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Robo-Advice Still a Novelty for U.S. Investors

Robo-Advice Still a Novelty for U.S. Investors

Story Highlights

  • Less than half of investors are familiar with robo-advice
  • Only 5% are highly familiar with it or have already used it
  • Sizeable segments consider robo-advisers economical, simpler

PRINCETON, N.J. - "Robo-advice" is not yet a widely known service among U.S. investors. Just five percent of U.S. investors say they have heard a lot about robo-advisers and 40% have heard a fair amount or only a little, while the rest have heard nothing.

U.S. Investors' Familiarity With Robo-Advisers
Robo-advisers are digital advisory services that use computer algorithms to select stocks and other investments for people based on the information people provide about their risk tolerance and goals. How much have you heard or read about robo-advisers before now?
May 13-22, 2016
%
A lot 5
A fair amount 12
Only a little 28
Nothing 55
No opinion *
Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey

Given this low awareness, adoption has been slow. Just 5% of investors say they have already used robo-advice. Another 5% indicate they are very or somewhat likely to try it in the next year, and another 10% are not too likely. However, a full 80% either say they are not likely at all to use a robo-advisor (25%) or are not familiar with the technology (55%).

These findings are from the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey, conducted May 13-22, 2016, among 1,019 U.S. investors. In the survey, robo-advice was defined as "digital advisory services that use computer algorithms to select stocks and other investments for people based on the information people provide about their risk tolerance and goals." Approximately 40% of U.S. adults meet the survey's criteria as investors, which are having $10,000 or more invested in stocks, bonds or mutual funds, either in an investment or retirement account.

Investors Rate Human Advisers Higher on Most Qualities

The survey asked those who have heard at least a little about robo-advisers to say whether each of 10 positive qualities in an investment advisor applies more to robo-advisers or human advisers.

Human advisers lead on almost all qualities measured in the survey. However, on the continuum of things investors think humans do better, robo-advice is perceived relatively well on a few process-oriented items. Investors choose robo- over human advisers for charging lower fees. And at least one in four investors associate robo-advice with simplifying the investing process (36%), being more reliable in turbulent markets (30%) and matching clients' investments to their risk tolerance (29%).

U.S. Investors' Perceptions of Human vs. Robo-Advice
Next, as I read some statements about financial advisers, please say if you think each applies more to human advisers or more to robo-advisers?
Robo-Adviser Human adviser
% %
Charges lower fees 63 26
Simplifies the investing process for investors 36 57
Is more reliable in turbulent markets 30 61
Matches clients' investments to their risk tolerance 29 62
Is focused on investors' best interests 21 72
Makes good investment recommendations 18 70
Takes each client's entire financial picture into account 15 77
Advises clients on risks they are taking 10 83
Makes people feel confident about their investments 5 90
Helps people understand their investments 3 91
Based on investors who have heard about robo-advisers
Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey

Additionally, about one in five informed investors think robo-advisers are more likely than human advisers to be focused on investors' best interests (21%) and make good investment recommendations (18%). Along the same lines, 15% think robo-advisers take their client's entire financial picture into account. All of these qualities relate to the competence or integrity of financial advice.

At the same time, human advisers almost completely overshadow robo-advice on three communication-centric skills: helping people understand their investments, making people feel confident about their investments and advising clients on the risks they are taking.

Investors Most Value Integrity and Communication in Investment Advice

Gallup and Wells Fargo also asked all investors to say how important each of the 10 qualities is to them in deciding what type of advice to use to help manage their investments. The top-rated qualities all relate to integrity or communication, which investors see as weaker areas for robo-advice compared with human advice.

For the most part, human advisers are strongly preferred when it comes to the aspects of advice that are most important to investors, such as being focused on the investor's best interests and taking the investor's entire financial picture into account. By contrast, robo-advisers fare better, at least on a relative basis, on some of the least important factors -- particularly simplifying the investing process and having the lowest fees.

Two somewhat important areas to investors on which they rate robo-advice relatively well are matching investors' investments to their risk tolerance and being more reliable in turbulent markets -- both dealing with the competence of investment advice.

U.S. Investors' Ratings of Importance of Investment Advice Qualities
How important are each of the following in deciding what type of advice to use to help manage your investments -- extremely important, very important, somewhat important or not too important?
Extremely/Very important
%
Is focused on your best interests 84
Takes your entire financial picture into account 81
Makes good investment recommendations 79
Helps you understand your investments 75
Matches your investments to your risk tolerance 75
Makes you feel confident about your investments 72
Is more reliable in turbulent markets 69
Provides advice about how much risk you should take 66
Simplifies the investing process for you 64
Has the lowest fees 42
Based on investors who have heard about robo-advisers
Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey

Bottom Line

"Robo-advice" provides consumers with a convenient way to customize and manage their investments online, relying on computer algorithms to design and manage portfolios. Because the technology is still in its infancy, few investors have fully embraced it or think it outperforms human advisers. However, enough investors already recognize its advantages for streamlining the investing process that investor demand for blending it with human advice is likely to grow.

Future installments in Gallup's analysis of this poll will review who already uses robo-advice and who is most interested in using it in conjunction with a personal adviser.

Survey Methods

Results for the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index survey are based on questions asked May 13-22, 2016, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, of a random sample of 1,019 U.S. adults having investable assets of $10,000 or more.

For results based on the total sample of investors, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index works.

Gallup


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