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Ellevest is making news waves….and not gentle swells at that. Founder Sallie Krawcheck is as resilient, resourceful and determined as they come. So is her newest venture, Ellevest.
Krawcheck is seriously ticked off about pretty much everything about the still-male-dominated investment and finance industry and she has decided to do something about it.
Investor Warning: Ellevest provides its investment advisory services only to individuals who become Ellevest clients pursuant to a written investment advisory agreement.There is no guarantee that any particular asset allocation or mix of funds will meet your investment objectives or provide you with a given level of income. Investing entails risk including the possible loss of principal and there is no assurance that the investment will provide positive performance over any period of time. Please read Ellevest’s Form ADV Part 2 (Brochure) carefully prior to becoming a client.
Which leaves the rest of us to only wonder what our world would be like if every industry had a Sallie Krawcheck. She is powerful and so is her vision for women in charge of their lives and their investing decisions.
Krawcheck had to be fired, twice, from the front page of no less than the Wall Street Journal, to get to where she is today – on top and in charge once again.
We have this feeling you are going to love what Ellevest and its robo advisor features have to offer and what the company itself is all about. It isn’t perfect, but then again, progress is more exciting than perfection anyway.
And fundamentally, Ellevest has a lot going for it, especially in the wake of the motivating #metoo movement that has “women backing women” ventures surfing the waves of change like pros.
Most of all, Ellevest has Krawcheck, whom no less than Fortune magazine not so long ago dubbed “the last honest analyst.” Wow. So let’s take a look at what Ellevest’s robo advisor is serving up these days!
We’ve analysed how Schwab’s acquisition of TD Ameritrade came about and how it may affect things for customers in the future, we’ve also looked at their features, customer service and Insights. Here’s our review of Charles Schwab.
But Wait, Ellevest Is Just for Women, Right?
Sallie Krawcheck may be all about pushing gender equality forward, but she isn’t wearing any blindfolds as far as who still controls the majority of the finance and investing industry.
Would it be financially smart and savvy to cut men out of the equation? Not so much. Plus, cutting out a whole gender group hasn’t worked so well to stabilize and secure the health and growth of the financial industry as a whole anyway.
So yes, if you are from that other gender – the same gender, as Krawcheck herself states, that “anatomically correct traditional oh-so-masculine stock market symbol, the bull,” you, too, are welcome at Ellevest.
What the Heck Is Ellevest, Anyway?
Like many of its competitors, Ellevest offers a tiered menu of services ranging from do-it-for-me to do-it-yourself.
Here are the three main options you will find when you head on over to the Ellevest platform:
Ellevest Digital Robo Advisor Service
A robo advisor, in case you are brand-new to this terminology, is basically a fancy way of saying “algorithm.” An algorithm is a formula that is written to factor in certain variables based on the input of specific data.
Ellevest’s digital robo advisor algorithm uses three specific pieces of core data to calculate the most advantageous investment opportunities for each user:
- Lifespan (obviously estimated)
Here is where Ellevest’s strengths begin to show right away.
After all, as founder Krawcheck has repeatedly emphasized on social media and to major news media, the gender-salary gap is well-documented and changing far too slowly for half the national work force’s benefit.
Ellevest’s algorithm automatically takes these three pieces of data, which each new user submits during the registration process, and uses them to calculate the best possible investment options to maximize returns.
Here again, it is important to note that male users will receive the same exact guidance tailored to your gender, salary and estimated lifespan. Ellevest is an equal opportunity investing platform which simply factors women’s data into rather than out of the equation.
This first tier is purely digital and automated. It is designed for women (and men) who are new to investing or less confident about taking the reins of their own investment decisions. As such, it offers a great learning tool plus options to ramp up personal involvement as your portfolio expands.
Ellevest Premium Service
For users who want some involvement without losing the advantages of the robo advisor algorithm, there is Ellevest’s premium service.
This is a neat package that gives you the whole might of the digital investing platform plus some valuable extras: the option for one-to-one financial planning plus career coaching.
So this is a bit unique and again, speaks to Ellevest’s founder’s outspoken dedication to helping women maximize their opportunities in a world where gender-specific guidance is often notably absent.
There is an initial requirement to invest $50,000 or more before you can qualify for the premium service. But as you will soon see, $50,000 sounds positively affordable next to what it takes to move up to the third level of Ellevest’s services.
Ellevest Private Wealth Service
Aptly named, it takes a minimum $1 million starting portfolio to advance to tier three of Ellevest’s services.
This service pairs users with a hands-on, handpicked team of financial professionals for highly individualized portfolio management.
So now you understand the three basic levels of services Ellevest has been designed to offer. But how well do they actually work?
In particular, what do reviews say about Ellevest’s digital robo advisor – that all-important algorithm which will likely be of greatest interest to the greatest number of participants?
Zero Percent Account Minimum for Robo Advisor Service
You won’t find a lower barrier to entry than Ellevest’s account minimum – there is none!
You can literally start out with a zero account balance….although ideally you will want to add some funds in before you start investing.
It is only when you get into the two higher echelons of services, Premium and Private Wealth, that account minimums are enforced. But the majority of younger investors won’t start out with even $50,000 to invest. This means Ellevest is a millennial-friendly robo advisor from every angle.
Reasonable Account Fee for Management – Not So Much for Account Fees
One of the main appeals of the new wave of robo advisor digital investing platforms is lower management fees.
After all, if a digital algorithm is doing the heavy lifting, why should you be paying a premium in human overhead fees?
Here again, this is accurately reflected in Ellevest’s fee structure:
- 0.25 percent for the digital robo advisor
- 0.50 for the Premium service that includes hands-on coaching and financial planning
However, Ellevest doesn’t shine quite so brightly when it comes to account service fees. With an emphasis on long-term financial planning and investment growth, perhaps it is inevitable to see higher fees for account actions like withdrawals.
But $100 just to withdraw the full balance of your account seems excessive for a digital platform no matter how you slice it. And a $25 minimum or $5 per security, whichever is higher up to $75, for a partial withdrawal also seems excessive.
So if you do decide to use Ellevest, be sure you can afford to leave the money you invest there in for a while. Otherwise, you might better look elsewhere for a more liquid robo advisor option.
Startup Bonus of Up to $750 Available for First-Time Users
Perhaps in an attempt to offset the fee pain a bit, Ellevest is perpetually running a new account deposit bonus offer.
The offer is staged based on your initial deposit amount as follows:
- $75 (for a $25,000 deposit)
- $150 (for a $50,000 deposit)
- $300 (for a $100,000 deposit)
- $750 (for a $250,000 deposit)
Of course, if you have $25,000 or more to deposit initially, raking in an additional $75 for doing so may not sound like quite the incentive Ellevest means for it to be. Still, the robo advisor platform is all about maximizing your return and every little bit extra counts.
Does the Algorithm Really Put Female Investors at an Advantage?
In other words, is Ellevest worth all the hype and hoopla?
This is an area where there could be a lot of misunderstanding, so it is important to understand that Ellevest is not designed to provide greater returns for female investors than for male investors.
What makes Ellevest unique is how the robo advisor algorithm is set up to advise a female investor.
For example, take the notorious wage gap.
As Ellevest explains, women on average still earn only about 80 percent of what men earn for doing the exact same job.
The Ellevest digital algorithm factors this in and will advise women to save more earlier on to compensate for this inequity.
In other words, you won’t find any so-named “gender neutral” investing algorithms with the Ellevest robo advisor service. This is why gender and salary are two of the three big pieces of data the algorithm itself requires to work.
Ellevest’s algorithm will take a look at that missing 20 percent of the average woman’s annual salary and generate savings and investing guidance to compensate for it. To date, no other digital robo advisor platform can out-compete Ellevest on this sensitive and vitally important point.
In the same way, Ellevest’s digital algorithm directly addresses the so-named “investing gap” that exists between men and women investors. Ellevest’s algorithm was created by a female investor and reflects guidance given by women to women.
Why is this so important? As Ellevest explains, a whopping 86 percent of financial and investment planners are male. The average age of these advisors is 50+ years. This does not describe either the target market for Ellevest’s robo advisor algorithm or the demographic of its founder.
In addition to the “big three” of gender, salary and lifespan, Ellevest’s algorithm also includes other provided information, including education level, financial goals and family data.
Each investor’s portfolio is custom-crafted by the algorithm to factor in all provided data at a deeply personal level. Throughout, forecasting tools built into the algorithm evaluate and auto-correct the portfolio to maintain a 70 percent likelihood of hitting each investor’s financial targets even in changing market conditions.
To summarize this section, it is important to understand that Ellevest’s robo advisor algorithm does not play favorites in terms of gender.
What it does do – and does very well – is to provide gender-specific investing guidance, account rebalancing and forecasting tools designed to mirror the gender salary and investing gap that is still very much present in today’s economy.
Ellevest Provides Fiduciary-Level Socially Responsible Investing Opportunities
Gender-specific investing and socially responsible investing, or SRI, would seem to go hand-in-hand, and on Ellevest they do. This is another win for the socially progressive robo advisor.
Aiming for the SRI investor puts Ellevest in a class with only a handful of other more well-established robo advisors (Betterment, Wealthsimple and Swell among them).
Busting through the reality that women are frequently forced to compete with other women for the coveted few openings available to females in the upper echelons of mainstream companies, the types of SRI investing options Ellevest champions include helping women around the world improve their circumstances in life.
This means it just makes sense that Ellevest is also a federally-registered fiduciary agent on behalf of its clientele. “Fiduciary” is really just a fancy five-syllable word that means “acts in your best interests.”
As a fiduciary organization, Ellevest’s tiered services are structured so the platform cannot do other than recommend towards your highest good. This is another huge win in an industry where far too many investing and financial planning enterprises are not similarly chartered.
What happens when the platform you choose is not a chartered fiduciary agent? That entity can then recommend products and services that serve their own best interests but may not serve yours. This may sound unacceptably scary and even unfair, but it happens every day and all day long in the financial and investing services industry.
However, it won’t happen when you choose Ellevest, whether you are female or male and regardless of how much (or little) you have to invest.
Ellevest Does Not Provide Tax Loss Harvesting
If you are not yet familiar with the term “tax-loss harvesting,” this basically means that there are ways to balance out year-end capital gains with the strategic sale of under-performing securities that are posting a loss. Then the sold security is replaced by a security with similar performance and constitution to keep the portfolio balanced.
This is called “harvesting” because the practice allows you to keep more of your year-end investing profits in your own pocket come tax time. Amazingly, it is also perfectly legal and many robo advisor platforms now offer it.
Unfortunately, Ellevest is not yet one of them.
Tax harvesting may not make much impact in low dollar starter portfolios but it can really come in handy when the numbers start to climb skyward.
So if you are planning to invest a more significant amount of money with an online digital robo advisor, it is worth considering if Ellevest is the right choice for you.
Should You Or Shouldn’t You Give Ellevest a Try?
So there you have it – Ellevest in a nutshell. There is no doubt Ellevest offers a lot to love.
As founder Krawcheck explains, Ellevest’s primary purpose has always been to provide an investing course-correct for female investors who might otherwise receive inexact or even outright wrong financial guidance coming at them from the male-dominated industry and aimed at male investors.
Ellevest does this admirably.
But using Ellevest is not the only method you have available to use to invest for a woman’s future retirement savings needs. You can simply increase your own savings goals accordingly and even “do the math” yourself if you happen to be a numbers person.
Ultimately, however, Ellevest recognizes that most women – and most investors, come to think of it – are not naturally wired towards maximizing their own future investment portfolios in the present.
If this describes you, and especially if you are a young woman (or any woman) who needs to be saving more than she currently does, Ellevest has arrived at a great time and might just be your ticket to long-term financial freedom.