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Robo advisors vs financial advisors

Automated advisors are a key player in financial portfolios — but are machines better than people?

Robo advisor vs. financial advisor: What’s the difference?

The main difference between robo-advisors and financial advisors is that the first is a fully automated computer algorithm that trades and balances your portfolio on your behalf, while the latter is a person who helps you organize your finances from investments to retirement and children’s education plans.

Robo-advisors cost less than financial advisors, mostly because they’re automated and can perform only one task: to automate investment strategies. All you have to do is set up specific parameters, such as your financial goals and risk, and the algorithm will allocate your funds accordingly.

Financial advisors, on the other hand, can provide tailored financial plans for your situation. On top of investment advice, they can provide services such as debt management, budgeting, tax management and estate planning.

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Benefits and drawbacks of robo-advisors

  • Minimal human error. Forget panic selling or impulse buying — robo-advisors lack messy human emotions that could interfere with long-term financial growth.
  • Lower fees. The cost of an automated advisor is less than what you’d pay for a human one.
  • No awkwardness. If you’ve ever been in the uncomfortable situation of not getting along with your financial advisor, you’ll appreciate this benefit.
  • Automated advisors can’t get to know you. Even the most sophisticated computer algorithm can’t sit down with you and explain things to you.
  • Robo-advisors can’t handle complex portfolios. These advisors aren’t best for large, complicated portfolios. The rule of thumb is that assets of six figures or more need the human touch.

Benefits and drawbacks of financial advisors

  • Advice beyond investment. Financial advisors can help you with your debt management, budgeting, spending habits and other financial responsibilities.
  • Can save you time and money. If you’re unfamiliar with some aspects of investing or tax management, hiring the right advisor can save you time and money.
  • Create a strategy. Financial advisors can help you create a long-term financial strategy for your retirement or children’s education plans.
  • Cost. Most advisors charge a fee equal to a percentage of your portfolio each year, typically up to 1%. Some advisors, though, charge a flat fee between $2,000 and $7,500 annually for portfolio management. Consultations typically cost a flat fee per hour.
  • Can’t automatically rebalance your portfolio. Financial advisors require time and discussions to manually adjust your portfolio.

Robo-advisor vs. financial advisor: fees

Fees for using a robo-advisor or human advisor vary based on the company you go with — and even vary among human advisors.
Top-level private advisors, for example, tend to charge a lot more than beginning or standard firm advisors. Some companies charge fees that reflect a percentage of your assets, while others may impose an annual or initial investment fee.
Still, robo-advisors are typically more affordable than human advisors. Here’s what you’ll pay for automated advisors through big-name providers.

Options or portfoliosMinimum investmentAnnual percentage or fee
VanguardIncludes a personal human advisor for the best of both worlds$50,0000.30%
Charles SchwabInvestor ratio$00%
BettermentAdd-on human advisor option$100.25%
WealthfrontAdvanced Indexing for accounts of $500,000+$5000.25%
Assets management human advisorHuman management$01.25% to 1.75%
Fee-only human advisorHuman managementVaries$1,000 to $5,000

Robo-advisor vs. financial advisor: Which one should I choose?

Robo-advisors work well for basic portfolios that aren’t overly complex. They are also helpful if you’re on a budget, typically offering lower fees than human advising services.
But if you have a sizable investment, complex investment goals or simply prefer to do business face to face, a human advisor might be a better fit. Financial advisors are more flexible and adaptive than robo-advisors, and they can help you with various financial goals. So if your long-term financial goals extend beyond a diversified portfolio, consider a human advisor. Your portfolio’s size should also factor into this decision: If you’ve got assets of six figures or more, a human may be your better bet.
That said, there are situations in which using both a robo- and human advisor may be advantageous. As your portfolio grows, so will your goals. Hedging your bets and splitting your investments between an algorithm-driven service and a human advisor could help diversify your interests.

Compare robo-advisors

1 - 4 of 4
Name Product Ratings Available asset types Minimum deposit Cash sweep APY Signup bonus
Frec
Finder Score: 4.3 / 5: ★★★★★
Frec
★★★★★
Stocks, Mutual funds, ETFs
$20,000
5.01%
N/A
Low-cost direct indexing. Plus, trade individual stocks and earn up to 5% yield with a Frec Treasury account.
Wealthfront
Finder Score: 4.5 / 5: ★★★★★
Wealthfront
★★★★★
Stocks, ETFs
$500
5%
Get $50
Automated stock and bond ETF investing with the ability to trade individual stocks for as little as $1 apiece.
Titan
Finder Score: 4 / 5: ★★★★★
Titan
★★★★★
ETFs
$500
N/A
While not technically a robo advisor, Titan offers a hands-off investment platform that seeks to outperform the market.
Acorns
Finder Score: 4 / 5: ★★★★★
Acorns
★★★★★
Stocks, ETFs
$0
Get a $20 bonus
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*Signup bonus information updated weekly.

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Bottom line

  • Robo-advisors are automated computer algorithms that allocate your funds and constantly rebalance your portfolio.
  • Financial advisors are humans who help you with your finances from investments to retirement and children’s education plans.
  • Robo-advisors are typically better suited for smaller portfolios and cost less to operate.
  • Financial advisors are typically better for larger portfolios and for complex financial planning.

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Written by

Jennifer Gimbel

Jennifer Gimbel is senior managing editor at Policygenius and a former editor at Finder, specializing in personal finance. Jenn's expertise and analysis has been featured on MediaFeed and other outlets. She holds a BS in arts administration from Wagner College, with minors in economics and journalism. See full profile

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