Perspectives : DC Retirement | May 13, 2022

Advice adds value across the board

Conventional wisdom says human financial advisors are under siege as technology plays a bigger role in advice offers. But a recent Vanguard survey of more than 1,500 investors found that interest in human advisors remains strong.1

"The industry has focused on how digital services could potentially replace human advisors, but less attention has been paid to the possibility that digitally advised clients would consider switching to human advisors," said Paulo Costa, Ph.D., a behavioral economist in Vanguard Investment Strategy Group, who led the study.

Although 76% of the human-advised clients surveyed said they would seek out another human advisor, and 17% said they would search for a service that combines human and digital advisors. Eighty-eight percent of the digital-only respondents expressed a willingness to switch to a human advisor in the future.

"People want human advisors, but they also see a role for technology in the delivery of services," Costa said.

The study examined investor preferences regarding advice and the perceived trade-offs between the human and digital kind. It investigated whether technology was a threat to financial advisors by examining loyalty to both human and digital advisors and the likelihood of clients switching services.

The typical human-advised client is quite different from those who get their advice digitally, Costa explained.

"Clients with a human advisor indicated that they don't have the time, willingness, or ability to manage their investments," he said. "And as financial life gets more complex, investors seem to want more personalized attention that you get with a human advisor."

Investors with human advisors are unlikely to switch to a digital service

Note: The sample in this figure includes all clients who have only human advisors (1,175 in total).
Source: Vanguard, 2021.

Investors with digital advisors are likely to switch to human advisors

Note: The sample in this figure includes all clients who have only digital advisors (135 in total).
Source: Vanguard, 2021.

Investors value both human and digital advice

The survey produced other interesting and important findings, including:

  • Advice adds value across the board. Regardless of the delivery method, investors believe that advice provides higher incremental portfolio value than going it alone. The perceived value added to annual performance was 5% for human advice and 3% for digital-only advice.
  • Advised clients believe they are closer to their financial goals. Investors using human advisors estimate being $160,000 closer to achieving their financial goals. For digital-advised clients, the value is $50,000.
  • Investors prefer human advice for emotional support. This includes important criteria, such as an advisor developing a personal connection and relationship with the investor, being empathetic to the investor's personal situation and needs, and ensuring that the investor feels listened to and understood.
  • Digital advice plays a crucial role. Investors prefer digital advice for portfolio management services, such as diversifying investments and efficiently managing taxes and capital gains.
  • Satisfaction is high in the industry. The survey found that 84% of human-advised clients and 77% of robo-advised clients are satisfied with the advice they are receiving.
  • Demographics are not important when considering relative preferences. Contrary to popular belief, the survey did not find that millennials have distinct preferences that differ from other generations when it comes to automation of service. Millennials and older investors rank similarly regarding which services should or should not be automated.

Key takeaways for advisors

The survey results show that investors prefer some aspects of human advice over digital but perceive value in all advice services, Costa said.

"In light of their diverse needs, it is critical that investors have access to a wide range of advice services," he said. "This level of investor access helps advisors pursue the right clients based on their service model and also helps them understand which services can be outsourced to automation to help scale their practices in a cost-efficient manner."

1The study, conducted in July 2021, surveyed 1,518 investors who reported having an advice service at the time of the survey. The sample is representative of U.S. investors by age, gender, and other demographics with at least $100,000 in investable assets. Approximately 75% reported using a human advisor, with the remaining 25% using digital advice or both digital and human advice.


  • All investing is subject to risk, including the possible loss of the money you invest. Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss. There is no guarantee that any particular asset allocation or mix of funds will meet your investment objectives or provide you with a given level of income.