The robots are no longer coming – they’re already here. And yes, they are after your job.
With money pouring into the financial technology sector and the proliferation of Internet-based advice platforms, the latest technological revolution is seizing the financial advice industry. And as with industries before, that technology comes with the fear of large-scale obsolescence. The question advisors face today: Will humans still have a role, or will technology usurp their position?
CFP Board, the regulatory body for the nation’s certified financial planners, recently tackled that question. A team of advisors, wealth managers and thought leaders from the tech and financial sectors sought to paint a picture of what advice would look like in 2021.
“There is still a lot of uncertainty around the future path of this industry, but the industry can’t ignore the rapid changes that technology is having on the industry,” said Joseph Maugeri, a managing director of CFP Board. “It doesn’t have to be robots versus humans. The winners will be those who embrace and leverage digital solutions while continuing to train their advisors on getting better at things that only humans can do.”
The team envisioned four possible scenarios, ranging from a completely technical future to one in which human advisors are ever more important. While there’s no turning back the clock on technology, the good news for human advisors is that those who are forward-thinking can shape their professional destiny.
Here are five things CFP Board recommends advisors do to prepare:
1. Deliver on the Amazon Expectation.
With the advent of companies like Amazon, technology has transformed bookselling, banking, grocery shopping and every retail experience in between. It’s only natural that financial planning would follow. People will expect their advisors to know which new financial planning tools work and which don’t, especially in an age where machines have taken over our daily lives. They’ll expect the ease of mobile platforms to extend to their finances.
Curating the horde of new services adds value in a human way. Advisors who do that will be at an advantage both to other human advisors and straight technology providers.
While the CFP report concedes that investing in digital “increases the costs of staying in the game,” it’s necessary to meet investor expectations.
2. Create More Hours in the Day With Automation.
Compliance, archiving and audit management are essential tasks, but they take up valuable time and energy. The more these tasks can be automated, the more time becomes available for connecting with clients.
Many software offerings can automatically monitor and archive email, social media, complaints and conflict of interests and other compliance issues. Email marketing tools that streamline client acquisition are freeing up marketing dollars and time. Document management and electronic signature tools are getting better at allowing advisors to ditch “wet signatures” – subject to any compliance restrictions – and the need for face-to-face interactions for every task. And there are cloud-based security platforms that take away much of the pain of keeping client data safe. Just be sure these recordkeeping solutions meet regulatory standards.
Advances in data-gathering techniques are giving advisors greater insight into their clients’ habits and needs. If used well, technology like this can help you better understand your investors and their preferences, and how you can better deliver.
3. Do What Machines Can’t: Be More Human.
Robo-advisors may have sleek interfaces, but they can’t pat someone on the back nor offer a tissue at a crucial moment. The biggest benefit to being a human advisor is that you’re … human. By your very nature, you are easier to relate to, more compassionate and better able to read nuance. Now double down on your humanity.
CFP Board suggests investing in “soft” skills and putting greater focus on behavioral and emotional coaching. You could also provide concierge and individualized services that cannot be automated.
“Across the board, advisors will need to more deeply understand the areas where human advisors truly add unique value,” CFP Board says.
Already we’re seeing that investors do value these human connections: Despite the spread of new technology, the demand and use of human financial advisors has increased significantly, rising to 40% in 2015 from just 28% five years earlier, according to a separate CFP survey. That may be because the proliferation of information and technology has also led to a deluge of data. Unfiltered generic choice often leaves consumers feeling increasingly uncertain. Use your human instincts to help your investors navigate a complex world.
4. Now’s the Time to Specialize.
In a world of customization and individualized focus on the customers, trying to be everything to everyone just doesn’t cut it. Take a good look at your practice and focus on the clients you’re serving well and know best.
“You have to have business sense, but you also have to be passionate about the client’s issues,” says Wendy Wan Turk, a financial advisor who specializes in planning for families with special needs.
A human touch can come in the form of a specialized practice, such as working only with millennial clients, or athletes. While only 15% of U.S.-based advisors serve niche clienteles, those practices accounted for nearly a third of overall assets by the end of 2013, according to CNBC.
Such clarity will “distinguish the most successful firms in any future scenario,” the CFP report said. An advisor or firm “that finds a niche in this space will continue to compete,” according to the report.
5. Don’t Get Too Attached to Any One Tool.
If technology promises anything, it’s that there is more change around the corner. It‘s endless, unpredictable and volatile.
If you don’t want to be left behind when the next big shift happens, keep an eye on the latest trends and build a business structure that allows for changes in technology. Stay nimble and be willing to change even if you’re comfortable.
“Firms must build the organizational capability to anticipate and respond to market shifts faster than their competitors,” the CFP panel said. Advisors should conduct continuous testing and monitoring of their business to ensure it still delivers.
Financial technology is here to stay. But there’s still no substitute for having a face-to-face conversation, especially for personalized planning and complex questions. If used prudently, technology can be a force of good that enables human advisors to do their jobs even better. Instead of viewing technology as a threat, it can be a benefit.