Robo-adviser customers are often considered to be young, tech savvy investors with little money, seeking a low-cost passive investment approach.
As the online investment management model matures, more of these financial technology, also called fintech, players are targeting older, higher-net-worth investors with a broader range of products and services, including financial and tax advice, mirroring offerings from traditional money managers.
An example is Wealthsimple's new Wealthsimple Black product, which offers premium services, such as personalized financial planning and tax strategies, and lower fees for clients who invest more than $100,000.
Other robo-advisers, such as WealthBar Financial Services and Nest Wealth Asset Management, also offer some customized products and services that aren't usually associated with the computer robot model that robo-advisers are nicknamed after.
The broader approach comes as a growing number of older, wealthier investors look to robo-advisers as a lower-cost alternative to traditional money management, even if just for part of their portfolio. The average age of robo-adviser clients today is around the mid-40s with average investments ranging from between $35,000 to well over $100,000, depending on the firm.
More investors may also consider robo-advisers in the weeks ahead, once they see their management fees from financial adviser presented in dollar terms, instead of percentages, on their new portfolio statements. The change, which comes as part of the second phase of the Client Relationship Model, known in the industry as CRM2, could be a shock to some investors – and send them out in search of lower-cost options.
Trying to lure older, higher-net-worth investors is a smart strategy for robo-advisers today, says Pauline Shum Nolan, a finance professor at York University's Schulich School of Business.
"Millennials are a great market, but they don't have that much money, yet. That explains why they're exploring other avenues," she says.
Still, Prof. Shum Nolan says robo-advisers need to offer a growing number of products and services, such as financial planning and a broader range of exchange traded funds (ETFs), if they want to attract this richer clientele.
"They won't be happy with just a few ETFs," says Prof. Shum Nolan, who is also co-founder and CEO of PW Portfolio Analytics, a fintech that provides portfolio data and research to banks and pension funds.
"If you are going to appeal to high-net-worth clients, you have to customize … and provide more hybrid advice."
Wealthsimple has targeted young professionals since it launched a couple of years ago. Since then, the fintech has noticed many of its newer clients are parents referred by their existing millennial customers.
"We've found that child-parent referral has been a huge source of new clients for us," Wealthsimple founder and chief executive officer Michael Katchen says.
To help cater to older, wealthier investors, Toronto-based Wealthsimple has added more tools such as retirement income calculators and more financial planning guidelines, as well as its new Wealthsimple Black product.
"It signals the broadening of a low-cost investment service for all Canadians," Mr. Katchen says. "One of our missions is to provide high-quality investment services that historically have only been available to the ultrahigh net worth, and make it accessible to everybody."
He says the lower 0.4-per-cent management fee for Wealthsimple Black clients, compared with 0.5 per cent for its Wealthsimple Basic investors, is also more doable now that the business has grown.
"The economics of the business has changed. We can afford to bring down the cost to our clients," Mr. Katchen says.
Randy Cass, founder and CEO of Toronto-based Nest Wealth, says his company has always focused on higher-net-worth investors looking for an alternative to traditional money managers – and who are comfortable with digital wealth management options.
"We've always thought this is where the market exists," Mr. Cass says.
Nest Wealth charges its investors a subscription fee of between $20 and $80 a month to invest in low-cost ETFs across seven assets classes as well as, "personal portfolio manager and customized wealth management solutions," according to its website.
"When someone is moving a six-figure account to you, they really do expect a level of sophisticated portfolio creation that many of the players in the market don't provide," Mr. Cass says. "From Day 1 we've done that."
Tea Nicola, cofounder and CEO of Vancouver-based online wealth management firm WealthBar, says growth in the industry – including from higher-net-worth clients – is being driven in part by increased awareness and trust in the online management model.
"We are still in a very small market share in Canada and even in North America in the robo-adviser world," she says.
She says WealthBar is seeing a growing number of higher-net-worth clients who don't need overly sophisticated financial advice in areas such as trusts or succession planning. Still, she says, they want to pay low fees and see competitive returns.
"Performance is going to be very important in decision making for high-net-worth investors," she says.
Ms. Nicola says WealthBar will continue to improve its products and technology to attract investors, including personalized services.
"I do believe that our initial focus on the personal touch has attracted some of the higher-net-worth investors," she says. "People do want to talk to their advisers and have that connection."