Ellevest: automated investment by women, for women. But is it really the best investment platform for women? Read our review to find out.
Founded in 2014, Ellevest is the brainchild of CEO Sallie Krawcheck and her co-founder, Charlie Kroll (who serves as the company's president). The robo-advisor is much like its biggest competitors, Betterment and Wealthfront, except for one thing: its main target market is women.
According to Krawcheck, the idea came to her while she was working as the CEO of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. Having also worked for Morgan Stanley Wealth Management (formerly Morgan Stanley Smith Barney), she realized that the “by men, for men” investing industry was failing female investors. So she made it her life's goal to “unleash women's financial power” by creating a platform that is used (mostly) by women and made (mostly) for women.
While most other online brokerages follow gender-neutral investment strategies, Krawcheck points out that about 86% of all investment advisors are men… and 60% of them are over the age of 50.
This means that the investment industry tends to default in favor of men's salaries, career paths, preferences, and lifespans.
Effectively, Ellevest is attempting to combat the gender pay-gap by compensating for it through investments. The company's modus operandi is to provide investment opportunities, strategies, and advice that are better suited to women's salaries, career paths, preferences, and lifespans.
This doesn't mean men can't also invest with Ellevest: you'll just get different recommendations to account for your salary curve and longevity.
As a client, all you need to do is provide some personal information, which includes your current income and financial goals. Ellevest then tests the potential of your savings and financial situation to get a better idea of how your investments should react in any given economy. Based on this data, they make portfolio recommendations.
The key phrase in all of this is “financial goals.” Just about every other investment firm (robo-advisor or otherwise) bases their recommendations toward an aggressive or conservative portfolio according to your risk tolerance.
Ellevest, on the other hand, focuses on your goals and projected timeline.
Another way Ellevest helps female investors achieve greater empowerment overall is through its Impact Portfolio. Krawcheck points out: “The research shows that impact investing can offer competitive returns.” And so, rather than following the “gender-neutral” norm, which tends to invest in male-dominated companies, Ellevest lets you invest up to 50% of your portfolio in companies that actively promote the advancement of women.
This all sounds great. Quite frankly, we're a fan of the business model and approach Ellevest takes.
But the real question is, how effective is it?
That's the question we set out to answer in our review.
- Management fees: 0.25% for Ellevest Digital and 0.50% for Ellevest Premium (compare pricing and portfolio plans)
- Account minimum: $0 for Ellevest Digital and $50,000 for Ellevest Premium
- Promotion: Up to $750 cash bonus with a qualifying deposit (credited to your taxable account within 90 days) or an Amazon gift card (sent within 90 days of funding an IRA account)
Ellevest is Best For
Ellevest is best for the following types of investors:
- Women (although men can also open an account)
- Investors who are goals-oriented
- Investors who are values-oriented (especially with regards to investing in women's advancement)
- Those who prefer a hands-off approach to investing
- Novice investors
We're big fans of Ellevest's pro-woman approach to investment, which has historically been a male-dominated market. But that isn't the only reason we like the robo-advisor. Here are a few more reasons:
+Addressing Women's Financial Needs
In a growing market of automated investment robo-advisors, it's become harder to truly stand out from the crowd. But Ellevest's full-on female approach is a differentiator that definitely captures one's attention.
But the question on everyone's lips is whether it's just a marketing hook.
Much of Ellevest's practices have to do with taking a different approach and tone. Of course, these aren't necessarily gender-specific. While women tend to be more pragmatic, methodical, and disciplined in their approach to investments (according to Liz Ann Sonders, the Chief Investment Strategist for Charles Schwab), there are also men who fit this profile. And while men tend to take riskier approaches and react to market shifts with massive allocation shift more readily than women, there are also women who fit this profile.
The above areas of consideration assist in forming a broad view of how Ellevest allows women to approach investments as women. However, there's one particular practice that's certainly worth highlighting here.
As Ellevest points out, there's a drastic difference in the salary curves of men and women. Women's pay tends to peak and decline sooner than their equally qualified male counterparts'. Ellevest recognizes that this difference in salary curve isn't addressed by any other investment advisory.
Ellevest approaches the issue in two ways:
- Instead of following the gender-neutral trend that treats men and women equally when considering future earnings, Ellevest targets higher savings rates for female customers than they typically would for male clients with a similar current income.
- Ellevest Premium, which carries an account minimum of $50,000, gives clients one-on-one access to on-staff Certified Financial Planners (CFPs). These CFPs offer personalized money growth strategies and financial guidance, taking the salary curve and differences in investment strategies into consideration.
Like many other robo-advisors, Ellevest doesn't enforce an account or investment minimum. This opens up a lot of doors, especially for beginners (who typically don't have a lot to start with), automatically bringing the company one step closer to their goal of helping more women to invest.
Bear in mind that this is for the Ellevest Digital portfolio only. If you want to upgrade to Ellevest Premium, your account needs to have a minimum of $50,000.
+Change Investment Plans
As time goes by, you may be able to afford the $50,000 minimum and 0.50% management fee that comes with Ellevest Premium. Upgrading from Ellevest digital is as easy as making sure you have enough funds in your account, selecting “Switch Service” under the “My Service” tab, and following the prompts.
And if you want or need to downgrade back to Ellevest Digital, it's the same process. Ellevest allows you to change your investment plan as many times as you like.
+Multiple Financial Goals
Larger robo-advisors such as Betterment and Wealthfront (who pioneered the robo-advisory niche) focus primarily on long-term investment goals, such as retirement.
While Ellevest does offer retirement plans and emphasize long-term investment, they also cater to the market of short-term goals. This is a fairly unique layer of service.
As an Ellevest client, you'll be able to select as many savings goals as you need. For example, you could set up goals for buying a new car, down payment on a new home, child-related expenses, and/or even for starting your own business.
Ellevest uses a questionnaire to better determine your time horizon and risk tolerance to customize an investment plan specifically suited to help you achieve those goals. In fact, according to their Monte Carlo simulations, these personalized plans give a 70% likelihood of either achieving or exceeding your goals.
Another great feature that helps investors to achieve (or exceed) their financial goals is Ellevest's auto-deposit feature. Once you've funded your Ellevest account, you can activate this feature in your dashboard. A set amount will automatically be deposited from your paycheck every month – so you don't have to worry about accidentally spending that money.
Each Ellevest portfolio has target allocations specific to your profile. Like their competitors in the robo-advisory and general online brokerage industry, this is split between more conservative funds for your short-term goals and more aggressive funds for your long-term goals.
As time goes by and long-term goals start becoming short-term goals (due to their date approaching), Ellevest will automatically rebalance your asset allocation according to a more conservative strategy. This can help ensure the funds are available when you need them.
And because the market itself might cause your portfolio to veer off-course from the set target allocation, Ellevest will automatically rebalance the investments on your behalf.
+Multiple Asset Classes
Most robo-advisors offer a limited number of asset classes, but not Ellevest. In fact, the automated investments platform boasts an impressive list of 24 asset classes. That's great for portfolio diversification, an important strategy for optimizing your risk-to-reward ratio.
For clients with a standard portfolio, there are 21 exchange-traded fund (ETF) classes that Ellevest draws from, while Impact Portfolios gain an extra four. That's a lot more than what most of the older, more established online brokerages offer.
+Emergency Fund Management
Ellevest set out to take a more holistic approach to money management for their clients (especially women).
One of the ways they do so is by offering Emergency Fund as one of the listed goals.
An emergency fund is a separate saving amount, usually advised to total at least three months worth of post-tax income. Ellevest will keep that money in an FDIC-insured bank account for you, without charging any management fees.
As much as we love what Ellevest is doing, there are a few areas where we feel they fall somewhat short of the mark.
-High Management Fees
While Ellevest's no minimum on the Ellevest Digital portfolio is great and the $50,000 minimum for Ellevest Premium is fairly industry-standard for a premium portfolio, you pay for it through their management fees.
0.25% for Ellevest Digital is also an industry standard: Wealthfront and Betterment both charge the same (the latter for accounts up to $100,000).
Ellevest Premium, however, has a management fee of 0.50%. Betterment also charges a higher fee for accounts with higher funds, but their premium fee is only 0.40% – and you can have double the money in your account.
This seems to go somewhat against Ellevest's goal of making intelligent investments more accessible for women, as higher fees marginalize investors with lower incomes.
-No Tax-loss Harvesting
But Ellevest completely ignores the strategy.
Instead, they use their Ellevest Tax Minimization Methodology to put tax-efficient securities in taxable accounts and tax-inefficient investments in tax-deferred accounts.
Wealthy investors may still hesitate to accept the substitution, however.
-Low-interest Emergency Fund
The downside to Ellevest managing your emergency fund is that you'll only earn a token interest of 0.01%. Most brick-and-mortar banks offer the same interest rate, but the company's competitors typically offer high-yield savings account options with an interest rate of 2.25%.
Ellevest's management fees are already relatively high, but you'll pay more if you trade in ETFs.
That's because Ellevest doesn't manage ETFs themselves. Instead, they use Vanguard – who, to their credit, are renowned for their low-cost ETFs. Still, that extra fee – which can range from 0.06% to 0.16% – can chip away at the benefits.
Finally, Ellevest doesn't manage trusts and other savings plans – only taxable accounts, such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs). That means you can't fund a 529 college account, for example. This overall limits your choices.
Is Ellevest Right For You?
Ellevest is more likely to be the right robo-advisor for you if you're a woman – and most especially if you have high-income potential. The fact they take into account women's salary curve and lifespan makes them stand out among their competitors.
However, as far as goals-based approaches go, Betterment and Wealthfront offer the same services at a lower cost.
We'd recommend putting careful consideration into balancing the pros and cons before making a decision.
All told, we like that Ellevest has set out to make investing a more woman-friendly industry and activity.
However, their lack of tax-loss harvesting, paired with their comparatively high management fees, makes us hesitate to laud the company as the best thing since sliced bread. Until the company can prove themselves by weathering a recession, we're still somewhat on the fence about them.