Robo-advisers are nothing new – the idea has been around for nearly a decade, making it practically ancient by internet standards. What is new, however, is that they’ve found a receptive market in millennials, who are now starting to think about investing and are naturally looking for a tech solution to do so.
The idea behind robo-advisers is to lower the barrier to investing by removing costly human advisers from the equation. Without the human element, annual charges and minimum investment amounts can be reduced dramatically. And while robo-advisers manage trade decisions through sophisticated algorithms, they still draw on the same modern portfolio theory that has driven the investment industry for decades.
Rakuten arrived on the scene in mid-2016, when Rakuten Securities launched a robo-adviser-powered online asset management service, Raku-Wrap (the “wrap” refers to a type of account with annual fees, rather than per-trade fees). The service mainly targets individuals in Japan looking to start investing with small amounts of money and the strategy appears to be working. Raku-Wrap now manages more than 20 billion yen of investments, making it the second largest robo-adviser in Japan, following current market leader WealthNavi, which was established in April 2015.
To get started, users answer 16 questions about their financial situation and spending habits before choosing an investment course based on their “diagnosis.” A minimum investment amount of just 100,000 yen ($900) is required, and annual fees are kept under 1%.
The service is offered entirely online, and can be managed from a PC or a smartphone. It handles the buying and selling of mutual funds in the portfolio through automated algorithms set up with the advice of leading consulting professionals such as Mercer Japan.
In a bank-dominated investment landscape, robo-advisers were for a while dismissed as just another Silicon Valley attempt to solve problems they don’t understand with software. But with a few years of usage data backing them up, suddenly the industry is taking notice of the disruptive potential that robo-advisers bring.
The reality is that robo-advisers meet the needs of a large segment of the financial market: tech-savvy, risk-averse young people who don’t have large chunks of cash lying around to cover hefty consulting fees. Generation X and the millennials have grown up surrounded by tech, but have also lived through an economic roller coaster that has severely damaged trust in major financial institutions. When the traditional financial industry does finally turn its head towards the next financially mature generation, they might find themselves confronted by a completely different kind of investor.
This idea is what drives the philosophy behind Raku-Wrap: Give the younger generation a chance to participate in the world of trading, and tap into a growing segment of the market that is completely inaccessible to traditional institutions.
Rakuten Securities is already a leader in the online brokerage scene in Japan. And with an ecosystem boasting more than 90 million user accounts and one of the world’s best point loyalty programs at its back, Raku-Wrap’s prospects of winning over the next generation of investors are strong.