The John Oliver Effect…On Your Retirement

By Sallie Krawcheck

Last week, on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the host delivered one of his charmingly irate monologues aimed at investment advisors—and uncovered some ugly truths, specifically about retirement funds.

Oliver starts by citing a FINRA warning that “Financial Analyst, Financial Adviser, Financial Consultant, Financial Planner, Investment Consultant or Wealth Manager are generic terms or job titles and may be used by investment professionals who may not hold any specific credential.” Scary, right?

Yes, it’s super-weird when a comedian on HBO knows more about investment advice than many “experts” out there. But we’re all about closing the Gender Investing Gap, and we hope that every woman who watched had her own “WTH?” moment, and got serious about her financial future.

It's weird when a comedian on HBO knows more about investment advice than many 'experts' out there.

A few of us at Ellevest were watching and sat up in our seats. We’ve been working our a’s off to deliver investment advice differently. So we decided to show you, point by point, how we do what Mr. Oliver recommends.

If you haven’t seen the clip, our recap is below, but you can also watch it here and come back for our breakdown:

1. John Oliver: “There is something you should know about financial advisors, even their name means less than you might think.”

Ellevest: We're registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission as an investment advisor.

What the heck does that mean? It means we’re held to regulatory obligations like providing investment advice in our clients’ best interest and adopting written compliance policies to prevent violations of the Advisers Act. Oh, and we are required to be up-front with our clients and potential clients about fees and the types of investments we provide.

We also have real credentials and fancy titles that actually mean something, and our Chief Investment Officer (believe it or not, firms aren’t required to have one) Sylvia Kwan, is a total bad-a$$.

Okay, that’s not an actual credential, but she has a Ph.D. from Stanford University in Engineering Economic Systems, and she’s a holder of the right to use the Chartered Financial Analyst® designation. What’s that, you ask? Just a prestigious title given to those who have a minimum 4-years of qualified work experience in making investment decisions (Sylvia actually has nearly 30) and who pass a series of hard-core exams. Boom.

2. John Oliver: “Even many well-credentialed financial advisors are paid on commission… Sometimes they are actively incentivized not to act in your best interest… Elizabeth Warren released a report on sales perks in the annuity industry.”

Ellevest: Ellevest has kept this simple: Neither Ellevest nor any of its employees is paid on commission, and our fees do not depend on offering certain investments to our clients.

3. John Oliver: “Generally it is legal for advisors to put their own interest ahead of yours unless — and this is interesting — they are fiduciaries.”

Ellevest: Also simple: Ellevest is a fiduciary. We are an investment advisor, and this means we must put our client’s best interests first, ahead of our own, period.

4. John Oliver: “While it’s not unreasonable to get paid for providing a service, there can be a LOT of (hidden) fees. Think of these as termites—they’re tiny, barely noticeable, and they can eat away your future.”

Ellevest: Ellevest has no hidden fees and no long list of fees. We charge 1/4 of 1% of the assets we manage for Ellevest Digital, and 1/2 of 1% for Ellevest Premium, except for assets in Emergency funds — we don’t charge a fee on those.

A little more on fees: We invest primarily in low-fee, passively managed funds called ETFs (exchange traded funds), that offer broad exposure to different asset classes. We work with Morningstar to figure out the most efficient way to build diversified portfolios at very low cost. Consider this your free termite inspection.

5. John Oliver: “For the average person saving for retirement, it doesn’t have to be this complicated. As long as you remember a few key things, you’re probably going to be fine.”

Start saving nowYas. Ellevest has no minimum account size and charges the same fee percentage regardless of how much or little you invest.

Invest in low cost index funds — Absolutely. We use low-cost index funds in all of our portfolios.

Only have advisors who are fiduciaries —Yep, we’re one of them.

As you get older, gradually shift your investments from stocks to bonds — Yes. This is how we manage your money for you. In fact, we shift your investments more into bonds automatically for each of your goals (the closer you get to your goal date), not just for retirement. And not to brag, but we have a patent pending on it!

Try to keep your fees (like your milk) under 1% — our fees are 0.25% for Ellevest Digital and .50% for Premium. (Though, if we’re talking coffee, we go whole or go home.)

Want to know more about what to look for in a digital advisor? We’ve got your checklist right here.


The information provided should not be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice.

The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any specific person.

Diversification does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market. There is no guarantee that any particular asset allocation or mix of funds will meet your investment objectives or provide you with a given level of income.

Investing entails risk including the possible loss of principal and there is no assurance that the investment will provide positive performance over any period of time.

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Sallie Krawcheck

Sallie Krawcheck is the Co-Founder & CEO of Ellevest. Her life’s mission is to help women to reach their financial and professional goals.