I joined executives from Betterment, SigFig and United Capital at last month’s In|Vest Conference to discuss innovations in financial technology and its impact on the wealth management industry. While opinions were varied, the dialogue revealed one clear consensus: technology is driving the disruption and disintermediation of financial advice.
Financial professionals recognize that technology plays a transformative role across the entire supply chain—creating greater efficiencies on the back end, a better user experience on the front end, and ultimately greater value for advisers and their clients. To that end, here are four key takeaways on the great disruption:
FINANCIAL ADVICE IS EVOLVING
Financial advice, and the way in which it is consumed, is materially different in recent decades and will continue to change. Technology is driving this evolution, and the balance continues shifting in favor of the consumer.
Starting with widespread access to the internet, we’ve seen the growth on online trading, the rapid expansion of financial technology and the advent of robos. The everyday investor now has unlimited access to a wealth of market research, low cost financial transactions and a range of online financial planning tools. Portfolio management, and even some aspects of financial planning, have become commoditized solutions.
This has raised clients’ awareness, changed the way advisers engage with their clients, and, ultimately transformed the nature of the adviser’s job. Looking back just a few decades, we see how the industry has evolved from stock jockeys buying and selling on commission. Now, growing numbers of advisers and investors continue shifting towards comprehensive wealth management based on holistic financial planning, unbiased guided advice and a more integrated approach to asset selection and asset location.
DELIVERY MODELS ARE CHANGING
There is a clear convergence of robo technology and human capital. Today, we see more advisers, especially the most successful, embrace digital advisory solutions as an integral part of their practice. By properly embedding innovative robo tools into the financial planning process, advisers are expanding product offerings and enhancing investing strategies.
At the same time, we now see more robos partnering directly with human advisers. Although robos have historically operated in the direct-to-consumer market, they now recognize such business models can incur high costs for brand awareness and client acquisition—yet often attract lower balance accounts. But by partnering with human advisers, robo advisers can engage higher net worth clients and retain greater AUM.
This means breaking down the so-called Chinese wall between the digital and the human. Changing the delivery model into a partnership between human advisers and robo advisers, with a mutual vested interest in meeting clients’ needs, can create greater value for investors at every level—and also create greater value for advisers at every level.
TECH IS MORE THAN ROBOS
Success in the future will be digitally-driven. No financial solution can gain momentum without the collaboration of technology and human capital. But robo advisers are only one small part of this equation. To survive in this industry, advisers must evolve every aspect of their practice—from investing strategies to back office operations to client communication—by leveraging the power of technology.
Research has shown that the most successful advisers are adding more technology to drive greater profitability. Likewise, advisers who manage more AUM spend more on technology—and use more technology—to make their job more seamless and achieve greater scale. Today, the only thing more expensive than adding technology is not adding technology.
FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
Many believe financial advice is at a pivotal turning point. The truth is, we are in the midst of a long-term secular change. The future of financial advice depends not just on advances in technology, but also on access to unbiased advisers who can have a real dialogue with clients and look at financial planning in a more holistic way.
The financial industry itself and the means of consumption are becoming digital in nature. In its full capacity, the use of technology and the Internet as a distributive device for financial services has expedited the shift in power from the hands of manufacturers and distributors to the hands of the investor and consumer. This is a watershed moment for the industry, as consumers have become more financially aware at the same time that robos and advisers are at a strategic inflection point.
In the face of The Great Disruption, advisers and advice will not go out of business. In fact, as financial advice and financial advisers evolve side by side with financial technology, the advisers who will be most successful will be the forward-thinkers and the tech-embracers. As technology continues to drive disintermediation and drive down costs, those advisers who are most proactive at adopting and integrating technology will increase economies of scale, improve client relations and gain the advantage in an increasingly competitive market.