If financial advice businesses are going to survive in this algorithmic age, they will need to embrace technology on every level rather than reject it or pretend it doesn’t exist.
Like most financial advisers I am a people person.
Or, to update the old joke: I’d rather have a frontal robotomy than a robot in front of me.
But whether us old-school analogue humans like it or not, the auto-advice era is here. It seems like every other week a new robo-advice service is rolling out into the Australian market either within institutions attempting to stay on trend or from the new breed of fintech start-ups.
Fear, of course, is one reaction of flesh-based financial advisers.
Denial is another.
However, neither of these completely natural human responses to an existential threat are much use in dealing with the robo-reality.
We need to get with the program.
If financial advice businesses are going to survive in this algorithmic age they will need to embrace technology on every level rather than reject it or pretend it doesn’t exist.
To be fair, historically, the financial planning industry has been a leader in integrating technological solutions into business processes. For example, it is possible to trace the rise of investment platforms (Asgard, anyone?) and front-end planning tools to financial advisers agitating for tech solutions to back-office problems.
In short, we’ve been happy to outsource many of the mechanistic aspects of running a financial advice business to, well, machines.
Except this time around the robots are looking to entirely replace the remaining human components of financial planning – the core face-to-face (or should it now be screen-to-screen?) ‘advice’ we see as our true value.
Or so the story has it.
I, however, don’t think financial planners who add real benefits to their clients’ lives have to start career re-training just yet.
As most of you will know, our long-term clients want more from us than quarterly portfolio updates on their smartphones and an annual automated review.
As client relationships develop over time it becomes clear that they are looking to their adviser to provide a sophisticated, nuanced service which transcends mere book-keeping: our clients want us to provide financial and organisational solutions that take into account their complete set of life circumstances.
Despite the promising advances in so-called artificial intelligence, I doubt anybody involved in a ‘blended’ family, for example, would hand over estate planning duties to a robot.
For now, I think there are plenty of high-value advice services that require the subtle touches of natural human intelligence and empathy.
Nonetheless, while all of the above might apply to our existing client bases, financial advisory businesses – or at least ones that aspire to longevity beyond the tenure of their founders – also need to think about the next generation of clients.
And this is where robo-advice – however you define it – has a necessary role to play.
Financial advisory firms will need to engage with ‘transactional’ clients – or those that currently have relatively simple financial needs – by offering a low-cost technological service.
The trick here is to ensure that your full-service advice business is closely associated with whatever automated solution you choose to adopt.
If the ‘robo’ is branded under your business name, and users always have the option to link back to full service, then by default they should come to you for more complex advice when needed.
Typically, I think robo-clients will seek human advice when they experience one, or more, of the many challenging adult ‘life events’ that inevitably come our way, including, but not limited to: marriage, children, mortgage, divorce, death, or tax audit.
But it’s also likely that robo-clients will switch to the full human service when they realise their auto-advice solution just isn’t up to snuff for changing circumstances or, perhaps, is unable to unravel set-up mistakes (such as an inappropriate self-managed superannuation fund structure).
In short, if you’re a professional financial planner with a decent list of established clients, you probably don’t have to worry about them running off in to the arms of a robot.
However, if you’re interested in future-proofing a financial advisory business, you’ll need to start developing a robo-response – and pretty quickly.
Right now there’s a digital land grab going on as institutions and out-of-left-field fintech operators (sometimes the two jointly) make a play for the hearts of information-age investors.
We need to ensure the non-aligned planner engages with clients using technology – from transactions to full service to ensure they come to you and your brand and not one of a bank.
This is an opportunity!
And I’m sure the robo/human advice divide will meet up in the most important technological component of a modern financial planning business: the customer relationship management system – known to us as the CRM.
The CRM lies at the core of linking the two advice styles together. For example, via a flexible CRM you can create an open API so that robo tools can flow through to your business and you can start communicating with automated clients in an ‘educational’ way.
In even better news for non-aligned financial advisers, today we have a much greater choice of CRMs that operate independently of any other financial planning modeling software.
MyPlanner, for instance, is working with commercial CRMs that have true open environments allowing you to integrate with all our current business activities while also leaving us plenty of room to evolve.
Imagine a world where you can have all your workflows mapped, all your client data securely held, the ability to easily link with modelling software that suits you (and if it doesn’t you can change it).
But you don’t have to imagine it: this world is possible, it has already arrived.
In this new technologically enhanced advice world you can invoice clients directly from your accounting or book-keeping software, flow client data into your system from any source (from electronic fact-finding to robo solutions), set up an SMSF with corporate trustee – all by a click of a button on your CRM.
As independent planners we are being asked to do more and offer more and at less cost. Technology will help us achieve those outcomes.
It’s important to acknowledge, though, that nothing happens instantly.
My advice is to start your techno-evolution slowly; improving one inch at a time to ensure that your dream as a financial planning business is fulfilled in your way, not in the way that others have done in the past... or how your robot tells you to in the future.
Philippa Sheehan, managing director, MyPlanner Australia
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