Ads and promotional material for new investment services and robo-advisors tend to question the very concept of charging you fees for investing your money.
So are fees inherently bad? What, in theory, should you be getting exchange for the fees you do pay?
And how did anyone get away with charging fees before the days of low-fee and no-fee investment apps anyway?
Read on to find out.
What are you paying for?
No-fee investing apps like Robinhood weren’t always around, so what was it that a traditional investment adviser charged a client like you for?
There are a number of legitimate and valuable services that an investment adviser can offer — some of them go beyond what investment apps offer.
Investment policy statement
An investment policy statement (IPS) lays out important details of how your money is to be managed by your adviser. It’s like a contract that details things like your tolerance for risk, what your expectations are on your returns and what your ideal asset mix is in your portfolio.
It’s important to have details like this documented in writing so your agreement with your adviser is explicitly outlined. A smart investor knows the importance of an IPS.
If all your adviser is doing is managing your investment portfolio with no broader context, it’s not actually much of a service. In order to be truly effective, your advisor must have a genuine big-picture view of not only your investments but your finances as a whole.
Proper financial planning offers value beyond just managing your portfolio to ensure that no matter what’s happening in the market, your financial goals are being addressed.
Your investments are a means to an end, after all. If you’re saving for a comfortable retirement a couple of decades down the road, it’s your adviser’s job to design an overall plan that can withstand a bad stretch of financial news.
The value of the fees you’re paying is therefore considered in relation to your progress toward that goal, whatever that may be, rather than measured against where stocks are moving during a specific period of time.
This is arguably the most important aspect of a financial adviser, and a good one earns their fee several times over in this regard.
One way of determining whether you’re getting value for your money with an adviser is to measure things like accountability and accessibility. Experienced investors absolutely understand the value in this.
You’re paying for a service, after all, so you should have reasonable access to your adviser. Can you meet with them often? Are you able to reach them by phone or email, or do you have to deal with an assistant?
Having access to an investment expert is one of the main things your fees are paying for when you work with an adviser. Getting value for your money should include being able to discuss your investments and your needs with your advisor and have them be accountable to you.
How do investment apps compare?
Apps like Robinhood and Stash are positioned to offer investors the ability to make their own investing decisions.
In general, they give more power to you, the investor, and focus less on advice, which is one of the primary ways they’re able to offer lower (or in some cases no) fees.
Three of the most popular investment apps out there are Robinhood, Stash and Acorns, so let’s take a look at how they measure up compared to a traditional investment adviser.
The chief selling point of Robinhood is the fact that it doesn’t charge you a cent to trade stocks, options, ETFs and cryptocurrencies.
The app also allows you to set up customized notifications according to your investments and preferences, making it a breeze to keep track of your assets.
As a bonus, with Robinhood, you can get a free stock when you sign up for a new account. It’s decided via lottery, so there’s a chance you could end up with a free piece of a huge company like Facebook or Microsoft.
Investment app Stash emphasizes education and guidance to go along with low-cost investing.
In aiming to be of particular use to beginner investors, Stash provides some of the services of a traditional human adviser.
When you enroll for a Stash account, you’ll be asked a few questions about things like your tolerance for risk. Based on your responses, you’ll get personalized advice about what stocks and exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to invest in.
But you’ll have the ability to pick stocks and ETFs yourself using Stash’s risk breakdowns and investment synopses.
Stash also allows fractional trading, so for as little as $5, you can invest in big companies like Apple or Google without having to buy a full share, which can cost hundreds of dollars or more.
Stash does come with a small fee, $1 a month for Stash Beginner, which includes all the tools you need to begin investing.
Stash Growth costs $3 a month and includes all the Stash Beginner offerings along with a retirement account and tax benefits for retirement investing.
The premium Stash+ option costs $9 a month gives you everything the previous two include, plus investing accounts for your children and other bonuses.
Acorns is an automated micro-investing tool aimed at helping people new to investing experience the market without requiring deep knowledge of how everything works.
Acorns boasts a quick signup process that will let you set up a portfolio based on your risk tolerance in a few minutes. Then you can begin investing using round-ups on your debit and credit cards linked to your account.
Whenever you make a purchase with a linked card, Acorns rounds it up to the nearest dollar and invests the leftover amount.
Acorns also lets you automate recurring investments if you choose, and you can receive extra cash for investment when you shop at one of Acorns’ partnered brands.
For all this, Acorns does charges some small fees.
For $1 a month you can get an Acorns Lite account featuring all of the features already mentioned.
Acorns Personal costs $3 a month and also includes retirement and checking accounts, plus personalized financial advice.
The Acorns Family package costs $5 a month and lets you add children to your account and also gets you special bonus investments and investment advice geared specifically towards families.
So what should you do?
Comparing the fees you charged by investment advisers to what you pay for one of the newer investment apps really comes down to your own needs and how you want to serve them.
If your situation calls for a more hands-on approach, or if you simply prefer the peace of mind that comes with a professional overseeing your investments, then the ones at FacetWealth can provide a more holistic approach to investing.
But if avoiding fees as much as possible is your main motivation, then one of the apps mentioned above is probably the best bet for you, particularly Robinhood.
Stash and Acorns combine the low cost of a trading app with some of the basic educational and management aspects of a human adviser.