Schwab plans to expand its robo-adviser beyond just ETFs

CEO Bettinger says firm may add mutual funds and individual securities to its Intelligent Portfolios platform

Nov 11, 2015 @ 1:46 pm

By Liz Skinner

Charles Schwab & Co.'s robo platform may move beyond just offering exchange-traded funds to a more complete investment menu, according to the company's top executive.

President and chief executive Walt Bettinger said the San Francisco-based company may add mutual funds and individual securities to its Intelligent Portfolios platform. He and Bernie Clark, executive vice president for Schwab Advisor Services, were speaking to advisers and other financial professionals at the 25th annual Schwab IMPACT conference in Boston on Tuesday.

(More: LPL lays out timetable for robo-platform)

"Right now it's structured around ETFs, I believe that we can take that engine and build it such that you can trade mutual funds in a portfolio," Mr. Bettinger said. "We might even get to a point where you have individual securities utilized within that tool."

In an interview with InvestmentNews, Mr. Bettinger declined to offer more details on the timing of when the additional investment capabilities might be available, but he did say, "Some of this is already in the works."

The firm's retail robo, Intelligent Portfolios, which was introduced in March, and Institutional Intelligent Portfolios, rolled out in June, currently provide clients with portfolios made up of low-cost ETFs. Together, they have attained $4.1 billion in client assets.

ATTRACT YOUNGER INVESTORS

Robo platforms use algorithms to provide investment advice online with little to no human contact. Many believe the technology can help attract younger investors before they get hooked on a competitor's platform.

Mr. Clark said he believes automated platforms are a great way to reach out and talk to the next generation "in the way they want to be talked to."

Mr. Bettinger agreed robo-advisers are a great solution for self-directed investors and can help advisers reach additional clients they don't serve today. However, he also said the impact robo-advisers will have on the industry has been over hyped.

(More: Robo says investors want a human touch in retirement accounts)

"I don't know that I can categorize anything that's been more overstated in its impact than robo-advice in the last 15 to 17 years," Mr. Bettinger said.

Schwab advisers, though, increasingly believe in the value of embracing a digital solution.

About 70% of advisers recently surveyed by Schwab said they could envision a digital offering playing a role in their business, up from 50% of advisers a year ago, Mr. Bettinger said.

He also said Schwab wants to "shake loose" the $23 trillion now held by investors with at least $500 million in assets that are not currently with registered investment advisers.

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