COIN Robo-Advisor Review

COIN robo-advisor. Photo credit to John Hancock.

Robo-advisors have become a popular way to invest. They are automated investment platforms where investments are determined by algorithms based on your preferences. There is limited to no human involvement which typically translates in lower fees. Robo-advisors differ in terms of offerings, fees charged, and offerings.

Most robo-advisors now offer sustainable investing options. COIN is a robo-advisor which offers only sustainable, or conscious, investment options. We provide below insight about COIN.

coin overview

The Basics

  • Annual fees: 0.75%
  • Minimum balance: $50
  • Product: Customized portfolio of stocks based on 3 preferred impact areas
  • Offered by: John Hancock Personal Financial Services
  • Impact areas:
    • Climate Action
    • Better Health
    • Gender Equality
    • Clean Water
    • Quality Work
    • Reduce Waste
    • Modern Cities
    • Shared Prosperity

Sustainability

COIN’s statement about sustainability is:

We use a proprietary methodology to rank companies that are having the greatest impact in each Impact Area. We exclude companies:

  • In violation of the UN Global Compact
  • Involved in manufacturing of tobacco or tobacco products
  • Involved in controversial weapons, such as nuclear, biological, chemical, and cluster munitions.

We include companies:

  • That have established clear, strong, and measurable impact goals.
  • That offer products and services that generate positive impact in an area.
  • That have operational alignment with the goals of the Impact Area.

user experience

Setting up my COIN account was quick and easy. It was simple to select the impact areas that I was interested in and get my account going. It is equally simple if I want to change the impact areas that my investments are in. It’s perhaps too simple to change the impact areas as it could be easy to change them without realizing that, by doing so, you’d be selling your existing stocks and buying new stocks and there are profit and tax implications of these actions.

COIN does not offer an app but the website is easy to maneuver and the dashboard about my investments is clear. I have been frustrated with being unable to download my tax form. The website has told me for a week+ that there is a problem with tax forms and I have yet to see a resolution.

Sustainability story

The three themes that I selected were: Climate Action, Gender Equality, Shared Prosperity. The specifics provided about how corporations specifically in the Climate Action portfolio were selected are:

How do we choose companies in this Impact Area?

  • We look at company reporting
  • We partner with third-party rating firms
  • We employ a proprietary scoring methodology
  • We exclude companies with severe negative incidents or controversies.

In terms of evaluating corporations in my Climate Action portfolio, COIN states:

On what themes and metrics are companies evaluated?

  • Strength of climate goals and commitment to renewable energy
  • Reduction of greenhouse gases across all operations
  • Percentage of revenue from clean and renewable energy products and services.

I appreciate that COIN is looking at 3 different Climate Action indicators as each indicator could tell a very different story about a corporation.

I dislike that further details about the themes and metrics are not provided. Further information that I want to know:

  • Is the corporation reporting verified by an outside firm?
  • Which third-party rating firms are used[1]?
  • Reductions of greenhouse gas emissions over which period of time?
  • Is there a minimum percentage threshold of revenue from clean and renewable energy products and services?

I appreciate that not everyone is interested in this nitty gritty detail so putting it in fine print is completely acceptable. Charging 0.75% in annual fees, which is significantly higher than most robo-advisors, without giving details is not acceptable.

Another element of sustainability that I dislike is that my portfolio of 67 corporations is not multi-faceted, allowing me to hold corporations that were leaders on all three of my impact areas. Eight (12%) of the corporations fell into two of my three categories. The rest of the corporations fell into only one category. Therefore, the corporation may be a leader in Gender Equality but a laggard in Climate Action.

Shareholder voting for sustainability

One aspect of COIN that I appreciate is that I can do fractional share investing and gain access to shareholder voting rights. Instead of having to pay more than ~$300 for a share of Apple (AAPL), COIN purchases whole shares and provides me with a fraction of a share. I then am able to participate in shareholder advocacy and vote on shareholder resolutions. I don’t fully understand how this works as it seems like it would significantly expand the shareholder voting pool. However, it gives me the power that comes with voting so I’m happy to have it. To give you a taste of shareholder advocacy, Apple is one of the corporations that I own shares in via my COIN portfolio. In advance of Apple’s 2020 shareholder meeting, shareholders can vote on the resolution:

Shareholders request the Board Compensation Committee prepare a report assessing the feasibility of integrating sustainability metrics into performance measures, performance goals or vesting conditions that may apply to senior executives under the Company’s compensation incentive plans. Sustainability is defined as how environmental and social considerations, and related financial impacts, are integrated into corporate strategy over the long term.

This resolution is an exciting proposal as it is a step towards having sustainability metrics be integrated throughout the company, resulting in Apple senior executives being held accountable for sustainability action.

Summary

Pros: Prioritizes scores in sustainability impact areas using multiple indicators, allows for fractional share investing.

Cons: High fees, lack of overlapping of multiple sustainability impact areas per corporation, lack of transparency around data sources, problem with accessing tax forms.


[1] Third-party rating firms can provide a wide range of sustainability information (see this MIT blog for further info).

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