Rise of the Machines

Written by: Tash Elwyn

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.” — William Orton, President of Western Union, 1876

Mr. Orton joins several others on a list , published recently on Forbes.com, of the worst tech predictions of all time. At risk of being among those lambasted in just such a list in the future, I’d like to make my own prediction:

Contrary to so much that has been written and said about the rise of the machines and the demise of human financial advice, I believe that the need and demand for personal, face-to-face, human advice will remain. Here’s why:

Money is emotional. Numbers are predictable, rational, constant. Put a dollar sign in front of them, and things change. There’s real emotion wrapped up in money – security, opportunities, dreams. Sure, a computer or robo-advisor can tell you what you need to do to keep your money and grow it – it can even do that based on your comfort with risk or a specific goal about wanting to sail around the world, or pay for your twins’ double wedding. But can it challenge your assumptions, or cut through to what you’re really comfortable with before you take risks that you thought were within your comfort level, but weren’t?

Financial advice is science and art. The fact is, many of the best financial advisors already “outsource” investment allocation to professional money managers or automatically reallocated portfolios. That’s because they know their real value is the art of guiding clients through a decision-making process, helping them resist emotional reactions when markets turn or when personal circumstances cloud judgment. It’s a delicate job that requires trust built on personal relationships. A computer, even one with advanced algorithms, can only go so far.

People crave connection. The Internet has changed our world… in most ways, for the better. And while it’s one of the biggest technology stories in my lifetime, it’s also a story of personal connection. There’s a reason there are more than 1.35 Billion Facebook users. (Yes, that’s Billion. With a “B.” Rivaling the number of people in the most populous country on Earth, according to the Washington Post ). People want connection, interaction, relationships. While a computer can crunch the numbers, it can’t address the nuance that a personal connection can.

For example, Dr. Joseph Coughlin , and his team of researchers at the MIT AgeLab are helping financial professionals understand the importance of not only asking, but helping clients understand, the deep planning issues behind three questions:

  • Who will change my lightbulbs?
  • How will I get an ice cream cone?
  • Who will I have lunch with?
  • Simple questions, perhaps even questions a robo-advisor can ask, but in actuality, these are questions and, more importantly, answers that provoke thoughtful answers and follow up questions that get to the importance of a professional human financial advisor.

    I am a huge technology advocate – a gadget geek in fact. I believe in the power of technology to improve our lives and can prove it (I have virtually every device available on the market, just ask my wife.) But I believe it’s available to assist and enhance, not replace.

    In financial services, we should embrace what computers do best – analyzing data and providing insights. By so doing, we will create additional understanding of our clients, and greater capacity for human interaction that leads to even deeper relationships and better advice.

    This is why I confidently predict that technology won’t make our profession obsolete. It’s why one of my favorite parts of my job is helping the next generation enter this business – I’m excited about the possibilities yet to come.

    Technology will continue to change what we do and how we do it, but it won’t change why we do it: to connect with others, and create a meaningful impact on their lives.

    If you found this post interesting, please "Like," Comment," "Share," +1 and/or Tweet. I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn and via Twitter @TashElwynRJ . You are also invited to follow Raymond James & Associates on LinkedIn and via Twitter @RaymondJames .