Modern human advisers can’t get enough technology

In January 2015 I published a report examining automated investment advisers, or robo-advisers, as they are more frequently known. At the time this was a relatively new concept sweeping across the Pacific from the US to Australia. 

After a panel on robo-advice and fintech innovation at the My Platform Rules Conference in February 2015, the buzz in the room was all about ‘robo-advice’ and how it would disrupt the financial advice industry. Many suggested that this might very well be the end of the human financial adviser as we knew it.

Headlines such as "Robo-advisers are here. What's a human financial planner to do?" (Washington Post, November 5 2015) and "Why worry? Human advisers are on the way out" (Sydney Morning Herald, March 4 2015) stoked the anxiety of many.

So have the robots won? Are we flocking to robots and ditching humans?

Fast-forward 18 months and, rather unsurprisingly, human advisers are still with us, and quite possibly in a stronger position than they have been for decades. Turns out that robo-advice is a real opportunity for human advisers – who would have thought?

Recent research from MyPrivateBanking, a Swiss financial research company, tells us that the most rapid gains are being made by wealth managers who are embracing robo-technology to drive efficiency and scale in their businesses and engagement with their clients.

These human, robo-loving advisers are at the forefront of the digital wave sweeping the industry.  According to the research, these hybrid advisers will manage 10 per cent of global investible wealth by 2025, some US$16.7 trillion, while it is estimated that pure robo-advisers will manage just 1.6 per cent.

The embracing of robo-technology will profoundly change the industry

Look under the hood of robo-advice and what we see is a bigger wave of technological innovation in the financial services industry, which has sadly lacked substantive innovation for the last couple of decades.  This technology change delivers exciting opportunities for the advice industry to transform through:

1. Driving scale, efficiency – manual and semi-automated processes such as fact finds, risk profiling and optimising investment strategies will reduce costs and speed up the advice discovery and delivery process. 

2. Time and geographical boundaries are being torn down – forget the need to the drive to meetings, fight traffic, or wait for clients to be be in town. Rapid advances and the acceptance of video-based technology, digital signing, secure transfer of documentation and customer identify verification are re-defining the office.

3. Enhanced transparency – improvements in customer portals and apps (mobile of course) create the opportunity for transparency and engagement. This does not mean just allowing a client to view their portfolio, but delivering relevant, contextual information about achieving their goals and the risk they are taking.

4. Rapid (and efficient) communication – developing a community, the use of private chat, social media, video sharing, video blogs (‘vlogs’) or one-on-one video meetings on the move, all dramatically speed up communication and lower the cost of delivery.

5. Enhanced controls and regulatory compliance – the automation of processes that don’t require judgement, but require sound algorithmic logic, eliminates the potential for errors. Video records and digital histories of meetings will prove to be a more robust protection for both parties than meeting notes translated to a SoA over many weeks, while the context of the discussion is lost over time.

Taking advantage of technology and embracing these opportunities enables the adviser to build relationships, develop trust and act as the client’s financial guide – which is exactly what we want them to be doing.


Ian Dunbar is the CEO of SuiteBox, a mobile office technology solution for advisers and financial services professionals. Ian is a director and co-founder of Afiniation, a network of fintech companies across Australia and New Zealand. In January 2015 Ian published the research report Automated Investment Advisers – Global Market Survey.

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