Financial advisor Ric Edelman is perhaps best known by consumers for his long-standing radio show The Truth About Money with Ric Edelman. But consumers—and by that, he means anyone with at least $5,000—will soon be able to get Edelman’s financial advice in cyberspace. In October, he’ll launch Edelman Online , a web-based platform, built in-house, that will give consumers access to the firm’s investment management and financial planning services.
A handful of online financial advice companies have snuck onto the scene in recent years. Some are backed by Internet industry heavyweights threatening to disrupt the traditional financial advisory business model. Newcomers include Personal Capital, Betterment, MarketRiders, Wealthfront, LearnVest, CoVestor, and MyGDP.
But Edelman's proposition is a bit different: the minimum asset requirement truly brings financial advisory services to the masses, and everyone who signs u will get management advice online as well as from a human financial advisor over the phone or in one of 30 offices around the country.
“The difference is that it’s not just the investment management, but it is full access to financial advisors,” Edelman said. “There’s a huge array of personal finance subjects that no computer, no algorithm is going to be able to resolve and we will provide full access from our advisors for these folks." With these other sites, “There is no opportunity for human interaction,” Edelman said. “There are no advisors involved. These sites are being developed by IT folks, creating algorithms for the investment management piece.”
Some online advice portals do offer a human touch: Personal Capital, launched in September 2011 by Bill Harris, former chief executive of PayPal and Intuit, has the option to interact with an advisor and receive unlimited advice on their entire financial picture. But it courts clients with a minimum of $100,000.
Edelman Financial, Edelman’s RIA with $17 billion in client assets, will lower its standard account minimum from $50,000 per household to $5,000 per household with the launch of the service. (Recently private equity firm Lee Equity Partners said it would take the firm private by paying $8.85 a share in cash, a deal that values Edelman at roughly $258 million.) Edelman's fee, which goes down as asset value goes up, starts at 2 percent for accounts below $150,000.
Merrill Lynch and other wirehouse firms are raising their account minimums to as high as $250,000.
“So we’re going in the other direction,” Edelman said. “We’re trying to expand the access to our services for the millions of Americans for whom $50,000 is a huge amount of money.”
Edelman the technology makes it possible to drive down account minimums. But with clients that small, it's not going to make him rich. He'll earn $100 a year on clients wth the smallest accounts.
“We’re doing this because consumers are starved for professional, objective, financial advice that is in their best interest, and there’s nowhere for them to turn. If you don’t have $1 million, Wall Street won’t help you.
“And if you talk to all the consultants and coaches in this industry they say every year, ‘Categorize your clients, A, B, C, and fire your C clients. Get rid of the little guy because you’re not making any money on them.’ America knows that’s what’s happening on Wall Street, and America’s fed up with it.”
Edelman’s firm has developed the Guide to Portfolio Selection (GPS), which allows people to answer a variety of questions to determine what their asset allocation should be. Now, they’ll be able to open an account based on that asset allocation online. Asset allocation tools are common online, but Edelman sees those tools as useful to do-it-yourselfers. "Those are the people who will change the oil in their own car. They aren't a threat to Jiffy Lube," he says. He hopes his combination of online convenience and human-based advice will help him find new clients in the mass market of everyday investors.
Such asset allocation tools are common among the online advice sites, but again, Edelman does not see them as a competitive threat. Those sites are geared more toward do-it-yourself investors who don’t want to talk to a human being and want to do their own research.
“These are the people who will change the oil in their own car,” Edelman said. “They’ll go to some auto supply store and buy the oil in an oil pan, and they’ll go do it themselves. They are not a threat to Jiffy Lube."
“People come to us because they know they’ve got to get the oil changed in their car, but they don’t know how to do it...and they’re willing to pay a fee for somebody to do it for them.”