Empower, which was formerly known as Personal Capital Advisors Corp., combines both the hands-on management of a human advisory with a tech side. So in addition to the services offered by traditional firms, Empower offers online portfolio management as well as free financial tools through its app. Clients at the $100,000 to $200,000 investment level have access to a team of advisors, those over $200,000 get two dedicated financial advisors.
Tech-savvy investors who want customized services from humans
Higher management fees for automated services at the low end of investor assets
Pricing: How Much Does Empower Cost?
|Option Name||Management Fee||Minimum Balance||Features|
|Investment Service||0.49%-0.89%||$100,000||Access to free online tools and team of financial advisors, tax-loss harvesting|
|Wealth Management||0.49%-0.89%||$200,000||Dedicated financial advisor, full financial plan, customizable stocks and ETFs|
|Private Client||0.89% for first $1 million invested (lower rates for higher balances)||$1 million||Priority access to advisors, full financial plan, banking services, customizable stocks, bonds and ETFs|
Anyone who signs up can use the free financial planning and investment tools. If you want to use the company’s advising services, however, you will need to invest a minimum of $100,000.
Management fees range from 0.89% down to 0.49%:
|First $1 million||0.89%|
|First $3 million||0.79%|
|Next $2 million||0.69%|
|Next $5 million||0.59%|
|More than $10 million||0.49%|
At the low end of assets ($100,000 to $200,000), the management fee may seem high compared to other automated investment platforms. But you are also getting access to a team of advisors, which non-hybrid robo-advisors do not offer. At the asset level above $200,000, even the highest fee of 0.89% is significantly lower than the management fees charged by traditional financial advisors.
Empower Investing Strategy
How does Empower invest your money? Like other firms that follow Modern Portfolio Theory, Empower believes that asset allocation is key to superior returns and seeks to minimize risk by diversifying portfolios across multiple asset classes. It uses a proprietary index weighting approach to ensure, it says, “exposure to all areas of the U.S. stock market while avoiding being overweight to high-risk segments.”
Portfolios between $100,000 and $200,000 are invested in exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Those with over $200,000 are invested in ETFs and stock; and clients with more than $1 million in assets can also invest in individual bonds.
The current account types available include: individual and joint non-retirement accounts, traditional IRA, Roth IRA, SEP-IRA, rollovers IRA and trusts. While Empower does not manage 401(k) or 529 plans, it can advise clients on them.
Individual and joint non-retirement accounts
- Roth IRA
- Rollover IRA
- 529 plans
Empower’s biggest feature is… humans! Many automated advisors offer online services with no access to human financial advisors. As noted earlier, Empower offers advisory services provided by humans and augmented by technology. This is especially the case as account balances rise above $200,000 and access to services increases. Advisors are available via email, phone and video chat.
Accounts use tax-loss harvesting, which is a common portfolio management practice. The purpose of tax-loss harvesting is to minimize your tax payments by offsetting the gains in your account with losses from selling underwater investments.
The DIY investor will like the free financial tools offered to account holders. It costs nothing to open an account and there is a free mobile app, even if you don’t invest through Empower. You can link your other accounts to Empower to receive analysis on your budget and retirement savings and advice for balancing your portfolio.
Who Empower Is For
The minimum required investment is $100,000. This probably eliminates many rookie investors. However, you can create an account and use its financial planning tools for free. This puts Empower in a unique position because it will attract investors who are on opposite ends of the spectrum. One side is the investor with a high net worth - people who are potentially looking to manage millions of dollars. On the other end of the spectrum is the DIY or low-net-worth investors who want to take advantage of the company's free financial tools without paying for its services provided by human advisors.
If you have more than $200,000, this firm may be a great choice. Your accounts are automatically managed, which means you can sit back and let Empower do all the heavy lifting. At the same time, you get access to human financial advisors and their customized solutions. Additionally, Empower’s fee is all-inclusive, meaning you aren’t charged separately for brokerage and custodial services.
So you'll get a lot of bang for your buck if you are an investor with at least $200,000 and you want the benefits of both online services and a human advisor. However, Empower will also appeal to the DIY investor. Creating an account is free, as is the mobile app. With an account you have access to a number of free financial tools that could help you to manage a portfolio on your own. All you need to do is link your other accounts to your Empower account.
Then you can get a breakdown of all your expenses into spending categories like groceries, restaurants, clothing, loans and taxes. More than just budgeting, you can get analysis of your portfolio to find out how much you should increase or reduce each asset class in order to match Empower’s recommended targets. You can also evaluate and forecast your retirement savings to know what you need to do in order to meet your goals. You won’t have access to human advisors with a free account, but the tools may be enough for serious DIY investors.
That said, if you have at least $25,000 to invest, you may want to consider getting a human advisor instead. SmartAsset's financial advisor matching tool can help you find a local advisor who suits your needs. To learn more about different individual advisors in your area, explore SmartAdvisor Match.
- Human Advisors
- Tax-Loss Harvesting
- Automatic Rebalancing
- Direct Indexing
- Fractional Shares
How Empower Works
Opening an account is free. You can also download and use the mobile app. If you are looking to use the free financial tools, this account is all you will need.
If you want to invest through Empower, you will need at least $100,000 to open a paid account. Your management fee will depend on how much you invest. See the pricing section above to learn more about management fees. When you open a paid account, you will have multiple retirement and non-retirement account types to choose from.
Once you create an account, whether free or paid, you will have access to your dashboard. The dashboard lets you track things like your spending, saving, net worth, portfolio balances and the movement of ETFs within your portfolio. Link your other bank and investment accounts with Empower and you can also track them through the dashboard. The company promotes the idea of having all your financial information in one place.
What’s the Catch?
Because of its automated investment services, Empower straddles both the digital wealth management and traditional advisor worlds. If you compare its fees to the former’s fees, they seem high. This makes sense, since you are also paying for access to human advisors. On the other hand, if you compare its fees to traditional advisors’ fees, they seem decent and even low, especially since they are all-inclusive, which means you aren’t charged separately for trade transactions and custodian services.
Empower’s minimum of $100,000 is out of reach for many of people. If you can afford the minimum but don’t have at least $200,000, you may be better served using a robo-advisor (since Empower would put you in ETFs, too) or a traditional advisor who will be dedicated to your account, regardless of you account size.
Competition: How Empower Stacks Up?
Empower is targeted to high-net-worth investors. Those with over $1 million to invest will benefit from the low fees and additional services. Investors at the $200,000 to $1 million level will also benefit from the low fees and comprehensive financial planning services. But investors with less than $200,000 may be better off going with a traditional advisory that doesn’t have augmented technology or with a robo-advisor, depending on their priorities.
If you don’t need a human connection, Wealthfront offers a management fee of 0.25% to all investors. It has a minimum of just $500 so it is within reach for more people. Wealthfront also offers tax-loss harvesting to all investors like Empower. One difference is that Wealthfront offers direct indexing to accounts with at least $100,000. This is a more advanced form of tax-loss harvesting that looks at the movement of individual stocks, not just a fund as a whole, in order to decrease your tax bill further. Accounts with at least $500,000 have access to an improved form of smart beta, an investment strategy that considers multiple factors when choosing the best stocks to buy for your portfolio.
If access to human advisors is important, Betterment now offers part-time access to advisors. The Betterment Premium plan provides unlimited phone consultations with financial experts. This plan has a minimum balance of $100,000 and the management fee is 0.40%. This fee is significantly lower than the Empower fees with the same minimum payment. The difference is that Empower offers an unlimited number of consultations and offers more ways to contact advisors.
Another similar service is Vanguard Personal Advisor Services. Vanguard is well-known as one of the largest mutual fund managers but it also offers advisor services to accounts of $50,000 or more. Investors have access to a team of human advisors and get a dedicated advisor when they pass the $500,000 threshold. Vanguard management fees start at 0.30% and go down to just 0.20% if you have more than $5 million invested or 0.10% if you have more than $10 million. However, these fees are not all-inclusive like Empower's. Also, Vanguard Personal Advisor Services doesn’t have tools as comprehensive as Empower’s and its tax-loss harvesting is more limited.
As low as robo-advisor fees are compared to traditional advisor fees, DIY investors could save money by creating and monitoring their own portfolios instead of using a paid service. Unlike many other competitors, Empower allows you access to its financial tracking and planning software even if you don’t invest with it.
Bottom Line: Should You Use Empower?
Empower offers a lot of bang for your buck if you have at least $200,000 to invest and want the advantages of both human advisors and online services. DIY investors will also benefit from its free mobile app and its array of financial planning tools. People who are investing around the minimum ($100,000 - $200,000) may want to go the simple robo-advisor route to save money - or the old-school advisor route if they are not tech-savvy.
Tips for Finding an Advisor
- Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three vetted financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
- When choosing a financial advisor, keep your goals and needs in mind. Are you putting a child through college while also saving for a new home? Find an advisor who can help you with that. It helps to ask advisors questions about their credentials and experience to better determine whether they’re right for you.