Which is better: robot or human?
When it comes to financial advisors, the answer isn’t always clear.
Robots are less emotional and more predictable; humans are more fun to talk to and sense things some robots don’t.
But thanks to an app called Wela, you might not have to choose between the two.
What is Wela?
Wela launched in January 2016. Its co-founder and CEO, Matt Reiner, came from a traditional personal finance background. He’s both a certified financial planner and a chartered financial analyst.
Wanting to expand his offerings beyond high-net-worth individuals and “add more value to the world,” Reiner created Wela — a tool he jokingly calls “Mint on steroids.”
Like other financial planning software, Wela offers the ability to aggregate all your accounts in one place. It can connect to 19,000 institutions, including investment and bank accounts, credit cards, student loan debt, and mortgages.
But what sets Wela apart — besides a few features I’ll review below — is its integration with real, live financial advisors.
Reiner cited a study that showed advisors could add 3 percent to the value of an individual’s portfolio — and not because they were better at playing the stock market.
“It was the human effect,” he said. “In investing, the key isn’t picking and choosing stocks; it’s being able to manage yourself, to keep yourself from buying too much when the market is up and selling out when the market is down.”
For newbie investors, Reiner said, the advisors provide this hand-holding.
“You need someone to help you understand why things are happening in the market to keep you from doing things you’ll kick yourself for later. … Investing is emotional, and I think a human is necessary for those emotional times,” he explained.
3 unique features of the Wela app
If you want to manage your money better, Wela offers a snapshot of all your financial accounts as well as tools for budgeting and saving.
And while many financial planning software platforms offer similar services, here are a few unique features that set Wela apart.
1. Daily spend limit
This simple but innovative feature is a twist on traditional budgeting (which everybody hates).
“The daily spend limit is a way of working with behavioral economics and psychology to get you to focus on what you really want out of a budget,” explained Reiner. “You want to be able to spend money — not cut money.”
To get started, the app looks at your after-tax income, core expenses such as rent and insurance, and savings goals and investments.
Wela then calculates your “daily spend limit” — the guilt-free amount of money you can spend on anything you choose. It rolls over, so if you spend too much one day, it’ll be lower the next; if you spend less, it’ll be higher.
“It allows you to focus on one number,” said Reiner. “You don’t have to trade numbers within your budget. You know at the end of the month, you’ll have enough to cover your expenses. … You’re able to reward yourself every single day if you’re able to accomplish that.”
I love this idea because it makes budgeting less about restrictions and more about freedom. You also can adjust the daily spend limit if, say, you want to retire younger or take that vacation sooner.
Think of it as “Weight Watchers for your budget,” Reiner said.
2. Benjamin the chatbot
When you download the Wela app, you’ll have all the features of the web platform — plus a new chatbot friend named Benjamin.
“Ultimately we want to change the way that financial advice is delivered,” said Reiner. “Ben is our way of doing that. He’s really your financial coach; he analyzes the info you’ve put in system and helps guide you through becoming better spender and better saver.”
You can ask him questions about the app or about saving and spending in general. Although he isn’t super advanced yet, he’ll become more sophisticated with age, according to Reiner.
And if he doesn’t answer your question, you can turn to the humans.
3. Free consultation with a financial advisor
For all its users, Wela offers a complimentary one-hour session with a financial advisor. During this call, you’ll be able to talk general strategies and advice but won’t receive specific investment recommendations.
If you want tailored advice, you’ll have to invest your money with Wela Strategies, the company’s wealth management arm. Although there’s no minimum to get started, you’ll pay a 1 percent annual fee on investments up to $250,000.
You also can take part in the company’s “debt destroyer” program. For $12.99 per month, you’ll get a comprehensive debt-elimination plan along with quarterly check-ins. Reiner noted that this program is mostly geared toward credit card debt, not student loans.
Should you give Wela a try?
I downloaded Wela and played around with it for a few days. Although the user experience wasn’t perfect — I wasn’t always sure what I was supposed to do next, for example — Wela is undoubtedly an innovative idea.
It’s grounded in economic theory and has some unique features — cough, humans, cough — that make it stand out from the crowd.
In other words, it’s worth a try if you want an investing app with a human touch.
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