FutureAdvisor: stuck between a (Black)Rock and a hard place

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26 August 2015
William Trout
In May 2014, CNBC reporter Eric Rosenbaum concluded an interview with FutureAdvisor CEO Bo Lu with a straightforward question. “So who acquires FutureAdvisor ultimately, or who do you become?” Replied Lu: “No one acquires us. We become the next-generation financial advisor.” Insert drum roll. In fairness to Lu, the pressures that led to the acquisition by BlackRock were just starting to unfold at the time of that interview. As I note in a previous blog post, the robo advisor phenomenon has been veering from a direct to consumer model to B2B for some time. Motif, Betterment and now SigFig are all examples of firms bent on securing advisor-led distribution. How could things be otherwise? Portfolio management has been commoditized, and the significance (namely, pressure on fees) of this development weighs as heavily on the automated advisor as on the “man and his dog” RIA. The launch of Schwab’s zero fee Intelligent Portfolios was a clear sign of where pricing is heading. And with hints of a market correction as visible as the changing fall foliage, it made sense for Mr. Lu and his friends at FutureAdvisor to get out while on top. I’ll talk about the impact of this deal in my next post.

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