I wrote this post in August 2014 comparing Betterment to Wealthfront, so it's been about 15 months, and I thought it'd be a good time to check in on relative performance, as a buddy of mine recently wrote:
"I saw your post on betterment. I'm thinking of moving everything over to a roboinvestor. What's your thinking on betterment vs wealthfront, and whether you'd just dump everything on there?"
As I wrote in my original post, I put $5k into both Betterment and Wealthfrontto test them against each other. To date, both have under-performed the S&P 500 by a considerable margin. S&P is up 10% since August 2014. Betterment is down by 2% and Wealthfront is down by 5.4%. So, should I just have invested in the S&P 500? And as per my other previous blog, Show Me The Money: Six Strategies to Put Your Cash to Work, how should I re-allocate based on this new data? And what would I recommend to my buddy? Let's dig into the data a bit to come to a conclusion:
Here's a chart in my Betterment dashboard that compares the performance of my Betterment investment (in orange) to the S&P 500 over the same period (in blue). I also threw in a Vanguard bond fund's performance just for a benchmark on how a more conservative investment has done:
Sadly, Wealthfront's dashboard isn't nearly as sophisticated. Here's all they show me:
Interestingly, here's how the Wealthfront has actually performed vs. how they predicted it would:
Meanwhile, in my "six strategies" blog post I referenced investing in peer to peer micro-lending via LendingClub, and then I wrote this update on using the LendingRobot API to be more sophisticated about how I do the P2P lending. Here's the LendingRobot dashboard of my P2P returns to date:
So LendingRobot is predicting that the money I invested in LendingClub using its "automated investing" service (before I knew that LendingRobot existed) will return 8.92%, but the money I'm investing in LendingClub using the more sophisticated rules I've created with LendingRobot will return 13.20%, for a blended return of 9.79%. Needless to say, I've stopped using LendingClub's automated investing service and am using LendingRobot exclusively for all investments in LendingClub moving forward. But let's just assume I can make an average of a 10% return in LendingClub. Does that mean I should move all the ETF investments over to LendingClub?
Well, not necessarily: There are several drawbacks to P2P investing, namely:
And to add to the complexity, I recently found a Vanguard high yield ETF that's returning a 3.11% yield, which provides for a blended approach: the liquidity and tax benefits of long-term-hold equities with some of the income elements of P2P lending.
So at the end of the day, here's my answer to my buddy who asked: Your decision really has to be based on your goals. Are you looking for an income producing asset? Are you willing to deploy cash in a risky way? In that case I'd focus on putting cash into LendingClub, via LendingRobot. But conversely, are you looking to stash cash somewhere that it can grow with the markets, where you don't need any immediate income from it? In that case I'd go with equities because historically they return in the 7% range annually, they're more liquid and get better tax treatment. And even though the Betterment and Wealthfront investments have greatly under-performed the S&P 500 over the past 15 months, I'm still sticking with them for now (and for the bulk of my cash, with Betterment specifically, which I greatly prefer over Wealthfront from a user experience perspective). Logically, I buy into their approach -- I like the Tax Loss Harvesting, I like the diversification into large, mid and small cap stocks and emerging markets. But I'm definitely going to keep tabs on how things go over the next couple of years, and I'll keep writing these updates (I'm in this for the long haul -- here's to decades of updates!). If I don't see Betterment start to out-perform other alternatives over a multi-year period, I'll likely change my approach.
I'd love to hear feedback from anyone who loves to geek out on this as much as I do! And for those of you who don't invest at all: Start with something small. $50. $100. Just get into it. Try a few things. There's a world of difference between $0 and $100, even just in the way you feel like you're investing in yourself and your family's future.
Great post Dan! Any chance you can provide an update on the relative performance of Betterment vs Wealthfront vs S&P500 now that we're in 2017? Thanks!
You are comparing apples with oranges here. The S&P500 is a single asset class. Both of your robo funds are much more diversified. And diversified into more risky classes. That leads to more volatility which is what you have seen.
But as you say this can only really be viewed over the long term.
About a year ago, I wrote a blog called "Show Me the Money: Six Strategies to Put Your Cash to Work," where I talked about two new(ish) investment strategies my wife and I were using. I wrote a followup blog about the first strategy, Electronically Traded Funds (ETFs), where I compared Betterment vs. Wealthfront. Now here is a followup on the second newish strategy that you're probably not yet trying out, but absolutely should be: Peer to Peer lending... or put another way: Lending money to complete strangers as an investment strategy.
I'm going to write this blog as a step-by-step how-to guide on trying P2P lending. Don't think you have enough money to become an investor? Wrong. Just set aside $25 to invest in each of the 2 biggest platforms. Seriously, who can't part with $50 to try something that will change your perspective on lending?
First, more on what P2P lending is:
Oh, here's something that I could use some advice on: after I get paid, I'll probably have around 3K USD in a bank account doing pretty much nothing. Should I invest it in a Vanguard index fund or something similar for now? Also, I'm probably going to need to buy a car eventually (my guess is in 2-3 years), which can create a lot of nasty compounded interest. Would I want to use any money that I have saved up to pay a big expense like that off immediately, or would I want to keep some invested?
If you've only got $3k you want to keep most of that liquid as an emergency fund. You probably don't want to buy stocks unless you can go long on the stocks and ignore market movements, and you want to study investing before investing ESPECIALLY investor psychology so you don't panic and act rashly if (when) there's a crash. You probably want to read "The Intelligent Investor" by Ben Graham before buying any equities, which Warren Buffet says is the best book on finance ever written. I agree, btw - I've never found better. Excellent book.
If you did want to deploy some of your cash, here's a couple things:
*It'll cost you around $20 to $100 to develop a credit score, assuming you're American and don't have one. Go to the bank, throw $100 in a CD, and get a secured loan against it that reports on your credit. That'll give you a revolving line of credit on your credit history, which helps. Get a credit card a few months after that, and ALWAYS pay it off in full each month. Good credit will make/save you thousands later, so do it now.
*Buy small gifts for people you admire as a show of respect. Do this for particularly good professors, bosses, teachers, friends of family, acquaintances, etc. Go $20 to $100 per gift to start, $100 is even too high unless someone has been really great to you. Buying 50 gifts at $20 each for people who have treated you REALLY well probably pays for itself. Write a note of gratitude when you do it, just buy chocolate or protein bars or a great DVD or something small. Don't do it all at once, spread it out, but I've never regretted spending money to say thanks for someone who helped me.