Battle of the robo advisers: Nutmeg, Moola and Wealthify vs Vanguard

Picture of a man in armour wielding a sword

Who would win the battle of the robo advisers?

Robo advisers make investing easy – but do they actually make you money?

I blogged before about how I love the idea of the new breed of investment websites. Just answer a few questions online, choose a degree of risk, and hand over your cash. The robo adviser takes care of everything else, and all for relatively low fees.

Previous post: what are robo advisers? 

But I get frustrated by the lack of performance figures.

Better believe I’m channelling Jerry Maguire: SHOW ME THE MONEY!

This time last year, I got so fed up I bunged £1,000 into three different robo advisers, Nutmeg, Wealthify and Moola, to see what happened. Would my money soar, sink or stay the same?

As a comparison, I also put £1,000 in a Vanguard LifeStrategy fund. Vanguard isn’t a robo adviser, but I reckon the LifeStrategy funds offer a similar low cost one-stop-shop for new investors.

Previous post: Which Vanguard LifeStrategy fund is right for you? [Collaborative post]

Read on to find out the robo adviser results!

Battle of the robo advisers: what did I pick?

I went for Nutmeg, Moola and Wealthify based on the entirely scientific process of who would pay me the most.

Yup, I went for the cashback bribes.

Companies often offer cashback during March, trying to lure investors keen to use their individual savings account (Isa) allowance before the tax year ends on April 5.

Now, as I said in the post ‘what are robo advisers?‘, I would never suggest investing large amounts just based on cashback. Get it wrong, and any cashback could be eaten up in poor performance and expensive charges.

But as I was opening accounts anyway, I decided to claim the extra cash. I’d have a head start if markets dropped, and more chance of a profit even if the investments bombed.

I already had an Isa last year, so I used three offers when opening general investment accounts:

  • £100 paid into a Moola account for opening an account, via a marketing email. It was paid within a week of investing
  • £50 due six months after opening a Wealthify account, via a link from Mrs Mummypenny’s blog
  • £200 paid into a Nutmeg account 13 months after opening, via a link from MoneySavingExpert

All had different small print on how much money to invest and how long to keep it invested. I met the conditions by investing £1,000 in each, and setting up a direct debit for £100 a month into the Nutmeg account.

Let battle commence

So back on Saturday 17 March 2018 I opened accounts with Nutmeg and Moola, chucked some money in my Vanguard account, and finished on Monday by opening a Wealthify account.

I started with £1,000 in each and opted for similarly racy investments.

Yup, intending to invest over 10 years plus, I was willing to slap it all in high risk options. Go big or go home.

I went for the highest risk ‘Adventurous’ options for Moola and Wealthify and level 9 of 10 for Nutmeg. For comparison, I picked the Vanguard LifeStrategy 80% fund, as the nearest split of shares and bonds.

Of course, more rational individuals might prefer a more measured approach – I’m not suggesting this is right for everyone!

Here’s how my choices stacked up when investing £1000 in an Isa or general investment account:

CompanyNutmegMoolaWealthifyVanguard Life Strategy range
Started201120162016 1975 for the company, 2011 for LifeStrategy range
Risk levels103: Cautious, Moderate, Adventurous5: Cautious, Tentative, Confident, Ambitious, Adventurous5: LifeStrategy 20%, 40%, 60%, 80% and 100%
Risk level I chose9AdventurousAdventurousLifeStrategy 80%
% of equities in my choice (ie shares in companies, the risky bit that drives growth)95%75%75%80%
Minimum lump sum£5,000*£50£1£500
Minimum monthly investment£100 a month plus £500 lump sum*£50£1£100
Total annual fees** on £1,0001.02% fully managed up to £100,000 (0.71% for fixed allocation)0.89%0.99% up to £15,000. I cut this to 0.79% by joining a circle with friends0.47%
Products4: Isa, General Investment Account, Lisa, Pension2: Isa, General Investing Account3: Isa, General Investment Account, Junior Isa3: Isa, General Account, Junior Isa
*Minimum investments vary for Nutmeg’s Lisa and pension
**Total annual fees includes fees for the account, for the funds and for transaction costs

Note: All companies offer ethical or socially responsible investment alternatives, typically with higher fees, but I just went for standard versions.

Previous post: What is ethical investing?

How did it go?

Sign up may be speedy, but it took a bit longer for my money to get invested, partly because I started at a weekend.

I already had a Vanguard account, so my money was invested by 20 March.

Otherwise Nutmeg was quickest but it took a few days longer for my money to hit the markets with Wealthify and Moola.

I started off with a rude awakening, as the markets dipped straight away (rude) leaving me with losses for the first week or two.

Luckily, looking back, I can see that my balances climbed till June, bounced up and down a bit over the summer months, then plunged towards the end of the September and hit a low point just before Christmas. Thankfully, markets picked up in January and rose again in February.

Drum roll please…the robo adviser results…

When I checked my balances after a year, they had all gone up! Phew.

Here’s the investment growth as of end 21 March 2019:

CompanyRisk levelGrowth (%)Growth (£)
VanguardLifeStrategy 80%7.39%£73.90
MoolaAdventurous6.25%£68.76
WealthifyAdventurous4.14%£43.11
Nutmeg9 of 103.4%£56

The percentage growth is time weighted return. That just means it shows how much the investments actually grew, regardless of any cash added or withdrawn, in my case the cashback from Moola and Wealthify, and the extra £100 a month paid into Nutmeg to qualify for cashback. That’s why Wealthify shows a higher percentage growth but lower growth in pounds than Nutmeg – it was generated from a smaller amount of money.

So my Vanguard LifeStrategy 80% investment grew the most, higher than Moola, a chunk more than Wealthify and more than twice as much as Nutmeg.

Here are screen grabs from the assorted accounts:

Screen grab of Vanguard performance end 21 March 2019

Vanguard: £73.90 & 7.39% investment growth, £1,000 contributions

 

Screen grab of Moola performance end 21 March 2019

Moola: £68.76 & 6.25% investment growth, £1,100 contributions & cashback

 

Screen grab of Wealthify balance end 21 March 2019

Wealthify: £43.11 & 4.14% investment growth, £1,050 contributions & cashback

 

Nutmeg: £56 & 3.4% investment growth, £2,200 contributions

How do these robo adviser results compare to other wealth managers?

For context, I turned to the Asset Risk Consultants (ARC) indices. These work out average returns after fees for customers of the big wealth managers, including Barclays Wealth, Coutts & Co, UBS, JP Morgan Private Bank and Rathbones.

There are four ARC indices, and my investments fall in the highest risk category: ARC’s ‘Equity Risk’.

The low cost robo advisers should look good when comparing results after fees, given you’d expect the other ARC companies to be charging an arm and a leg.

In practice, ARC reckons Equity Risk portfolios grew between 4.2% and 6.5% in the year to 20 March 2019, so it looks like Vanguard and Moola reached the high end of that range, Wealthify was close and Nutmeg didn’t do as well.

So what?

Overall, I invested £5,200 in four companies, including the Nutmeg monthly payments.

After a year, my investments had generated £241.77 in investment growth, plus another £150 (and hopefully £350 by end April) in cashback.

That’s certainly a chunk of money I wouldn’t have earned stuck in a savings account.

The growth rates weren’t mind blowing, but then markets as a whole haven’t performed amazingly either.

If you’re choosing between investment websites, do bear in mind that this comparison was only a year, which is a super short time for investing. As all the caveats say – past performance is no guarantee of future returns, and you could get back less than you started with. All robo advisers use different combinations of investments for different risk levels. ‘Adventurous’ on one website won’t be identical to ‘adventurous’ on another. I’ll include more info on where my money was actually invested in future posts.

I wish Nutmeg had done better.

It’s the biggest, most established robo adviser, with the most informative website, biggest range of products and most efficient payment processing, and is the only one regulated to give simplified advice.  It also pays out the highest cashback (£170 currently via TopCashback or £120 via Quidco) and would pay me £100 for each friend I referred. But it also had the highest fees in this comparison.

Moola, which did best of the three robo advisers, had the least satisfying website – it doesn’t even show growth rates!

But overall, Vanguard, with the lowest charges using a LifeStrategy fund, generated higher growth for me than the robo advisers. The website isn’t as slick, it doesn’t have a questionnaire to guide your choice and it doesn’t offer cashback bribes, but it’s one of the biggest investment companies in the world and did make the most of my money.

Now – over to you. Ever considered investing with a robo adviser? If you have, are you happy with the results?

Disclosure: No-one has paid me to write this post, although I have written collaborative posts with Vanguard in the past.

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4 Comments

  1. Caro
    24th April 2019 / 1:28 pm

    Thanks for a great article. However I’m quite surprised at the results, as I invested in a Nutmeg S&S ISA over the same period and had a return of 7% after fees for the year (8% including the tasty cashback). I started out with 2 pots to test some different configurations, but switched to a single one around November as it performed consistently better (5/5 level risk, fully automated) – the other pot had level 3 or 4 risk and started out with the managed option for either fees. My husband was in Moneyfarm and is now in Vanguard LS 80% and had similar results. I’m not sure if this is down to blind luck regarding the timing of my changes to the pots, or because I calculated a slightly different period to you. Either way, it’s worth looking into as it would be a shame for people to write off Nutmeg – I love the interface, and I’ve been very pleased with the returns too. Happy to give more info in case my calculations are completely off 🙂

    • Faith
      Author
      24th April 2019 / 2:52 pm

      Hi Caro – Glad you’ve had such a positive experience with Nutmeg. As you say, good company and good interface. Growth figures will vary a lot depending on the specific portfolio used and exactly when you invested, especially over such a short period as a year. Swapping from Nutmeg’s managed to fixed allocation portfolios will also cut costs, which could potentially boost returns. My post reflects my own choice of portfolios and dates, but I’m delighted yours did so well.

  2. 6th May 2019 / 12:25 pm

    Faith,
    what a thorough and clear blog post. Loved how you provide the transparent comparison and the whole process you took to evaluate those.
    I am curios about Robo Advisors too and will explore them in the upcoming months. It would be interesting to have it made again as you know there are many variables that occurred last year so you could have an updated view of those same choices.
    Anyways, great Blog and website. I’ll be definitely be coming back to learn more. 🙂
    Best!

    • Faith
      Author
      7th May 2019 / 7:43 am

      Glad you enjoyed the post, Mr Findependent! Would be interesting to hear how you get on with exploring the robot advisers too. I’m hoping to update on my own accounts in future, as a single year is such a short period in investment terms. Good luck with your journey to financial independence.

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