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Updated on Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Ellevest offers a suite of financial products and services while pegging itself as a financial services company made by women for women. While its cash management product falls short, Ellevest truly stands out with its robo-advisor product, as it intelligently factors in the challenges — like career breaks and pay gaps — that are unique to female investors.
This review dives into what Ellevest offers, who it might be best for and its advantages and disadvantages.
- What is Ellevest and how does it work?
- Pros and cons of Ellevest
- Ellevest investing
- Ellevest banking
- Ellevest financial planning
- Ellevest fees
- Is Ellevest worth it?
What is Ellevest and how does it work?
Founded in 2014 by industry veteran Sallie Krawcheck, Ellevest is a financial services company that was conceived and designed to meet the unique needs of female consumers. The company launched as primarily a robo-advisor designed for women, offering a proprietary algorithm factoring in pay gaps, career breaks and longer life spans that are unique to women.
Ellevest has since expanded to offer an array of services — including banking, financial coaching and retirement planning — for a monthly membership fee. Its membership model currently features three tiers (Ellevest Essential, Ellevest Plus and Ellevest Executive), ranging from just $1 a month for access to its robo-advising and cash management services to $9 a month, which unlocks access to its retirement and multi-goal investing services.
Ellevest’s Concierge Team is available to all Ellevest members, who are reachable by phone or online and can help with consolidating IRAs and 401(k) plans and customizing your Ellevest investment goals. All members also have access to Ellevest Learning, which provides educational content.
Since Ellevest is not a bank or brokerage firm, all assets invested with Ellevest are held by Folio Investments Inc., an SEC-registered broker-dealer and custodian.
Pros and cons of Ellevest
- Made for women: There are a plethora of robo-advisors out there, but Ellevest differentiates itself by its proprietary algorithm that takes into account the unique financial needs of women. The algorithm, for example, factors in a gender-specific, educated-based salary curve and the longer life spans of women when creating your investment plan, aiming to cater to women who feel that traditional financial services have not been meeting their needs.
- Minimal fees: Ellevest is unique in that it doesn’t charge an advisory fee for its investment services (aside from its monthly membership fees). Other robo-advisors typically charge advisory fees. Wealthfront, for example, charges an advisory fee of 0.25% of assets under management, and Betterment also charges a fee of 0.25%.
- Private wealth management offering: For those looking to invest $1 million or more, Ellevest also offers a private wealth management service in which a dedicated financial advisor will work one-on-one with you.
- Limited account types available: Ellevest only offers taxable accounts, Roth IRAs, Traditional IRAs, SEP IRAs and 401(k) rollover IRAs. There are no Solo 401(k) (for small businesses), Joint taxable accounts, 529 Plan accounts, or custodial account options offered. Meanwhile, Wealthfront, for instance, offers a more robust selection of accounts, including 529 Plan accounts and Joint taxable accounts.
- Weak cash management product: Ellevest’s cash management product falls behind its peers. While other cash management options like SoFi Money, Simple and Aspiration offer APYs on funds for no monthly fees, Ellevest does not offer an APY, and charges a membership fee.
- No tax-loss harvesting: Rather than using traditional tax-loss harvesting to help investors minimize their tax burden, Ellevest uses what it calls Tax Minimization Methodology (TMM) to place more tax-efficient investments in taxable accounts, and less tax-efficient investments in tax-deferred accounts. While this can potentially help investors to reduce their taxes, it is not the same as tax-loss harvesting, so you should consider looking at other robo-advisors if this is a priority for you.
Ellevest originally launched as an online investing platform for women, and its investing services remain its core product. For a monthly membership fee beginning at $1 — and no minimum balance required — Ellevest creates customized investment plans consisting of low-cost ETFs and/or mutual funds that are made up of stocks, bonds and alternative assets.
Before selecting a portfolio, Ellevest customers are required to answer questions via an online form about their age, salary, education level, financial goals and more. Ellevest then uses those answers to recommend a personalized investment plan factoring in your target goal amount, time horizon, initial deposit amount and cadence of contributions.
Once a client starts investing, Ellevest rebalances their portfolio over time to maintain the right asset allocation for their investment plan. Clients can withdraw their money at any time.
As for how Ellevest puts its claim of providing investing services that are “built for women” into action, it does so through its investing algorithm. Ellevest’s forecasts use a gender-specific and education-based salary curve from Morningstar Investment Management. It claims that while earnings for men with bachelor’s degrees peak at age 55, they peak for women at just 40. By using this salary curve as opposed to a fixed-salary growth assumption, Ellevest says it is able to paint a more realistic picture of how women can reach their investment goals.
Ellevest investment plan recommendations
Currently, Ellevest uses 21 different asset classes across its six goals-based portfolios, with its core portfolio consisting of low-cost ETFs. Ellevest’s goal-based portfolios are designed for consumers who are investing to reach specific financial goals, including purchasing a home, starting their own business, saving for children, retirement and big splurges. It also offers a general, goals-based portfolio focused on building wealth over time.
The chart below dives deeper into the goals-based portfolios Ellevest currently offers, and the methodology it uses for estimating initial target amounts.
|Ellevest Investment Plan Recommendations|
|Goal-based portfolio||Estimated target amount||Default investment horizon|
|A Place to Call Home||Average price of home in client’s zip code, assuming a 20% down payment, plus inflation for the duration of the investment’s time horizon||6 years|
|Start My Own Business||24 months of client’s take-home pay, plus inflation for the duration of the investment’s time horizon||5 years|
|Kids Are Awesome||9 months of client’s take-home pay, with inflation added for the duration of the investment’s time horizon||6 years|
|Retirement on My Terms||Grows client’s current salary using gender-specific salary curve based on education level, assuming 90% of client’s after-tax salary in the year before retirement to be income needed in retirement||Client’s full retirement age as defined by Social Security Administration|
|Once-In-A-Lifetime Splurge||Client sets the amount needed for the splurge||Client defines the goal date|
|Build Wealth||Varies depending on goal priorities and resources||20 years or more|
Ellevest Impact Portfolios
Alongside its six core portfolios, Ellevest also offers a socially responsible investing option called impact investing. Ellevest’s Impact Portfolios invest a client’s money into funds that are designed to make a positive social impact. While your entire portfolio will not be devoted to impact investing, Ellevest says it does invest up to 53% in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors and impact funds.
Portfolios available through impact investing include those focused on investing in companies with women leadership, funds that support loans for affordable housing and community services and companies with higher standards for sustainability and ethical practices.
Ellevest retirement accounts and services
In addition to its taxable brokerage account offerings, Ellevest also features a number of tax-advantaged retirement accounts and services. Currently, Ellevest offers the following retirement accounts:
- Traditional IRAs
- Roth IRAs
- SEP IRAs
Ellevest allows you to roll over 401(k) or 403(b) plans into an Ellevest IRA; transfer an existing traditional, Roth or SEP IRA into an Ellevest IRA; or open a new IRA account. Ellevest does not charge any additional fees for retirement accounts outside of the monthly membership fee, but note that you might face transaction and transfer fees from your current retirement plan provider.
Ellevest’s latest addition to its product lineup includes a cash management account. The account consists of a Spend account (acting as a checking account) and a Save account (acting as a savings account) that work in tandem; however, it is not required that you use both accounts.
Ellevest’s cash management service also comes with a Mastercard debit card. Additionally, the Spend account features a Roundup feature, which automatically rounds up each transaction made with your debit card to the nearest dollar, stashing the difference in your Save account.
To deposit funds into the account, customers can transfer money from a linked bank account or arrange for a direct deposit through their paycheck provider. Funds in your Ellevest Save and Spend account are FDIC-insured up to the legal limit through Coastal Community Bank.
Below is a chart outlining the core fees of Ellevest’s Spend and Save account.
|Ellevest Spend and Save Account Minimums and Fees|
|Monthly service fee||None|
|ATM fee||Reimbursed when using your card in the U.S. and a payroll direct deposit has been received in the prior 30 days; international ATM fee of $5|
Ellevest financial planning
Ellevest doesn’t just offer financial products, but services, too. Ellevest Coaching is Ellevest’s financial planning offering, featuring one-on-one consultation services for a number of financial topics.
Unlike its other products, Ellevest Coaching is available to non-members of Ellevest’s membership program — although members get a significant discount on sessions. The exact amount of the discount depends on their membership tier. Prices for Ellevest Coaching sessions range from $275 for two 30-minute calls to $675 for unlimited access to a certified financial planner (CFP) for a year, including quarterly calls and unlimited email support.
There is a wide array of sessions available with Ellevest Coaching, with topics including:
- Managing money and paying down debt: Available sessions include budgeting and spending sessions ($125) and debt repayment plan sessions ($150).
- Job searching and salary negotiation: Available sessions include career transition help ($275), negotiation strategy coaching ($125) and communication skills coaching ($250).
- Career and executive coaching: Available sessions include executive coaching packages ($1,300 for six sessions) and interview coaching ($150).
- Retirement and investing: Available sessions include retirement check-ups ($300).
Ellevest offers its financial products and services on a tier-based, membership model. Plans vary from $1 a month to $9 a month, with higher costs unlocking additional features. The chart below details Ellevest’s monthly plans and what they include.
|Product||Essential — $1/ month||Plus — $5/month||Executive — $9/ month|
|Ellevest Coaching||20% off||30% off||50% off|
When it comes to its investing service, unlike most robo-advisors, Ellevest does not charge separate advisory fees on assets in addition to the monthly membership fee. However, ETF fund fees for its core portfolios (which are listed in the chart above) range from 0.05% to 0.10% per year, while its Impact Portfolios charge ETF and mutual fund fees that range from 0.13% to 0.19% per year.
Additionally, you will incur costs if you use the Ellevest Coaching services, though members do benefit from the discounts listed in the table above.
Is Ellevest worth it?
If you prioritize a robo-advisor that takes into consideration the unique demands that female investors can face — such as having a longer life span and dealing with wage gaps and career breaks — Ellevest is not only a solid choice, it is one of the only options out there. Additionally, if you prefer goal-based investing and a customizable investing experience without the hefty fees that many actively managed funds charge, Ellevest is certainly worth exploring.
However, if you are in the market for a cash management account and solely looking for banking — not investing —services, you’re better off looking elsewhere, as there are more attractive cash management platforms with higher APYs and FDIC limits. If you’re looking for a high-yield savings account option without the investment frills, Ellevest may not be right for you.
Alternatives to Ellevest
|Account minimum||Annual fee||Accounts offered|
|Ellevest||$0||$1 to $9 per month||Individual taxable, traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA|
|Betterment||$0||0.25%||Individual taxable, joint taxable, trusts, traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA|
|Wealthfront||$500||0.25%||Individual taxable, joint taxable, trusts, traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP IRA, 529|
Ellevest vs. Betterment
Ellevest and Betterment both allow investors to invest in curated portfolios made up of low-cost ETFs, but there are differences between the two when it comes down to the details. The biggest difference is pricing: While Betterment charges a fee based on a percentage of assets under management, Ellevest charges a flat fee for its services.
For investors who are focused on getting the lowest-cost option, Betterment is the better choice, especially for those with investment accounts with lower balances. Even Ellevest’s most affordable tier at $1 per month is equivalent to a 20% fee if you are investing just $5 per month, which is notably higher than Betterment’s annual fee of 0.25%.
However, if you are specifically looking for a robo-advisor that caters to women and takes into account unique factors that can impact a woman’s investment strategy, such as longer lifespans and career breaks, Ellevest will be the better fit.
Ellevest vs. Wealthfront
Wealthfront charges an annual management fee of 0.25%, compared to Ellevest’s heftier flat fee that ranges from $1 to $9 per month. However, Wealthfront requires a minimum investment of $500, so at the cheapest, you’d be paying at least $1.25, per month, making Ellevest a potentially more affordable option if you opt for the lowest tier and plan on depositing more than $500 per month.
For investors who prioritize tax efficiency, though, Wealthfront is the winner. It offers a robust array of tax efficiency features, including tax-loss harvesting and even stock-level tax loss harvesting. Meanwhile, Ellevest doesn’t offer any tax-loss harvesting.