National Consumer News

Uber and Betterment partner to address drivers’ retirement


By Theo Thimou,

The worlds of robo-advising and ride-hailing are set to meet with Uber’s announcement that it’s partnering with Betterment to offer retirement plan options to drivers.

Drivers have a chance to invest fee-free for a year

Uber says in a press release that it will be offering IRAs via robo-adviser Betterment to drivers in Boston, Chicago, Seattle and New Jersey. Look for a nationwide rollout of this offering later this year.

The nice thing about the leading ride-hailing company’s foray into the retirement arena is that no minimum account balance is necessary for drivers to get started and the Betterment accounts will be fee-free for the first year!

After 12 months, Betterment’s usual fee — .35% on balances of less than $10,000 with a minimum $100/month auto deposit — will apply. If you don’t want to or can’t afford to do auto deposit, you also have the option to pay a flat-rate fee of $3 per month with no auto deposit.

Uber drivers are not technically employees. They’re indepedent contractors. So if you’re a driver, don’t expect any company match on retirement money you’re able to squirrel away!

To that point, some critics have been perplexed by the partnership between Uber and Betterment. They note that the average Uber driver makes less than $13.25 after expenses and that the average Betterment client earns around $100,000 a year. Strange bedfellows, indeed!

But, hey, anything that helps people save money for their future is all right in Clark’s book!

Is robo-advising right for you?

Let’s take a step back. A definition is in order —what exactly is robo-advising and what does a robo-advisor do?

A robo-advisor is basically an online financial advisor. It is a computer system that uses algorithms and model portfolios based on certain information from a client to develop an investment plan.

Robo-advising doesn’t put a premium on human interaction. “No one is there to hold your hand while you’re making life’s big financial decisions like how to pay off college loans, having questions about buying that next house or deciding on the best savings plan to reach retirement goals,” says financial advisor Wes Moss.

These kinds of systems are great for helping you with investment allocation, but not really for financial planning in the traditional sense.

What is Betterment’s outlook for the future?

Betterment, which is one of the leading independent robo-advisory firms, pays a pretty penny to acquire customers. Morningstar senior equity analyst Michael Wong told CNBC that he estimates it costs robo-advisors about $1,000 to acquire a new client.

The company has north of 160,000 customers with an average account size of $27,000. Yet Betterment reportedly makes less than $100 in fees per customer each year. So it will take more than a decade to make back the money they spend to get clients. That’s a hard business model to sustain.

Wong figures that any robo-advisor would need about $16 billion to $40 billion in assets under management just to break even. Betterment has about $4.4 billion on the books.

While he’s quick to note the investing trend’s trailblazing nature, Wong doesn’t mince words about the robo-advising industry’s future.

“The robo-advisors will leave a lasting legacy in the wealth management industry, [and] they’ve prompted a lot of changes at advisory firms. But there will probably be just a couple of stand-alone firms that survive, another handful will be acquired, and we’ll see a lot of failures.”

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