Ellevest

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Ellevest is a unique robo-investing platform designed especially for women.That may sound a bit corny — remember those “Pens for Her” that became an internet laughingstock?

Luckily, there’s nothing condescending or ridiculous about Ellevest’s services. In fact, the company was founded to fulfill a very valid need. Research from Black Rock has revealed that women don’t invest as often or as much as men do… leaving them in a bind as retirement age approaches.

Former Wall Street exec Sallie Krawcheck refers to this disparity between men and women as the “gender investing gap,” and she created Ellevest to help women achieve their financial best.

We took a closer look at Ellevest to see how it addresses women’s specific needs. This is what we found.

Why Women Have Specific Investing Needs

It shouldn’t be a shocker that women are different from men when it comes to money. After all, even though we’ve come a long way in terms of equality, we still earn less in the same jobs as our male colleagues. In 2017, female full-time workers earned, on average, 80.5 cents for every dollar earned by men. That wage gap is even broader for women of color.

To compound the problem, women are more likely to have gaps in their careers and income due to motherhood and other forms of care-giving. On average, women spend as much as 44% of their adult lives out of the workforce — compared to 28% for men.

These factors cause women to have less money saved for retirement… while at the same time we have greater financial needs during their golden years. That’s because we tend to both live longer and have steeper retirement-age medical bills.

Clearly, we need something other than cookie-cutter financial advice if we’re going to catch up with our investments.

How Does Ellevest Work?

Ellevest looks at both the wage and the investing gaps. As its website states, “86% of investment advisors are men, with an average age of 50+.” These advisors, it says, don’t know the struggles working women face. More importantly, Ellevest says that typical advisors don’t consider women’s specific financial situations (namely, earning less and living longer) when investing their money.

Ellevest says it will. It also provides forecasts that reflect a 70% likelihood of reaching the goals that you establish on the platform. The service uses a Monte Carlo simulation (a fancy way of saying it tests all possible outcomes) to gauge how well your investments would do in different economic situations.

When signing up , clients enter their income, money goals, family responsibilities and other info. Ellevest then builds an investment portfolio for them. Unlike many other robo advisors on the market, the service factors human capital factors such as gender, salary and education level into custom recommendations tailored for each client.

Clients can change their goals themselves, and Ellevest will adjust their portfolios to match and with the clients’ individual goal timelines and risk tolerance in mind. In addition, Ellevest is an FDIC-registered fiduciary, so its advisors are legally obligated to keep your best interest first.

Ellevest knows just how personal money is. That’s a huge win for me. Money is personal. The obstacles and triumphs we face in life affect our money. It’s silly to act as if these barriers for women don’t exist. It’s ground-breaking to take Ellevest’s approach.

Ellevest Pricing

When we first reviewed Ellevest, the service charged 0.50% for all accounts, regardless of how much you had invested. That was a bit on the steep side, compared to other robo advisors.

However, the company has since readjusted its fees into three different pricing tiers.

Ellevest Digital charges only 0.25% and requires no minimum balance. This fee is much more competitive with other robo advisors. With a Digital membership, you’ll receive personalized investment portfolios and can take advantage of the optional Ellevest Impact Portfolios.

Ellevest Premium requires a minimum balance of $50,000 and charges 0.50% in fees. However, with the higher price comes a higher level of service, including one-on-one access to CFPs for personal guidance on financial and investment matters, as well as access to Ellevest Executive Coaches who can help you when it comes to careers and salaries.

Then there’s also Private Wealth Management for those with investment portfolios of $1 million or more. Here, you’ll receive white-glove service and a dedicated team of financial advisors. A sliding scale of fees applies to this level of service.

Portfolio

With Ellevest, clients can invest in custom-tailored Impact Portfolios spread across up to 21 diverse asset classes. As with socially responsible investing services such as Wealthsimple, Ellevest’s fund investments have been consciously chosen to support sustainable business and improve the lot of women worldwide.

Here’s a snapshot of the current portfolio (February 2019):

Asset Class Fund(s)
U.S. Large Cap Growth
  • Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Leadership Fund
  • SPDR SSGA Gender Diversity ETF
  • Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF
U.S. Large Cap Value
  • Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Leadership Fund
  • SPDR SSGA Gender Diversity ETF
  • Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF
  • Vanguard Value ETF
U.S. Mid Cap Growth Vanguard Mid Cap ETF
U.S. Mid Cap Value
  • Vanguard Mid Cap ETF
  • Vanguard Mid Cap Value ETF
U.S. Small Cap Growth Vanguard Small Cap ETF
U.S. Small Cap Value
  • Vanguard Small Cap ETF
  • Vanguard Small Cap Value ETF
Int’l Developed Markets Equity
  • Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Leadership Fund
  • iShares MSCI EAFE
  • Vanguard FTSE Developed Markets ETF
Emerging Markets Equity
  • iShares MSCI EM
  • Vanguard FTSE Emerging Markets ETF
U.S. Intermediate Term Bonds
  • Access Community Capital Fund
  • Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF
U.S. Short Term Bonds Vanguard Short Term Bond ETF
U.S. High Yield Bonds SPDR Barclays Capital High Yield Bond ETF
U.S. Intermediate Term Muni Bonds Vanguard Tax-Exempt Bond ETF
U.S. Short Term Muni Bonds SPDR Nuveen Barclays Short Term Muni Bond ETF
U.S. High Yield Muni Bonds VanEck High Yield Muni Bond ETF
U.S. TIPS Bonds Schwab U.S. TIPS ETF
Int’l Developed Bonds Vanguard Total Int’l Bond ETF
Local Currency Emerging Market Bonds VanEck Vectors Local Currency Emerging Markets Bond ETF
U.S. Dollar Emerging Market Bonds iShares JPMorgan Emerging Markets Bond ETF
FDIC Cash –
U.S. Real Estate Vanguard REIT ETF
Int’l Real Estate Vanguard Global Ex-U.S. Real Estate ETF

Goal-Based Investing

Compared with men, women have different issues when it comes to income and longevity, and from this Ellevest believes you should invest differently. The competing robo advisors focus mostly on the asset allocation of your investments. Ellevest’s goal-based investing helps plan for either a short-term goal (like buying a house) or long-term goal (e.g., retirement).

Ellevest recommends an asset allocation that is right for a woman’s needs and based on research from Morningstar Investment Management. The service’s objective is ensuring that you reach your goal, rather than performing better than an arbitrary benchmark. Ellevest’s portfolios are built around the investment theory of Liability Driven Investing (LDI), which is different from other automated investment services in this space. LDI estimates the cash flows needed to fund future liabilities.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Targets Women — Ellevest focuses investment advice on the needs of women and takes into account issues such as female longevity and the wage gap.
  • Goal-Focused — Those who need help with their investment future will find it with Ellevest. The service makes unique investor profiles for each client, based on their income, gender and personal goals.
  • Invests in Real Estate — Included in the portfolio is real estate, which historically diversifies investment returns with long-term goals and is a hedge against inflation.
  • No-Fee Transfers — Ellevest won’t charge any transfer fees when you move your account over.
  • Automatic Rebalancing — There’s no charge to have your portfolio rebalanced when needed.
  • Emergency Fund — Ellevest helps each client establish an emergency fund consisting of three months’ worth of income.

Cons

  • No Tax-Loss Harvesting — Unlike other robo advisors, Ellevest does not offer any advantages for taxable accounts.
  • Limited List of Accounts Supported — While Ellevest can support taxable accounts and IRAs, you won’t find any trusts, 529s or other savings plans.
  • Complex Portfolio Makeup — For smaller (i.e., sub-$100K) portfolios, Ellevest’s number of fund choices is excessive. In short, investing in that many funds won’t move the needle much with investor returns, nor will it dramatically affect volatility. One could argue a smaller amount of funds could give a very similar performance.

Summary

By calling out this male-dominated industry, Ellevest has established itself at the forefront of female-focused investment advisors and platforms. With a focus on the wage gap between males and females, Ellevest promises women that their concerns will be heard and met.

Ellevest also lacks some features that other robo advisors offer, such as tax-loss harvesting (TLH). According to Ellevest, it doesn’t offer a TLH functionality because with this feature you’re merely deferring taxes, not eliminating them. It’s true that TLH isn’t a magic bullet, and in quite a few situations (e.g., in an IRA) TLH offers no benefit.

Overall, Ellevest’s choice of ETFs is solid, although I question the need for as many as 21 funds to create a decently asset-allocated portfolio.

However, if your primary concern is an investment firm with a woman-central focus, then Ellevest might be a company to consider.

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