Acorns ESG Sustainable Portfolios Review

Acorns is a personal finance app that lets you round up and invest your spare change. They recently launched Sustainable Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) portfolios. We think it’s a solid and inexpensive option, especially for beginners.

SustainFi Updated October 12, 2021

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Rating: Excellent (4.4 / 5)

Acorns Invest Summary

  • Minimum balance: $0 ($5 to start investing)
  • Monthly fee: $3 or $5/month

Pros

  • The app makes you save and invest automatically
  • A good way to start investing for beginners
  • Very low fees for higher balances
  • Solid ESG option
  • One-stop-shop including checking accounts
  • Easy to switch to ESG Portfolios
  • Earn money with Acorns partners

Cons

  • Fees can be high as a percentage of assets for very small balances
  • No human advisor option
  • No tax-loss harvesting

Summary

SustainFi Rating:4.4 / 5
Account minimum• $0
• $5 to start investing
Management fee$3 or $5/month
ESG optionESG Portfolio
Investment expense ratio (ESG portfolios)0.16% for the Moderately Aggressive Sustainable Portfolio
Accounts supported• Individual and joint taxable investment accounts
• Traditional, Roth, and SEP IRAs
• Custodial investment accounts
• 401k rollovers
Human advisorsNo
Tax-loss harvestingNo
Automatic rebalancingYes
FeaturesSave your change, bank accounts, earn money with Acorns partners
Best forBest for beginners, investors struggling to save

What is Acorns?

Acorns is a personal finance app that lets you invest spare change from everyday purchases in diversified portfolios made up of exchange-traded funds (ETFs). The app was launched in 2014 to make investing seamless for everybody and has since expanded to retirement and checking accounts.

In 2021, Acorns grew to over 9 million sign-ups and nearly $5 billion in assets under management.

How does Acorns work?

Sign-up process. Starting to invest with Acorns is easy, but note that you must be a U.S. resident over 18 years of age.

  • Go to acorns.com and pick your membership plan (Personal or Family)
  • Link your bank account
  • Input your personal information and answer a few questions about your investment goals and timeline
  • Based on your answers, Acorns will determine your risk tolerance and suggest a diversified portfolio made up of ETFs. (ETFs are diversified holdings of stocks and bonds. They frequently replicate an index such as the S&P 500)
  • To round up your change, you need to link your credit and debit cards. Acorns will automatically round up your purchases to the next dollar and invest the change once it adds up to $5
  • In addition to investing the round-ups, you can also add money to your account manually or set up recurring investments
  • You can switch to the ESG Portfolio from the default, Core Portfolio
Credit: Acorns

Acorns Membership Plans Acorns offers two membership plans that cost $3 or $5 a month. As of September 2021, Acorns Lite ($1/month) is no longer offered.

  • Acorns Personal ($3/month) includes personal investment, retirement, and checking accounts plus a metal debit card
  • Acorns Family ($5/month) includes all the Personal features plus Acorns Early, which offers investment accounts for kids

The fees are very competitive for higher account balances. However, $3-$5/month may be expensive if you have very little invested. Robo-advisors like Betterment, Marcus Invest, and Ally Invest charge 0.25%-0.35% of assets for managing your investments.

If you only have $1,000 in your account and sign up for Acorns Family ($60/year), you are paying 6% annually. However, if you invest $20,000, you are paying 0.20%, which is cheaper than any other robo-advisor.

Account types. Acorns supports several account types, including:

  • Acorns Invest: Taxable personal investment accounts. Your change gets invested in ETFs selected by Acorns based on your investor profile
  • Acorns Later: Retirement accounts for traditional, SEP, and Roth IRAs
  • Banking. Checking accounts that come with a Visa debit card. The card offers free access to over 55,000 in-network ATMs. Your account is FDIC-insured for up to $250,000
  • Acorns Early. Custodial accounts – these are accounts for adults who want to start investing for their children

Acorns Earn. Acorns partners with over 350 brands like Apple, Blue Apron, Chewy, Expedia, Nike, and many others. If you check out using the Acorns portal or their Chrome extension, you get bonus investments in your Acorns account. The portal is similar to a credit cards rewards portal. The bonus investments typically take between 90 and 120 days to show up in your account.

These are some of the brand partners:

Human advisors. Acorns doesn’t offer human advisor access, though it does provide educational resources. If you are looking for human advisors, you can get advisor access from Personal Capital, or you can find a human financial advisor.

Automatic rebalancing. Acorns offers automatic portfolio rebalancing and dividend reinvestment. 

Recurring investment. Acorns also lets you set up recurring investments starting with $5 per day, week, or month. 

Sustainable ESG investing with Acorns

Acorns now offers ESG Portfolios that invest in sustainable funds. They are offered in partnership with iShares, the largest provider of low-cost, sustainable ETFs. These portfolios are designed to perform in line with conventional, Core Portfolios.

Acorns offers five portfolio options, depending how much risk you choose to take when you answer the investor questionnaire. However, the Conservative allocation is not available for ESG (Sustainable) Portfolios. The five allocations are:

  • Conservative (100% bonds, not available for Sustainable Portfolios)
  • Moderately Conservative (40% stocks, 60% bonds)
  • Moderate (60% stocks, 40% bonds)
  • Moderately Aggressive (80% stocks, 20% bonds)
  • Aggressive (100% stocks)

Broadly speaking, the more aggressive the allocation, the more risk you take (in return for higher expected return), and the more you invest in stocks vs. bonds.

Acorns ESG Portfolios invest in the following ETFs (which are subject to change):

  • Large-cap U.S. stocks: ESGU, SUSA
  • Small-cap U.S. stocks: ESML
  • International, developed markets stocks: ESGD
  • Emerging markets stocks: ESGE
  • Short-term corporate bonds: SUSB
  • Long-term corporate bonds: SUSC
  • Short-term Treasury bonds: SHY (not ESG)
  • Long-term Treasury bonds: GOVT (not ESG)
  • Long-term Treasury bonds: MBB (not ESG)
  • U.S. aggregate bonds: EAGG

Not every portfolio includes every single fund, and some of the funds are not ESG. This is common for ESG portfolios because there aren’t enough large ESG funds to invest in.

Here are the funds for the Moderately Aggressive Sustainable Portfolio option:

Asset ClassFundExpense RatioESG Fund?Allocation% of Portfolio in EnergyMSCI ESG ScoreSustainalytics Rating
U.S. Large-Cap StocksiShares ESG Aware MSCI USA ETF (ESGU)0.15%Yes47%5.9%6.74 / 5
U.S. Large/Mid-Cap StocksiShares MSCI USA ESG Select ETF (SUSA)
0.25%Yes6%5.77.65 / 5
U.S. Small-Cap StocksiShares ESG Aware MSCI USA Small-Cap ETF (ESML)0.17%
Yes3%4.6%6.14 / 5
Developed Markets Stocks
iShares ESG Aware MSCI EAFE ETF (ESGD)0.20%Yes18%7.9%8.7
3 / 5
Emerging Markets Stocks
iShares ESG Aware MSCI EM ETF (ESGE)0.25%Yes6%6.6%7.63 / 5
U.S. TreasuriesiShares U.S. Treasury Bond ETF (GOVT)0.05%
No5%
NA6.1NR
U.S. Mortgage-Backed Bonds
iShares MBS ETF (MBB)0.06%
No5%NANANR
U.S. Corporate BondsiShares ESG Aware USD Corporate Bond ETF (SUSC)0.18%
Yes4%NA7.9
NR
Short-Term U.S. Treasuries
iShares 1-3 Year Treasury Bond ETF (SHY)0.15%
No3%NA6.1NR
1-5 Year Corporate Bonds
iShares ESG Aware 1-5 Year USD Corporate Bond ETF (SUSB)0.12%
Yes3%
NA8.8NA
Portfolio Total0.16%87% of portfolio100%6.3%7.33.8 / 5

Data as of 6/30/2021

And this is what the dashboard looks like:

The dashboard also provides detail on each fund in the portfolio, including key holdings.

The funds in the ESG portfolio cost between 0.05% and 0.25%. The blended cost of the Moderately Aggressive Portfolio is 0.16%, in line with most other robo-advisors that offer sustainable options.

87% of the Moderately Aggressive Portfolio is invested in various ESG funds, and only a few non-ESG bond funds are included. We think this is a good outcome.

We note that the Sustainable Portfolio is not fossil fuel free, so you will still have some oil and gas stock exposure. However, it does own fewer fossil fuel stocks than the conventional option.

Acorns Core and ESG (Sustainable) Portfolios compared

We’ve compared the Moderately Aggressive versions of Core and ESG Portfolios.

Portfolio
Expense Ratio% of Assets in ESG Funds
% of Assets in Energy
MSCI ESG Score
Sustainalytics ESG Rating
Sustainable
0.16%
87%
6.3%
7.33.8 / 5
Core
0.05%
0%
7.1%
6.0
2.6 / 5

Data as of 6/30/2021 for the Moderately Aggressive option

Sustainable Portfolios have higher ESG ratings from MSCI and Sustainalytics and invest less in energy (which includes fossil fuels).

However, the Sustainable Portfolio costs slightly more: 0.16% vs. 0.05% for the Core version. In practice, it means $16/year vs. $5/year if you invest $10,000.

The Moderately Aggressive Sustainable Portfolio also includes more funds (ten vs. six) than the Core Portfolio. Instead of just one fund for international stocks, the Sustainable Portfolio had separate funds for developed and emerging markets stocks. They also added a mortgage-backed bond fund and two extra bond funds. We are not sure that four more funds are necessary, but that shouldn’t make a major difference.

How to switch to Acorns ESG Portfolios

If you already have an Acorns account, you can easily switch by logging into your account, selecting the account you’d like to update (“Invest,” “Early,” and/or “Later”), tapping “Portfolio,” and changing the “Theme” to Acorns ESG Portfolios.

Tax considerations when switching to ESG Portfolios

You should know that if you change from a Core to an ESG Portfolio, Acorns will sell all your ETFs and buy new ones. This may have tax implications. If you have a material amount invested, you may want to consult a tax professional. (Acorns does not provide tax advice.)

💰 Takeaway

  • Acorns Invest is a great option for beginners, especially those who are struggling to save
  • Acorns offers a solid ESG option that is mostly invested in ESG funds and has better ESG ratings than the Core option
  • If you want advisor access, consider Personal Capital
  • If you know what you are doing and want to build your own portfolio, M1 Finance could be a good option

Acorns vs. Stash Invest for Sustainable Investing

Stash Invest is probably the closest competitor to Acorns. Stash Invest is another micro-investing app that lets you invest in increments of $5. However, there are a few critical differences, especially when it comes to ESG investing.

  • Stash Invest doesn’t offer round-ups, though you can add money in increments of $5
  • Stash Invest doesn’t offer a balanced portfolio of ESG funds. They just give you a choice of six ESG stock ETFs to choose from within their Missions & Causes theme. As a result, Stash makes sustainable investing easy, but it’s more of a broker that helps you save rather than a robo-advisor that makes you invest for the future in a balanced and risk-adjusted way
  • Unlike Acorns, Stash gives you a choice of over 3,000 stocks and ETFs to invest in. With Acorns, you are limited by what their algorithm suggests

🔔 Read our review of Stash Invest here.

🔔 Read our guide to socially responsible robo-advisors.

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Methodology

We compared robo-advisors with an ESG offering based on management fees, ESG portfolio expense ratios, the percentage of the ESG portfolio invested in ESG funds vs. traditional funds, ESG portfolio ratings (from Sustainalytics and MSCI), portfolio exposure to energy, transparency, features like tax-loss harvesting and automatic rebalancing, and access to human advisors.