Morgan Stanley woos millennials via robo-adviser with ETFs

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(Bloomberg) -- Morgan Stanley is trying to get down with the kids.

The banking and wealth management powerhouse is starting a new digital investment platform for clients with as little as $5,000 to invest, according to a statement from the company on Monday.

Built around exchange-traded funds -- low-cost products that give investors access to broad chunks of the market -- Morgan Stanley Access Investing will charge $3.50 a year for every $1,000 of assets under management, the statement said. Clients can choose from a range of strategies, including a mix of ETFs that aim to track the market, a core portfolio of ETFs and mutual funds, and thematic strategies including sustainability and gender diversity.

With as much as $30 trillion in wealth estimated to transfer from baby boomers to millennials over the next few decades, traditional broker-dealers such as Morgan Stanley are looking to engage with the next generation. Many younger investors so far have steered away from their parents’ financial advisers, preferring the low- or no-touch programs offered online by robo-advisers.

Morgan Stanley will combine technology and human advisers in the new platform, and it will look to increase its involvement with clients as they get older and their needs evolve.

This “is an opportunity for financial advisers to grow their book of business by making connections with prospects earlier and eventually establishing full-service relationships when clients are ready,” Naureen Hassan, chief digital officer at Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, said in the statement.

Active DimensionAmong the ETF managers with funds investors can buy through Morgan Stanley’s platform are niche, thematic providers such as Global X Management Co., which runs a $1.4 billion robotics ETF, and Ark Investment Management, which has just five funds.

Morgan Stanley’s strategies also include active mutual funds, which are often shunned by robo-advisers in part because they tend to be more expensive. While fees are important -- and Morgan Stanley tries to use its clout to keep costs for the end investor as low as possible -- the firm believes that active managers are potentially more adept at managing risk in volatile markets, according to Lisa Shalett, head of investment and portfolio solutions.

“We’re trying to not only optimize risk and return,” Shalett said. “We’re trying to optimize fees.”

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