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Portfolio Strategy

What Were Your Total Betterment Returns in 2013?

We wanted to share all the ways we’ve made your portfolio as profitable as possible—and set the stage for an even better 2014.

Articles by Sarah Michaelson

By Sarah Michaelson
Senior Product Marketing Manager, Betterment  |  Published: January 17, 2014

We helped customers keep $2.6 million more of their returns with our behavioral guardrails.

We saved a total of $27 million in trading costs for all customers.

We saved customers a total of 2,719 days by efficiently managing their account.

The start of a new year is a point of reflection as well as forward thinking for your investments. But if you made the common mistake of assessing only your raw returns for 2013, you probably didn’t get the whole picture. Here’s why.

It’s important to think about returns net of costs, net of time, and net of behavior. These are three powerful factors that play into the amount of your actual take-home return. At Betterment we work hard to optimize your portfolio on all three fronts.

What does that mean for you, as an individual investor? We decided to quantify the real value we provide in terms of saving you time and money, as well as the behavioral guardrails we’ve built into the Betterment product—which help you avoid poor investment choices (or emotional reactions to the market) and thus increase your actual take-home returns.

Note that our end-of-year email to you included numbers as they pertain to your individual account (if you’re a Betterment customer and didn’t receive this email, please email me.)

Read on to learn more about your true returns with Betterment.

Betterment = Better behavior

You know that Betterment automates good behavior; it’s part of our mission and philosophy. Good behavior means: not reacting to market swings; rarely changing allocations; and depositing regularly to build wealth (which also helps us rebalance without selling shares). By automating excellent investment habits, we take you out of the picture, so you keep more of your gains.

But we wanted to quantify this particular value for you. Better behavior sounds good, but what’s it worth?

According to our new, rigorous analysis of investor accounts, what we found is that Betterment helps to close the behavior gap in significant enough ways that our investors take home an extra 1.25% on average. That amounts to a total of $2.6 million in returns to all customer accounts.

Betterment = Cost savings

In 2013, we made 3,915,871 trades, which would have cost about $7 per trade at a DIY brokerage. That’s a total of $27 million in trading costs we saved for Betterment customers.

What’s the potential benefit to you? Let’s say you made 51 deposits last year, roughly one per week. We used those deposits toward rebalancing your account, so that every dollar was distributed across our 12 ETFs.

Now let’s say we made about 371 trades (roughly once a day) to balance the allocation in your portfolio, not including dividend trades. If you’d made those 371 trades yourself through a DIY brokerage, it likely would have cost you about $2,597.

Betterment = Time savings

At Betterment, you don’t have to execute any trades—we take care of all that. But if you’d gone the DIY route, we estimate that each trade would have taken you about a minute.

Given that we made 3,915,871 trades in 2013 on behalf of customers, that amounts to 2,719 days in total time saved for everyone who uses Betterment.

What might that have meant for you, personally? With Betterment making those 371 trades, as in the above example, that’s an estimated 6.3 hours saved—almost a full work day that you didn’t have to worry about or even touch your portfolio.

Bonus: Our trading and automatic allocation helped us rebalance your account without selling shares, because we rebalanced with every deposit. Not having to sell shares means that we kept your capital gains tax bill low.

As you can see, 2014 is off to an even better start than you thought, because now you know in detail how we’re optimizing your behavior and your portfolio so that you end up with bigger returns.

Curious to learn more about returns? Check out our primer, “The Right Way to Gauge Investment Returns.” 

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