Ellevest Review: A Female-Focused Robo-Advisor

Updated on May 19, 2020 Updated on May 19, 2020
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Simply Put: Ellevest is a financial services company designed for women. Create a personalized portfolio, support women in sustainable companies, and save for retirement. Their platform carries no minimum balance requirements, no-penalty Ellevest withdrawals, and a competitive 0.25% management fee on their starter plan. They offer three levels of service: Ellevest Digital, Ellevest Premium, and Ellevest Private Wealth Management. Ellevest is a fiduciary legally bound to act in your best interests.

Fees

0.25%

Account Minimum

$0

Pros:

  • Female-focused investing platform
  • No minimum balance requirements
  • Goal-based investing
  • Socially-responsible investments

Cons:

  • No tax-loss harvesting
  • Emergency fund goal unavailable at this time
  • Limited acount options

Ellevest is a digital, goals-based investment platform. It’s a Robo-Advisor similar to Betterment or Wealthfront but with a twist; it’s designed by and for women. We’ll take a look at key features, fees, and philosophies in this Ellevest review.

According to CEO and co-founder Sallie Krawcheck, women typically live longer and earn less than men do. As the CEO of Merrill Lynch, Citi Bank, and Smith Barney, she took note of the gender investing gap.

Ellevest formed in 2014 with the primary goal of helping women meet their financial goals through simple and practical investing. But is there a need for gender-specific investing, and if so, does Ellevest do this cost-effectively?

Minimum Investment:
$0

Management Fees:
0.25%

Promotion:
Start Investing

Tax Loss Harvesting:
No

Portfolio Rebalancing:
Yes

Assets Under Management:
$400 million

Minimum Investment:
$0

Management Fees:
0.25%

Promotion:
Invest free for up to 1 year

Tax Loss Harvesting:
Yes

Portfolio Rebalancing:
Yes

Assets Under Management:
$21 billion

Minimum Investment:
$0

Management Fees:
$0

Promotion:
Invest for Free

Tax Loss Harvesting:
No

Portfolio Rebalancing:
Yes

Assets Under Management:
$1 billion

The Reason for Ellevest’s Female Focus

Even though women have longer lifespans than men do, their salaries peak sooner. The salary peak occurs around age 40 for women and age 55 for men.

Traditional investing curves are gender-neutral. While gender-neutral isn’t inherently bad, it has adverse effects on women when it comes to investing.

Consider Ellevest’s example of a man and woman both investing 10% of their salaries. They are 30 years old and currently make $85,000 per year.

With the gender pay gap and the fact that women’s incomes peak 15 years earlier, these models are thrown off     big time.

We’re talking about a $320,000 difference. The man is estimated to have 1.4 million dollars at age 67 while the woman’s predicted to have 1.07 million.

Investment-Gender-Gap

It has a significant impact on financial budgets and can make or break your FIRE goals and investment plans.

Ellevest claims the gender bias doesn’t stop with inaccurate investment models. Men account for around 86% of investment advisors. What’s more?

There’s also an age skew because their average age is over 50 years old.

It’s not to say that they’re taking advantage of women or purposefully making data geared towards men. It just shines some light on the underrepresentation of women in the financial sector.

At Ellevest, they aim to change this by empowering and educating women to take control of their financial lives.

Ellevest Fee Structure

Ellevest is in line with the industry standard for robo-advisors. They offer $0 minimum balance accounts with no penalties for withdrawals.

You’ll pay a 0.25% annual management fee for the Ellevest Digital package. So if you have $1,000, you’ll pay Ellevest $2.50 in annual fees.

This Digital package is for portfolios from $0 to $49,999. Robo-Advisor algorithms based on your gender, salary, and lifespan will handle all of your investment decisions.

All you have to do is add money to your account and adjust your investment goals as needed.

The next tier is Ellevest Premium, with an annual management fee of 0.50%. If you invest $50,000 or more, you’ll have all the features of the Digital package plus meetings with one-on-one career coaches and certified financial planners.

With Premium, not only will you have someone to answer your investment questions, but you’ll also have a guide to help you navigate tricky situations like salary negotiations and switching jobs.

For those with substantial investments over $1 million, Ellevest will provide you with a team of financial advisors offering one-on-one private wealth management services.

Ellevest’s Impactful Investments

You can’t pick individual stocks with Ellevest, but you can choose between the Core Portfolio and the Impact Portfolio.

There are more CEOs named John or David than there are total women CEOs, so Ellevest allows you to build not only your success but also the success of other women.

The Core Portfolio is the default, and it invests mostly in Vanguard and iShares. Once you create your account, you can see what you’re invested in, a description of the investment, and the current share price.

Currently, the Core Portfolio’s expense ratios range from 0.06% – 0.17%.

If you go with the Impact Portfolio, you pay the current expense ratios of between 0.13% – 0.20%. Still, some of your investments will be in funds that support women in leadership, community development, and sustainable companies.

Impact portfolio offerings

Not only does Ellevest help empower women to invest, but they also offer socially responsible investment options. When you invest in companies with women leaders, they are proven to hire more women and pay them more.

The Ellevest investments that include sustainable and ethical companies promote responsible business practices and provide community services.

If you’re using the Impact Portfolio, you’ll also be able to see the impact category of your investment and a description of what its impact is.

Not all of your Impact investments will be in these socially responsible ETFs. Ellevest’s job as a fiduciary is to act in your best interest, and this includes investing your money in cost-effective EFTs with exceptional growth potential.

According to their website, there aren’t enough of these ETFs to invest your entire portfolio in, but they’re continuously researching potential additions.

For a full list of Ellevest investments, click here.

Investment selection

Types of Accounts Offered

Ellevest offers both taxable accounts and retirement accounts. They’re currently partnered with Folio for custodian services and Morningstar for research purposes.

Their brokerage accounts are individual accounts, not joint accounts. This might be disappointing for some, but it’s an interesting feature when considered with female finances.

Financial abuse is a major contributing factor in determining whether or not a woman will leave a harmful relationship. Some women can’t get access to financial resources either because their partner controls all the money or because they can’t get access to it without them knowing it.

With Ellevest’s solely individual brokerage accounts, women can own an account that is completely theirs.

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For retirement accounts, which are always individual accounts, you can choose from Roth IRAs, Traditional IRAs, and SEP IRAs.

These retirement accounts look at your retirement goals and consider your earning power, gender, and education level to create a plan. This plan includes all the retirement accounts you own, not just those with Ellevest.

Ellevest Retirement Accounts

Retirement on My Terms starts with your age, income, and growth potential (i.e. whether you’re in an entry-level or senior position).

Ellevest assumes your annual retirement income should be 90% of the salary you earn the year before you retire. This is a great starting point, but you are free to adjust it up or down depending on your plans.

Then it’ll determine the monthly deposit amount that’s needed to get you to that figure for this specific account. It factors in all of your retirement income, not just your retirement account with Ellevest.

Things like interest, dividends, social security, and capital gains will all go into the equation.

If you’re planning on accessing these diverse income streams, Ellevest is on point. However, if you’re depending on this account to be your primary and perhaps only income source, you’re going to need to increase the amount you contribute each month.

How Ellevest Works

Ellevest doesn’t only make claims about women needing fine-tuned investment options. They have created a platform to solve that problem.

The main strategy with Ellevest is goals-based investing. There are currently six goals you can choose from:

  • Build Wealth
  • Retirement on My Terms
  • A Place to Call Home
  • Kids Are Awesome
  • Start My Own Business
  • A Once-in-a-Lifetime Splurge

Each of these goals gives you a projection for the value of your account at the end of your goal’s timeline. To do this, you’ll need to enter some basic information:

  • The one-time deposit amount to open your account
  • A monthly, recurring deposit amount
  • A timeline for how many years you’ll be investing in this goal
  • Whether or not you want the Core Portfolio or the Impact Portfolio
  • Your risk level*

*Ellevest assumes the standard risk. You can increase or decrease the risk tolerance by 5%.

How the Goals Work

Once you pick your short-term or long-term goal, Ellevest will fill in the boxes to give you a base measurement. Then you can adjust them to fit both your realistic numbers and your desired result.

Ellevest-Goal

For example, let’s say you’re saving for a down payment and have $10,000 to invest today.

You can budget for a $500 monthly deposit every month for four years. Ellevest will use their models to determine what the likely value of your account would be at the end of those four years.

You can also approach this from the other end.

If you know you want to have $40,000 saved at the end of four years, you can start with some rough figures and play around with different options.

You’ll be able to see which one works best for your budget and whether or not you need to adjust your expectations.

Most of the goals perform in similar ways. You enter the required information and get a graph that displays the estimated value at the end of your timeline, along with upper and lower limits.

Some of them, like the retirement goal and the home goal, have additional features to help with your investment planning.

The Saving for a Home Goal

You start by entering the city and state you’re looking for and the number of bedrooms you’d like to have. Zillow will determine the average value of homes that meet your criteria in your designated area.

Ellevest will calculate what a 20% down payment would be, and you can play with the deposit amounts to see what it takes to get there.

Ellevest’s A Place to Call Home goal partners with Zillow to take all the guesswork out of your down payment savings plan.

They’ll factor in a greater rate of return the longer you save because they’ll put a larger portion of your investments in stocks.

As the timeline approaches the short term, the percentage of stocks in your goal will gradually decrease, and they’ll replace them with more bonds.

Ellevest’s Notable Features

Ellevest does not offer tax-loss harvesting. They don’t believe there’s enough certainty that your final result will support delaying taxes.

This means they’re not sure your investments will make enough money for it to make sense to deliberately sell shares at a loss.

If the lack of tax-loss harvesting is a major thumbs-down for you, Ellevest does incorporate a tax-minimization strategy.

With this, they’ll include more tax-exempt municipal bonds in brokerage accounts. Taxable corporate and government bonds will show up more in retirement accounts.

They’ll also automatically rebalance your account to stay in line with your target goal. While there isn’t any tax-loss harvesting involved with this process, they’ll be mindful of maximizing losses and reducing gains.

Nothing is guaranteed, but Ellevest aims to do its best to help you have the desired amount of money in your account by the time your goal is complete. This includes factoring taxes and fees into their forecasts.

So if your goal is to save $50,000, they won’t just stop at that number. They’ll continue to work towards growing your savings past that point.

This way, you’ll be prepared for the taxes and fees you’ll have to pay when you sell your shares.

Opening an Ellevest Account

Ellevest-Account

To set up your account, you currently need to be either a US citizen or resident foreign national with a permanent United States address.

There are four steps to creating an Ellevest account. All you’ll need is some basic information, and you can have your account running in just minutes.

Step One: Enter your salary, location, gender, and money goals. This can be a retirement goal, a specific goal like saving for a down payment, or just a general savings goal.

Step Two: Ellevest will design an investment portfolio that aims to keep costs low. Their algorithms show you results they expect you can reach in the majority of markets, which they consider as at least 70% of them.

Step Three: Invest. Or don’t. There’s no minimum investment, so you can either set up deposits now or just proceed with zero investments if you just want to get a feel for the layout.

Step Four: Check in as often as you’d like. They’ll invest your new deposits, will keep track of your progress, and will rebalance your account automatically.

You can tweak your goal at any time and can even move money between goals. Just keep in mind you may incur capital gains as a result.

If you have any problems opening your account, you can call or email Ellevest’s concierge team or use the help section at the bottom corner.

You can type a message explaining your problem and attach up to five files with the message, and Ellevest will email you back with a solution.

Ellevest’s Account Layout

Ellevest isn’t just a bland investing platform. Both the website and interface offer positive, uplifting vocabulary like beautiful, smart, and successful.

Quotes like “I believe in the unadulterated advancement of women” by Rashida Jones appear on the sides.

Once you’re signed up, you can view and add goals. You can identify which goal is your preferred goal and which is the one your monthly deposits go into.

When you view your goals, you’ll have access to several key pieces of information:

  • Account Summary: Both a balance and transaction summary
  • Goal Advice: Shows one-time deposit, monthly deposits, portfolio allocation, what you’re projected to have by the end of the timeline, and what you want to have
  • Investments: See the breakdown of what you’re invested in and adjust risk if desired
  • Transactions: Your deposits, withdrawals, and the transactions they perform on your behalf
  • Settings: Set your auto-deposit preferences

Once you have chosen between the Core Portfolio and the Impact Portfolio, you will see a percentage breakdown of your investments. Each investment has a dropdown box showing the share price and a short description.

If you use the Impact Portfolio, you’ll also see which of your investments are socially responsible.

Ellevest-Portfolio

Help and Resources

For customer service, Ellevest offers its concierge team. This team is accessible by email and phone during normal business hours.

For those with more than $50,000 invested, your Ellevest connections also include financial planners and career coaches.

You’ll have the concierge team for general customer support, financial planners for management of your assets, and career coaches for crucial career milestones.

If you’re a reader (as you may very well be, since you’re reading this article), they have a free magazine on their website. The four main categories are Investing, Money & Life, Career, and Raising Elle.

This can be a great tool if you want to brush up on your finance knowledge, further showing Ellevest’s commitment to the empowerment and financial education of women.

And for those who want to manage finances on the go, Ellevest offers a mobile app that’s currently only available on iOS.

Ellevest’s mobile app has almost all of the functionality of their website and lets you:

  • Start investing with goals-based strategies
  • Read the Ellevest magazine
  • Track your balances and the status of your goals
  • Choose between Impact and Core Portfolios*
  • Make deposits or withdrawals
  • Review your transaction history

*You may incur capital gains if you switch between the two types of portfolios.

Ellevest FAQs

Who Can Invest? Can Men Participate?

Absolutely. Anyone can invest with Ellevest. They’ll just apply different salary curves and tailor your investments based on your identifying information.

What Investments Does Ellevest Use? Can I Pick My Own?

You can’t pick your own stocks. Ellevest handles all the investment decisions for you and invests in low-cost exchange-traded funds.

Your portfolio will include a mix of stocks, bonds, and alternatives depending on your timeline and how much growth you need to reach your goal.

Is My Money Safe?

While you’re never guaranteed to get your money back with investments, you are protected in the sense that Ellevest is SIPC insured. So if they or their custodian service Folio go out of business, you still own your investments.

Pros and Cons of Ellevest

Pros:

  • No account minimum
  • Competitive fees compared to other robo-advisors
  • Penalty-free withdrawals
  • Investment forecasts specifically designed for you
  • Socially responsible investments
  • Automatic rebalancing

Cons:

  • No emergency fund option at this time
  • Limited account options
  • No tax-loss harvesting

Final Thoughts

At first glance, Ellevest offers a friendly, unintimidating platform that makes investing simple. What sets them apart from their competitors is their investment forecast models that focus on gender and earnings potential.

Their commitment to bringing effective investing options to women isn’t just a gimmick. The online magazine is a great resource for anyone looking to brush up on their financial acumen.

By investing in Impact funds, they’re helping both sides of the equation. They’re giving women investors confidence in their decisions and simultaneously using those investments to help women leaders and their communities.

While it’s always cheaper to go for DIY investment strategies, this can be time-consuming and impractical for many people interested in investing their hard-earned money.

Ellevest removes one of the biggest barriers to entry by taking away all the decisions. You just have to decide how much you can invest and how much you’d like it to grow. Once your account and goals are set up, all you have to do is contribute money. Ellevest takes care of the rest.

Caitlin Ward - Contributor Caitlin Ward works as a tax accountant at a small-town Virginia CPA firm. When she isn't writing about personal finance, she's studying for the CPA exam. She has a B.A. in Business Administration and a slight obsession with all things money. She contributes to Listen Money Matters to share what she's learned with more than just her husband and their cats.
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