The Bottom Line: It isn't common for robo-advisors to cater to a particular gender, but Ellevest is clearly sincere about helping women reach their investing goals. Its features make it worth a look — and maybe not just to women.
Pros & Cons
Low account minimum and fees.
Goal-focused investing approach.
Portfolio mix that factors women’s needs.
Few accounts supported.
No tax-loss harvesting.
Ellevest is like most other robo-advisors in every way except one: It's unabashedly pro-female. And that's not just a pat marketing hook, either.
Gender-based investing at Ellevest means factoring women's generally lower incomes, different lifetime earnings curve and longer lifespan into portfolio construction. (And, yes, men can be clients, too: They get recommendations that account for their salary curves and longevity data.) Another way the company delivers on its female empowerment promise is through its Impact Portfolios, which give clients the opportunity to allocate up to half of their portfolios into funds made up of companies that promote the advancement of women.
The company's 0.25% advisory fee for Ellevest Digital — no minimum account requirement — and 0.50% of assets for Ellevest Premium, with a $50,000 minimum, which includes access to certified financial planners and executive career coaching services, makes them competitive among robo-advisor rivals and particularly attractive to female investors.
Ellevest is best for:
Where Ellevest shines
Addressing women's needs: As the list of automated investment advisories continues to grow, Ellevest's full-on female-focused approach is certainly an eye-catching differentiator. But is it just a marketing hook?
While a lot of it has to do with approach and tone (which aren't necessarily gender-specific), one practice is worth highlighting. The advisor says that while the gender pay gap is well-known, less appreciated is the fact that women’s incomes top out and decline sooner than men’s. Combine the earnings gap with a longer lifespan, and women have to surmount a tougher set of obstacles than men to reach their financial goals.
Ellevest addresses this in two ways:
While other robo-advisors might treat men and women equally when considering their future earnings, Ellevest might recommend a higher savings rate for a female client than it would for a similar male client because of that lower future earnings potential.
Ellevest Premium, with a $50,000 minimum, comes with access to one-on-one executive coaching from the company's career team, which can help women with impactful financial issues like salary negotiations and career transitions. Premium members also get unlimited access to guidance from certified financial planners with whom they can schedule appointments.
Supports multiple financial goals: Like large robo-advisors such as Betterment and Wealthfront, Ellevest's primary focus is helping investors attain their longer-term goals (e.g. retirement). The more unique feature is Ellevest's additional planning layer that helps clients invest appropriately for short-term, nonretirement goals, too.
Investors can select any number of savings goals — including saving for a car, building a home down payment, child-related expenses or starting your own business. Based on your time horizon and capacity for risk (as elicited via a questionnaire), Ellevest produces a customized investment plan that, according to simulations, gives you a 70% likelihood of reaching your goal. It also provides a dose of reality in terms of trade-offs that may be necessary to achieve multiple goals — for example, how buying a new car this year might delay buying a house and retiring. Or how a lower savings rate and less aggressive investments now might affect paying for college in a few years.
Another feature that increases the likelihood that you'll achieve your goals is auto deposit — the ability to have a portion of your paycheck deposited directly into your Ellevest account. After all, it's harder to spend it if the money doesn't even make a pit stop in your checking account.
Portfolio customization: Like its peer robos, each Ellevest portfolio has specific target allocations: more aggressive funds for long-term goals and more conservative ones for the short term. As a goal due date approaches, Ellevest automatically invests in more conservative funds to ensure that the cash is available when needed. Customers are, however, given some measure of control over how aggressively (or not) their money is invested and can toggle their exposure to stocks up or down within reason (between 5% or 10%, depending on the goal). Whenever the portfolio veers too much from the target allocation, Ellevest rebalances the investments for free.
Emergency fund management: Part of Ellevest's holistic approach to money management is to help clients establish an emergency of three months of take-home pay (salary minus all taxes, including Social Security and Medicare). Unlike some other firms that offer a cash feature, the advisor charges no management fee for this money (meaning if that was the only goal you had you'd pay no management fees) and keeps the cash safe in an FDIC-insured bank account. The downside is that it earns only a trickle of interest — 0.01% — which is on par with bricks-and-mortar banks but less than you can get with an online savings account. That said, seeing your emergency savings incorporated into your plan may help you get a more comprehensive view of your finances. That it takes some doing to withdraw funds (up to seven business days) can be a deterrent to dipping in for nonemergencies. If you already have an emergency fund, don't worry — this is an opt-in feature.
Large number of ETF classes: Like other robo-advisors, Ellevest portfolios are composed of a mix of exchange-traded funds that cover more than 20 asset classes, which is more than what most of the leading players offer. For its standard portfolios Ellevest chooses from 21 ETF classes; Impact Portfolios draw from roughly 25. Many of the funds Ellevest uses are managed by Vanguard, a leader in low-cost ETFs. That's important because on top of the advisory fee, investors pay for the management fees (aka expense ratios) on the ETFs in their portfolio.
Where Ellevest falls short
Accounts supported: Currently, Ellevest offers only taxable accounts, individual retirement accounts (Roth, traditional and SEP IRAs) and 401(k) rollover IRAs. Trusts and other savings plans such as 529 college education accounts aren't available.
No tax-loss harvesting: In contrast to its larger rivals, Ellevest doesn't offer automated tax-loss harvesting. That could be a turnoff for the wealthiest investors with high balances in taxable accounts. But the company says that there are too many “ifs” in each investor’s situation to automate the process across its client base and that doing so could do its customers more harm than good — a risk the company is not willing to take in its role as a fiduciary.
That said, you can't completely ignore the role of taxes in retirement planning, and Ellevest doesn't. Like most robos, Ellevest takes pains to put any tax-inefficient securities in tax-deferred retirement accounts and tax-efficient investments in taxable accounts. And when it comes time for clients to make withdrawals, clients are advised in the ways of tax-smart withdrawal sequencing to minimize the IRS' cut.
Is Ellevest right for you?
Being able to meet your goals — all of them — is the point of investing, and Ellevest is all about helping clients find the right balance between shorter- and longer-term goals. Quantifying the tradeoffs across all goals provides a more accurate and realistic picture of your financial wellbeing, as well.
It's not the only robo-advisor that takes a goals-based approach: Betterment does too, and for a lower advisory fee — 0.25% to 0.40% versus Ellevest's 0.25% to 0.50%. However Betterment Premium requires a $100,000 minimum balance versus Ellevest Premium's $50,000 minimum. Both offer unlimited human advice from a CFP through their premium offerings.
What sets Ellevest apart is that it isn't gender-neutral: Its investing algorithm takes into account the salary curve and lifespan of whatever gender profile the client chooses. It also offers investment options that allows its mostly female clientele to invest their dollars in companies that have policies and practices that advance women. Offering career coaching to premium clients (on top of anytime access to CFPs) is another way this robo-advisor aims to better its target customer's financial well-being.
Jim Royal contributed to this review.