Betterment gets the big picture in launching aggregation function

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14 March 2016
William Trout
In a recent post, I pointed out the failure of Wealthfront and other robo advisors to offer an account aggregation function. How, I ask, can an advisor that takes into account only a slice of client assets claim to offer much in the way of advice? Last week, Betterment addressed that criticism head-on, launching an aggregation function developed by next gen data service Quovo. Betterment spokesman Joe Ziemer told me that the roll out underscores his firm’s desire to serve as the client’s “core financial picture on assets.” In other words, Betterment wants to be the gateway through which the client manages the whole of their financial affairs. It should be noted that this ambition transcends portfolio management to include data on mortgages and other loans held by the 13,000 banks and other institutions from which Quovo can pull data. The core functionality, however, revolves around managed investment assets. Among other capabilities, Betterment can provide a broad based fee analysis, as well as measure “cash drag” (i.e., the impact of keeping funds in cash) on all holdings, not just those held by Betterment. Except for 20-somethings just now building their nest eggs, most investors have accounts at multiple institutions. They and their advisors need an asset aggregation function that can capture all these assets. Simply put, without one hand knowing what the other hand is doing, informed decisions are impossible. As we approach the imposition of a uniform standard for financial advice, it’s time we define what advice means in practice.

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