Future of Investing

Personal Capital adds ‘socially responsible’ investments

  • Personal Capital launched a sustainable investment product to engage existing customers and attract new ones
  • Sustainable investments are a way the company can market the value of its hybrid advice model

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Personal Capital adds ‘socially responsible’ investments
Personal Capital rolled out a socially responsible investment (SRI) product this week in response to the growing market, especially among millennials, for those products. As the battle for customers intensifies among digital wealth advisers, startups and incumbent investment houses are launching products that speak to customers' values and preferences. Some specifically target  customer groups like women or halal investors, while others are adding specialized offerings to their line of products. "It's a better way to serve existing clients who have been demanding socially-responsible investment products, and also to attract new investors," Jay Shah, CEO of Personal Capital, said about the launch of its Socially Responsible Personal Strategy, which lets customers put their money into socially responsible investments without an extra fee within the same platform. By adding SRIs, Personal Capital can engage existing customers, and encourage them to grow their investment portfolios. With an average client portfolio size of $430,000, Shah said it's going after customers who have more to invest than those who might choose a lower-cost robo. Adding a socially responsible option may be a way to get a bigger piece of that pie. "It's a way to get more assets from existing customers because if they don't have a socially responsible option, they can put more money with competitors," said Kelley Byrnes, wealth management analyst at Celent. SRIs are also becoming expected offerings among both incumbents and startups, so the potential loss of prospective customers who want ESG offerings may also be a factor. "A lot of tech companies think... 'what are your prospects asking for, and what prospects do you lose [if you don't respond to demand],'" said robo-advice analyst and Dream Forward Financial co-founder Grant Easterbrook. With the ESG offering, Personal Capital may also be drawing attention to is its hybrid advice model. Though the company runs a free digital financial dashboard service with $500 billion tracked for 1.6 million registered users, it also offers a human advice service for a fixed fee. A socially responsible offering could be a way to entice users of the free service to switch over to the paid service. "The real business side for them is the human RIA firm," the human advice operation from Personal Capital, said Forrester senior analyst Davis Janowski. "This is more a millennial play; this is how they find investors for the human side." Personal Capital is the third-largest independent digital adviser, with $6.5 billion in assets under management with 76 percent growth year over year. It's the latest investment manager to get into socially responsible investments, joining Betterment, Wealthfront, Wealthsimple and incumbents like Morgan Stanley. By adding an SRI product, Personal Capital is enhancing options for existing customers, while using it to attract new ones who see it as as must-have.

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