Is the Upcoming Merrill Lynch Robo-Advisor for You?

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If you have been an investor for years and years, you might not be too thrilled about letting a bunch of machines manage your money for you. If you are a millennial or if you have been upset with your money manager or broker, maybe you feel differently. The theme of low-cost robo-advisory services has been growing in recent years. Some investors feel this may be the biggest change since the launch of exchange-traded funds.

Now Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), via Merrill Lynch’s Merrill Edge is getting into the game. The firm is soon to launch the Merrill Edge Guided Investing. They are calling it an online investment advisory program combining the best of online investing with a professionally managed portfolio. Investors will still get to speak with financial advisors and they can change up how their plans are to be managed.

This new low-cost plan will generate a recommended investment strategy designed by Merrill Lynch investment experts. It will consist of a recommended diversified portfolio of exchange-traded funds which are said to be aligned to each investor’s needs.

Merrill Lynch’s Guided Investing will be targeted at investors who can start with as little as $5,000.00 and comes with a low 0.45% annual fee.

Merrill Lynch’s Chief Investment Office is developing the investment strategies for Merrill Edge Guided Investing. This includes providing its recommendations of exchange traded funds and related asset allocations.

While this effort towards robo-advisors may be a tad different, the reality is that almost every firm is making strides to enter or grow its piece of the pie. Vanguard, Schwab and Fidelity have already launched, as have Betterment and an endless number of other start-ups.

What investors will have to be comfortable with is that robo-advisor accounts are discretionary, meaning that however they are set up they will invest client assets however the plan is set up.

Over the summer, a director of Cerulli Associates was quoted by CNBC as having predicted that the total assets managed by robo-advisors will rise some 2,500% by 2020 — to a whopping $489 billion.

The SEC has even set up a Fintech forum to take place on November 14 in Washington, D.C. The panels at the forum will discuss issues such as blockchain technology, automated investment advice (robo-advisors), online marketplace lending and crowdfunding.

Some professionals remain skeptical of robo-advisors. Others are viewing them as an opportunity. The field is still young enough that many firms will be making tweaks and adjustments to how they want to treat robo-advisory in the quarters and years ahead.

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