Mar 29, 2024 - Economy

AI financial advisers are here — and could disrupt the industry

Illustration of a robotic hand holding a glowing dollar sign.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

A new raft of AI-powered startups wants to disrupt the financial advice industry. Their pitch: Pay a flat fee once in a while when you need advice, rather than a percentage of your assets every single year.

Why it matters: Most Americans under the age of 55 don't need or even particularly want regular hand-holding and check-ins with a financial advisor. A well-constructed financial plan can easily last years until circumstances arise that require a new one.

  • "This notion of talking to your adviser once a quarter was built for the person who has $5 million who wants to pretend they're doing a really good job managing their money because they have an active management team who's looking at it," says Adam Dell, CEO of startup Domain Money. "It's all horseshit."
  • "The size of your portfolio has no bearing on the amount of work I'm going to do," adds Daniel Alfi, who just started Fifr, another flat-fee adviser.
  • "AI will make it radically cheaper on a per-client basis to serve people."

The big picture: Most of us can benefit from having someone knowledgeable who can dispassionately walk us through our financial situation. The rise of flat-fee advisory companies could make services broadly accessible for the first time.

  • Historically, financial advisory services have been bundled with asset management services — they come "free" if you pay 1% of your assets every year to the person managing your money. (Minimum "relationship": $500,000 or much, much more.)
  • As a result they've not only been very expensive, but they've also been entirely inaccessible to HENRYs (high earners, not rich yet) and other middle-class Americans who need help navigating everything from tax-advantaged savings vehicles to employee stock plans to the basic question of "how much can I afford to spend."

Between the lines: Great human advisers have seen almost every issue before and know how to handle it. They also, naturally, gravitate toward the richest and therefore most lucrative clients.

  • The bet being made by the new startups is that armed with powerful AI tools, many more advisers can become great, able to ingest huge amounts of financial information, analyze their clients' income, spending, and wealth in-depth, and provide truly bespoke financial advice — down to the level of individual tax lots.

How it works: At Domain Money, which provides an easy-to-follow financial plan for a flat $2,500, most clients already have money invested at a roboadviser like Betterment or Wealthfront, says Dell.

  • They understand the value of low fees but they also understand that such shops can help in terms of asset allocation but very little else.
  • Domain Money and its peers (Facet, Range, Playbook), aim to provide advice that goes well beyond investment strategy.
  • Some want to take custody of clients' assets, while others don't — but either way the fee is fixed, rather than being quoted as a percentage of assets. Sometimes it's a bit under $100 per month, other times it's a one-off fee in the low four figures.

The bottom line: A four-figure fee for financial advice can look daunting. But it often pays for itself in tax optimization strategies alone.

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