Betterment retirement robo attracts 300 companies to 401(k) platform

Automated-adviser says professional services firms are especially interested in its retirement advice technology

Dec 1, 2016 @ 10:00 am

By Liz Skinner

The Betterment division that provides robo retirement advice has attracted about 300 mostly small companies to its automated 401(k) platform during its first 10 months in operation.

Betterment for Business has seen an especially large interest from medical and dental practices, law firms, architecture firms and technology companies, said Cynthia Loh, general manager of the unit.

(More: Betterment rivals tap into wide open 401(k) market for robos)

“These firms like that every single employee on the platform gets their own personalized advice,” she said.

Its employer-sponsored plans range from startups for companies that have never offered their employees such a benefit to one that converted a $25 million plan from a traditional 401(k) provider to Betterment's digital approach.

Betterment has about $6.2 billion in assets under management in its retail, retirement plan and adviser-focused divisions.

In comparison, Financial Engines has been providing automated-advice for retirement accounts for two decades, and it has about $125 billion in assets under management.

(More: Older investors use both financial advisers and online advice)

A much newer digital retirement platform Dream Forward, a firm started by former Corporate Insight analyst Grant Easterbrook, on Thursday announced a partnership with Barnum Financial Group, part of the Mass Mutual family, for an automated 401(k) platform that integrates artificial intelligence.

The firm doesn't share how many plans it has, Mr. Easterbrook said.

Plan participants of the 300 businesses using Betterment's 401(k) platform typically have access to about 30 passive exchange-traded funds, according to Ms. Loh.

While the robo-adviser recommends which investments the participant should be invested in and to what degree, participants can always change their allocations online, she said.

“Typically we don't see that very often, because this is a long-term investment account,” Ms. Loh said.

Its 401(k) platform allows participants to link up all their accounts, and even those of their spouse, so the personalized investment recommendations for the 401(k) plan takes into account those other assets, too.

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