Investors Relying on Roboadvisers Are Seeking a Human Touch

Investors like Ms. Jones, who is a mentee of Mr. Matthews, represent both the potential and the pitfalls of apps that make buying stocks as easy as ordering a pizza. Mr. Matthews said that while digital investment tools had expanded access to people who couldn’t afford a traditional financial adviser, a gap remained when it came to investor education. “The limitations of D.I.Y. tools is that when the market is down, you make the wrong move and there’s no one to double-check with,” he said.

Mr. Matthews, who is Black, said he worried that a negative initial experience could turn off first-generation investors, particularly new investors of color, and dissuade them from effectively harnessing the market to build wealth over the long term.

“That’s why it’s important for me to work with a Black financial adviser, and talk about money with my friends and my family,” said Ms. Jones, who is also Black. “It was sobering. It was also kind of infuriating,” she added, as she began to learn more about how the market worked and to understand how even a modest investment, propelled by compounding returns, could generate a life-altering baseline of financial security. “It showed me what my family is missing out on, what I could be missing out on,” she said.

Advisers say that potential new clients are increasingly reaching out to ask about personalized guidance. Ms. Pennington is one of a number of advisers catering to younger or lower-income investors who charge either by the hour or use a flat-fee structure to make the cost of developing a financial plan more affordable.

“If we’re doing it right, that fiduciary component requires a human,” Ms. Pennington said. “An app is never going to have enough of the advice.”

Financial planners say the allocations they suggest for client portfolios are the endpoint — not the starting point — of an investment plan. They say that the time they spend with clients building trust and learning about their priorities pays off during times of market upheaval. “A lot of that isn’t academic. A lot of that is behavioral and emotional,” Mr. Ream said. “How do we create consistency and confidence in a client? That just doesn’t happen by assigning them an allocation based on answering a survey.”

Ms. Pennington said many of her new clients came to her after they tried to manage their investments themselves and realized they were in over their heads. “They were doing what the internet told them is a good idea,” she said. “There’s a lot of information out there, and a lot of it is conflicting,” she said, so investors have a hard time figuring out whose advice they should follow.


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