Investing for busy scientists: roboadvisers to the rescue.

Roboadvisers like WealthFront offer an excellent way for scientists to easily invest in the stock market, letting them focus their energy on more important things, you know, like science.

Over the years, I’ve used a lot of different investment firms, brokerage houses, and online trading platforms: TIAA-CREF, American Century, Merrill Lynch, Fidelity, E*Trade, Schwab, to name a small sample.

The problem with all of these firms is that unless you are a very high net worth individual, they probably don’t have your best interest in mind. Your tiny account offers too low of a return for the cost of servicing it.

I’ve even stupidly wasted time with things like Interactive Brokers, read lots of books on short, day, swing, options, and forex trading, and desperately tried to read the candlesticks and shooting stars to predict the future. But the problem with trading on your own (or through a brokerage) is that you simply cannot compete against people with detailed reporting and insight into a companies’ finances and development, or against people exploiting technological nuances of the system. It’s also really nerve-wracking and very easy to find yourself facing the sunk-cost fallacy conundrum on an hourly or daily basis.

Stepping beyond that, the fees of brokerage firms — if you can actually figure out what they are — are exorbitant, often nullifying your return over time.

Still, investing is one of the best things young scientists can do. I did so in an exceptionally small way by dollar cost averaging throughout my graduate career. By my final year of graduate school, I had enough saved with a modest capital return to buy a new computer for writing my thesis and to take a little trip once said thesis was accepted, bound, signed, delivered, and shelved.

But investing takes time. And it carries significant risk. Nothing can remove the risk but the time required to invest can be reduced, and a new crop of companies extend benefits previously only available to the few.

Enter: The Roboadvisers

Roboadvisers are basically brokerages that manage funds algorithmically, typically tracking stock indices. In doing so, they often include tax-loss harvesting, automatic daily rebalancing, and direct indexing to all investors, services that were previously only available to the ultra rich. Better yet, roboadvisers are typically much cheaper than brokerages like Fidelity.

My current favorite is WealthFront. WealthFront offers incredibly low fees (0.25% per year) and they’ll manage the first $10,000 you invest for free. Better yet, there is a very low account minimum ($500) so you can get started early.

Everything they do is automated: tax-loss harvesting, dividend reinvestment, account rebalancing. And not just on an annual basis like most financial advisors — they do it all, daily.

And, as you might expect of a company disrupting the gross largesse of investment and retirement planning, they have a great website and mobile app that’s constantly improving, and dedicated and friendly support staff. Sign up now and get an additional $5000 managed for free.

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