When marketing trumps logic — Betterment on the Apple Watch

I received an email today from the Betterment brokerage announcing their new Apple Watch app as, “A smarter way to invest on the go.”

Of course, Betterment’s after the PR value of being among first to the platform, but the underlying idea is silly for a number of reason:

  1. “Impulse saving” isn’t a thing. Investing, particularly according to the Betterment approach, is a long-term systematic activity of regular savings. Generally it’s done automatically, but even if done manually, nobody—nobody—will be in such a rush to “invest” that they couldn’t wait to do it from the comfort of a desktop or tablet environment.

  2. Betterment knows the psychology behind the general recommendation not to monitor one’s investments frequently. Why? Because on a day-to-day basis the market will be up as often as it’s down, and we know that it’s far more painful to see a loss than it is pleasureful to see a gain. And so even though the value of our portfolios may climb over time, frequent checking usually has a cumulative negative effect over time. So the last thing we want, as smart investors is to have portfolio monitoring on our watches!

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p>I know it’s hard for a marketing department to pass over the idea that, “Wouldn’t it be great to ride the PR around the Apple Watch?” But I find myself a bit disappointed that an organization I’d like to believe to be among the more serious of modern investment firms to go for gimmicks like this.

2 thoughts on “When marketing trumps logic — Betterment on the Apple Watch”

  1. Hi Matt, Thanks for your thoughts on these points. I’m a data scientist at Betterment and I work on the behavioral aspects of our platform.

    You’re absolutely right that the research on high frequency monitoring is very clear. We’ve talked about it on our site (https://goo.gl/IqqKyz) and consider it in our design decisions. We’re committed to helping our customers be good investors, and I recently posted an article on our efforts to measure our progress in minimizing the ‘Behavior Gap’ (https://goo.gl/GZtFS1).

    Smart watches do pose a potential behavioral risk for investors, but you could make the same argument about mobile apps (and we did) or even web-based self-service investing entirely (and traditional advisors have). None of us wants to go back to quarterly statements in the mail, so we see it as our challenge to deliver a helpful product wherever current technlogy takes us. We’ll be iterating along the way, benefitting from more data on decisions and outcomes than any traditional advisors have ever had.

    We love this kind of thoughtful feedback from customers; feel free to contact me directly if you want ([email protected]).

    1. Hi Sam,

      You wrote: “Smart watches do pose a potential behavioral risk for investors, but you could make the same argument about [other platforms].”

      I believe the merits of each platform can, and should, be considered independently. Are there risks in web-based, self-service investing? Sure, but the compensating benefits are clear, compared to the past when personal investment was only accessible through advisors.

      What’s the benefit potential in having a Betterment app on your wrist? What are the real-world use cases in which you’d choose (or need) to interface with your watch instead of a browser on your desktop or a larger-form app on an iPad?

      In my experience of having invested in the Betterment approach for 20+ years, it’s certainly not “impulse savings”. And we both know it shouldn’t be frequent checking of one’s balance. But these are the two use cases presented in your marketing materials.

      In my opinion, the potential benefits of Betterment on a watch would include helping to keep me on track, and reminding me of the benefits of Betterment’s unique approach, which although they can’t be seen on a day-by-day basis, should have substantial long-term benefits.

      The intimacy of a watch probably presents some interesting opportunities for achieving those benefits, and I believe those would be completely different (and new) with respect to the UI models and workflows supported in a web or tablet-based environment.

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?