Dan Egan, Head of Behavioral Science at Betterment, recently interviewed Matt Lohrius, Advisor and CFP® at Ritholtz Wealth Management, who oversees the Liftoff platform that was introduced several years ago and that began leveraging Betterment’s platform more recently. Ritholtz is located in New York City and manages more than $1.2 billion in assets.

Dan: Tell us about how the sort of robo-advisor aspect of things works within Ritholtz Liftoff. How do you guys organize it and think about it?

Matt: As you probably know, our core business was focused on high net worth households, people that were staring down retirement or leading up to it. And we put out a lot of content—whether it’s blogs or The Compound (our YouTube channel)—so a lot of people are following us and telling us they’d like to become clients. But many of them didn’t fit our traditional high net worth, pre-retirement customer profile. But clearly there was a demand, and we wanted to help these people. So that’s why we created Liftoff, which we’ve continued to improve over the years. But it really blossomed once we started working with automated platforms like Betterment. There’s no minimum, so it’s great for people in their twenties or thirties who are maybe just starting to invest.

Dan: Tell us a little bit more about Liftoff’s ideal client profile.  

Matt: There are a couple of different types. One would be someone who’s on the younger side and who is in the accumulation stage base. They may not yet be married or have a family, but they’re starting to make money and they want to save in a smart way. This type of investor also wants access to an advisor for questions that do arise: around what they should be doing differently when they do get married or start having kids. I also love talking to people who have just graduated college, because they’re such enthusiastic followers of ours. We’re happy to accommodate them. 

Dan: This is obviously a big potential for growth. How do you think about growing Liftoff?

Matt: I think we want to grow it as big as we possibly can and take it as far as we can. And that’s kind of my mindset: I get on the phone with everyone who wants to chat. Hopefully we do get to the point where we need to bring more of me to oversee twice or three times as many Liftoff clients as we have right now.

Dan: What have been the biggest hurdles to growth so far?

Matt: One hurdle is that there’s always going to be people out there that would rather just do it themselves and that’s fine. We totally understand that. But there are still plenty of other people out there who don’t even know where to start. And so we’re looking to reach that group of people.

Dan: Do you find that there is a catalyst that brings the self-directed types to you? 

Matt: Yeah, it could be a year like this one that we’re in right now where people who have been investing on their own for a while reach out because of all the uncertainty. They are looking to get a little more advice.  

Dan: Talk a bit about the culture within Ritholtz to new technologies.  

Matt: We’re all about it. Outside of the Liftoff channel, Ritholtz is looking at technology to onboard clients more quickly and smoothly. We know it’s possible—with Betterment and Liftoff, you can open an account like that. So we want to be able to expand that kind of capability throughout our entire firm. And that really just involves us looking at all the technology we currently have to streamline the client experience.

Dan: Can you talk a little bit about the difference that an automated platform like Betterment makes in your day?

Matt: For Liftoff, it’s just huge from a technology ease and intuition standpoint: opening accounts, transferring money from other custodians, depositing money, linking a bank account. And that saves us a lot of time: we’re not having to help a client with the logistics of opening an account and can spend our time with them focusing on advice. That’s where platforms like Betterment really excel, with the operational efficiencies. I think a lot of advisors hear “robo-advisor” and sometimes get a little turned off, but who doesn’t want operational efficiency? And that’s on both sides of the equation to clients and advisors.

Dan: What if you go back, what initially sparked the interest in convincing you to start using a robo-advisor as a partner?

Matt: It’s kind of just set it and forget it. It’s easy. You have a durable, long-term portfolio. You’re going to invest in it just to keep saving. That’s the work that you need to do, is constantly save. And outside of that, you don’t need to do a whole lot. It’s helpful for a lot of people. And when we do have a client ask “Can I do my own thing?”—because there’s often that temptation—we tell them “No, you can’t.” That’s the whole purpose and benefit of this. You can go somewhere else and do that. But if you want a concrete long-term plan, this is where you’re going to get it, and it’s very likely to work.

Dan: What would you tell advisors who are skeptical about using a robo-advisor? How would you help them to understand how well it’s worked for you and your clients?

Matt: People who are skeptical need to realize that this is a hybrid platform. Yes, the portfolios and operations are automated, but you have access to an entire firm. Because if you have access to me, you have access to all the resources that I have access to. And that can be powerful. 

Dan: Last question. Does using an automated platform like Betterment mean that you, as a CFP®, as an advisor, get to spend more time on bigger issue questions like planning? 

Matt: Yes, one hundred percent. That is the whole reason Liftoff switched to Betterment. With the custodians we had been using previously, there were a lot more operational emergencies that needed our time and attention. But with a platform like Betterment, all of that is taken care of so that we at Liftoff can focus solely on providing quality advice. That’s all we want to do here. Automation (through Betterment’s platform) is allowing us to do that now, which is why I’m confident that Liftoff will continue to grow.

 

Ritholtz Wealth Management is a Registered Investment Adviser. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Ritholtz Wealth Management and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. This website is solely for informational purposes. Past performance is no guarantee of future returns. Investing involves risk and possible loss of principal capital. No advice may be rendered by Ritholtz Wealth Management unless a client service agreement is in place. 

Disclaimer: This case study was conducted as a Q&A in 2020 and is not reflective of all Betterment for Advisor client experience, nor individual retail client experience, both which may vary depending on individual circumstances not considered herein, and is not indicative of future or similar outcomes.

This article was published on September 18, 2020

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