to the report. Betterment’s overall score has lagged with the performance of its portfolios, according to the researchers.
Overall, SigFig offers the third-highest-rated robo-advisor in the report, offering the second-best performing portfolios (after Vanguard), a low 0.25 percent annual fee and account aggregation tools.
The lowest scoring advisors overall, Personal Capital, Future Advisor and Acorns, suffered from poor relative performance, higher account minimums and lack of access to advisors, the report said.
Backend Benchmarking also noted winners of several sub-ranking categories: For example, Vanguard was recognized for offering the best performance at a low cost. Personal Capital won laurels for being the best robo-advisor for those with complex financial planning needs and for best digital financial planning tools, thanks to digital account aggregation and cashflow planning, the ability to plan for multiple goals, and the ability to access a live advisor. Betterment was recognized for being the best robo-advisor for first-time investors.
In the future, the rankings will include a sub-ranking recognizing the best robo-advisor from an incumbent financial institution, according to Backend Benchmarking. The Robo Ranking reports will also be released twice a year, the company said.
The top 10 advisors ranked in the first edition of the report were:
No. 10 – Acorns, 45.05
No. 9 – FutureAdvisor, 49.82
No. 8 – Personal Capital, 55.85
No. 7 – WiseBanyan, 70.06
No. 6 – Wealthfront, 72.19
No. 5 – Schwab Intellligent Portfolios, 73.04
No. 4 – E*Trade, 75.33
No. 3 – SigFig, 78.07
No. 2 – Betterment, 78.71
No. 1 – Vanguard Personal Advisor Services, 79.66