Matt is a Certified Financial Planner® and investment advisor based in Columbia, South Carolina. He writes personal finance and investment advice, and in 2017 he received the SABEW Best in Business Award.
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When it comes to investing money, there've been two basic options throughout much of modern history. You could either choose your own stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investment vehicles, or you could hire a financial advisor to do it for you. Both have their drawbacks -- investment allocation can be tough if you don't really know what you're doing and hiring a financial advisor can be expensive.
Thanks to technological advances in the brokerage world, there's now a third option -- the robo-advisor. Robo-advisors automatically invest your money in a way that is appropriate given your age, goals, and risk tolerance, and at a fraction of the cost of hiring a human financial advisor.
Ellevest is one of the best robo-advisor platforms in the industry and is specifically designed to help women take control of their financial futures. The company was founded by former Merrill Lynch Wealth Management CEO Sallie Krawcheck in order to help women meet their financial and professional goals. In this review, we'll take an in-depth look at how the Ellevest robo-advisor platform works, what it costs, and the features it offers to investors.
Our ratings are based on a 5 star scale. 5 stars equals Best. 4 stars equals Excellent. 3 stars equals Good. 2 stars equals Fair. 1 star equals Poor.
With a competitive management fee and no account minimum, this is a great broker for a variety of people. Their ability to factor in woman oriented financial issues is a unique plus!
0.25% management fee
Competitive management fee: Ellevest has two levels of service for robo-advisor clients. The Ellevest Digital service is the company's online investing platform and has a 0.25% annual management fee, which translates to $25 on a $10,000 investment account. This is very competitive within the industry. Ellevest Premium has additional features (more on that later) and charges 0.50%, which is highly competitive when considering the services provided.
No minimum balance: Unlike many robo-advisors, Ellevest's basic service has no minimum deposit requirement to get started. You can literally open an account with $1.
Women-oriented: Ellevest refers to itself as a company "designed by women, for women." Ellevest's data and recommendations take into account factors like gender pay gaps, career breaks, and the difference in the average lifespan between men and women. To be clear, while Ellevest was founded with women in mind, the company welcomes clients of all gender identities -- it just places more emphasis on those gender-related issues when analyzing clients' situations.
Financial planning: While Ellevest's base level of service doesn't come with access to human financial advisors, the premium version does. These are Certified Financial Planner® professionals, and unlike many competitors, premium members get a dedicated CFP®, meaning they'll talk to the same planner every time. That 0.50% annualized management fee is significantly cheaper than hiring a CFP® to manage your portfolio and give general financial advice. Not only that, but Ellevest Premium comes with one-on-one career coaching as well -- something a financial planner is unlikely to provide.
Automatic rebalancing: Most robo-advisors automatically rebalance client portfolios, but this is still worth mentioning. If your portfolio gets out of alignment with your goals, Ellevest will automatically make adjustments. And, Ellevest does it on an as-needed basis while some competitors only rebalance at certain intervals, such as twice a year.
Low-cost ETFs: Ellevest invests client assets in low-cost exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, which have expense ratios ranging from 0.05% to 0.10% for Ellevest's core portfolios. For the Impact Portfolio options, the annual expenses are in a slightly higher (but still competitive) 0.13%-0.19% range. Ellevest's Impact Investing portfolios focus on investment vehicles that are focused on social issues that involve women, such as funds of companies that do a great job of advancing women in leadership roles.
What could be improved
Tax-loss harvesting: Ellevest offers tax minimization strategies, such as using investments like tax-free municipal bond funds in taxable accounts. However, unlike some of its competitors, it doesn't offer tax-loss harvesting strategies. If you have a large amount to invest or are in a high federal income tax bracket, tax-loss harvesting could be a valuable benefit to you.
Account types: Ellevest offers individual brokerage accounts, as well as traditional, Roth, and SEP IRAs. It does not offer joint brokerage accounts (in other words, you can't open an account with your spouse), nor does it offer trusts, college savings accounts, solo 401(k)s, and more. However, it's worth mentioning that Ellevest does provide 401(k) guidance to its clients.
How Ellevest works
Ellevest is similar to most robo-advisors in that it starts by asking a series of questions about things like age and investment goals. It then uses your information to craft an investment portfolio made up of low-cost ETFs designed to produce maximum returns while staying within your acceptable risk level. You then make your deposits and Ellevest will do the rest.
Like all robo-advisors, Ellevest creates custom-made investment portfolios for its clients based on their personal situations, with a particular focus on gender-related factors. The platform automatically rebalances client portfolios to stay on track, offers an emergency savings account feature, and has one of the lowest cost structures among our favorite robo-advisors for their basic (Ellevest Digital) service.
Ellevest also offers a premium version of its robo-advisor service to people with $50,000 or more to invest. The annual management fee of the premium offering is 0.50%, but it comes with one-on-one career coaching and financial planning help from Certified Financial Planners®.
Pricing and fees
Ellevest's pricing structure is certainly competitive with the rest of the robo-advisor industry.
There are two main types of fees that investors should be aware of when choosing a robo-advisor. The first is the account management fee, which covers the cost of the robo-advisor's services. This is expressed as an annual percentage of assets. Ellevest charges a 0.25% annual management fee for Ellevest Digital and a 0.50% annual management fee for Ellevest Premium.
The other type of fee is the expense ratios charged by the exchange-traded funds, or ETFs, that Ellevest uses to construct client portfolios. These are also annual percentages of assets.
Ellevest has an all-in cost structure that is very competitive with most rivals, especially for its advisory-only Ellevest Digital platform.
|Account management fee||0.25%-0.50%|
|Investment fund fees||0.05%-0.19%|
|Other account charges||None|
Customer service and support
There are two types of support that clients of a robo-advisor could need -- investment advice from a human being and help with technical issues. So let's take a look at how Ellevest stacks up.
As we've discussed, clients with at least $50,000 to invest can opt into Ellevest Premium, which includes access to CFP® professionals as well as Executive Coaches to provide career counseling. And not only that, but clients will talk to the same financial planner every time. Ellevest Digital customers don't get access to real, live professionals.
When it comes to technical support and account help, Ellevest offers support by phone, text, and Facebook from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST, as well as email support.
Alternatives to consider
There's no one perfect robo-advisor for everyone, and there are alternatives that could be better for certain investors. For example, if you have a large account balance and need tax-loss harvesting and aren't terribly concerned with having access to financial planners and career counselors, you might want to consider TD Ameritrade Essential Portfolios instead.
|Feature||Ellevest||TD Ameritrade Essential Portfolios|
|Access to financial advisors||Yes, for premium members||No|
|Account minimum||None ($50,000 for Ellevest Premium)||$5,000 ($500 with automatic deposits)|
Ellevest is right for you if:
- You want an investment and financial strategy that is tailored to your specific needs, including gender-specific factors.
- You want access to a dedicated Certified Financial Planner® professional and/or a career counselor.
- You want to get started investing, but don't have a ton of money to contribute right away.
- You want to open an individual brokerage account or IRA.
- You aren't terribly concerned with the tax implications of your investments or are planning to invest in a tax-advantaged (retirement) account.