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How 'robo-investing' is managing money for the masses

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-31608677
How 'robo-investing' is managing money for the masses
3/2/15

"Robo-investing" - using COMPUTER algorithms rather than humans to manage your investments - is a white-hot sector attracting lots of start-up cash.

There are now several companies here in the US promising that their algorithms can get more bang for your investment buck at a fraction of the price charged by traditional investment managers.

Managing your portfolio, diversifying your investments and handling your TAX liabilities can all be done automatically 24/7.

And machines aren't swayed by fear and greed, the primary emotions that often drive very poor investment decisions. They can crunch terabytes of data and take a global, long-term view, spreading your investments across geographies and asset classes, from bonds to equities, INDEX FUNDS to property.

'New-fangled'
Just don't call it "robo-investing", says Adam Nash, chief executive of Wealthfront, one of the leading companies in the field, managing more than $1.8bn (1.2bn) of client assets.

"I've never actually heard a young person refer to robo-investing since I've been here." He joined Wealthfront in 2013.

"It seems to be uniformly a term used by older financial advisers to make fun of the new-fangled tech that these kids are using. EXPEDIA is not a robo-travel agent; I don't buy movie tickets on my robot phone."

He suggests "automated investment service" instead. As a former employee of eBay, Apple and LinkedIn, who has a COMPUTERscience degree from Stanford and a business degree from Harvard, he should know.

In fact, many of the people running the companies that are igniting this new generation of personal investing combine advanced SOFTWAREengineering skills with strong business acumen.

Inevitably, some are likely to end up as household names and on billionaire lists in the not-too-distant future if they can achieve their ambition of expanding investment to the masses.

Jon Stein, the founder and chief executive of Betterment, is another good example. Educated at Columbia Business School and Harvard, he went on to write the initial code for Betterment's website.

"We do everything from end to end," he says. "We do your statements and TAX integration; we do all the ACH [Automated Clearing House] transactions; we do the accounting and record keeping.

"We are able to make that process much more efficient and optimised around trading personalised portfolios."

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