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Digital Wealth Disruption: The Competition Evolves

At first, robo advisors caused some advisors to worry about competing and surviving in a market shifting toward millennials and low costs. Now, they're facing the same concerns.

It's true that assets of online managed accounts are expanding rapidly; advisory firms continue to roll out their own robo offerings; venture capital continues to flow into digital wealth provider platforms, as valuations for some close in on $1 billion, while deals for tech providers reach record figures. 

But underlying these positive trends are nagging concerns about performance, survivability and profitability of many digital wealth providers. 

Despite company pronouncements to the contrary, algorithm-based robo advisors saw assets drop during the recent correction. Even the most successful platforms aren't expected to be profitable for another decade, but they are already engaged in expensive advertising campaigns to gain clients. 

All this activity is occurring, industry analysts point out, in a segment that still represents just a sliver of the total investment market. 

And the analysts of Corporate Insight predict that the "true disruption of this industry" hasn't even happened yet, but will if this one thing happens. 

Read on to find out more about their prediction and other key trends in digital wealth management or click for the slideshow here-- Suleman Din

"Whether leading startups in this category like Betterment and Wealthfront will remain independent in the long run is up for debate, but one thing is clear: low-cost online managed accounts are here to stay," according to the authors of Next Generation Investing 2015: Digital Advice Matures.

"Across the board, firms have acknowledged that the automated investment advisor has hastened an increased investment in advisor technology … firms are not simply pursuing one tactic, but are selecting a combination of strategies," note the authors ofWealth Management Trends 2015.

Duran said United Capital will be offering up a white label version of its financial life management platform and announcing an acquisition of a robo solution in the fourth quarter.

"Algo-advice providers saw a 64% increase in assets in paid algorithm-based accounts from April 2014 to December 2014, from $8.9 billion to $13.9 billion. This success may be short-lived, however, as assets fell to $13 billion by July of this year."

Stein made his predictions as the digital wealth manager announced it was introducing a 401(k) offering for businesses in September.

"Robo advisors will have to use much of the capital they raise to pay for tends to hundreds of millions of marketing dollars needed to gather assets and reach a profitable scale … it could take a decade or more to recoup advertising costs," warns Morningstar analyst Michael Wong in his report, Hungry Robo-Advisors Are Eyeing Wealth Management Assets.

He estimates the break even client asset level for robo advisors is from $16 billion to $40 billion, about 8 to 20 times the current client asset level of leading robo firms.

"Most wealth managers recognize that their clients are using self-service channels. To that end, adoption of self-directed tools has accelerated over the past two years," Celent analysts note.

Corporate Insight's authors of Next Generation Investing 2015: Digital Advice Matures leave readers with an unsettling prediction of what's next:  "The true disruption of this industry probably will not occur until firms like Google and Amazon -- with their massive war chests, deep understanding of data analysis and beloved brands -- turn their sites on the retail investing market."

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