You might be an entrepreneur looking to find the next start-up unicorn or just a private investor aiming to boost your retirement fund — whatever your goals, there’s a good chance financial advice will help guide you to investment success. But as with so many industries, technology is changing the way we all receive our independent financial advice.
One of the biggest changes of the last 10 years has been the rise of ‘robo-advisors’. These companies and services claim to offer lower cost financial advice by reducing or removing the input from human financial advisors and instead delivering advice through software, rule-based processes and artificial intelligence. Think of it as a kind of accounting AI.
Would you trust a computer with your pension decisions?
In some cases, this AI-driven approach to financial advice works. It lowers the barriers to entry and can sometimes give good results for certain investors. However, there’s an obvious danger: financial advice is often not a case of black and white decisions. Relying entirely on an algorithm to produce investment advice that risks missing out the subtle shades of grey that a face-to-face discussion can cover in detail. A computer simply cannot understand your hopes for the future, your children’s welfare, your health and many other complex emotional elements.
As many commentators have pointed out, these AI-driven robo-advisors are not true financial advisors at heart, they’re tech companies. While robo-advisors may provide sound advice for investors with basic or straightforward needs, they can’t hope to match an experienced, qualified independent financial advisor that understands their client’s needs. Some of the robo-advisor firms provide a hybrid approach, blending automated AI with a human-assisted service, and we think they may be on to something — it combines the best of both worlds, the speed and calculated convenience of an algorithm with the empathy, understanding and nuance of a human financial advisor.
Throwing the baby out with the bath water
As we all know, industries everywhere are being disrupted. Advertising consultant Tom Goodwin famously illustrated this when he said:
“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.”
No doubt about it, something interesting is happening. But it’s not necessarily happening to every industry. Some industries are riper for disruption than others. Sure, the robo-advisors have partly disrupted the independent financial advice industry by bringing cheap financial advice to a new audience. However, they aren’t doing anything for the quality of that advice, in fact quite the opposite.
And here comes the home-truth: good independent financial advice delivered by a qualified, experienced, living, breathing human is still good advice, whichever way you dice it.
Instead, we should be looking for new interfaces
The independent financial advice industry as a whole can learn a lesson from the robo-advisors, but not in the way you might think. Technology improvements in the back office or even in marketing, such as automated lead conversion tools and marketing campaigns, can free up advisors to spend more time on their clients and improve service levels even further.
Clients that have sensitive financial situations, such as an inheritance or a pension, feel a deep emotional responsibility and want to speak to someone who can reassure them a pragmatic and sensitive plan. And that’s something a robot cannot do.
Guy Myles is chief executive of independent financial advice and investment company Flying Colours.