The Terminator Myth: How robo technology brings you closer to clients, not further away.
"Listen. Understand. The Terminator is out there. It can't be reasoned with, it can't be bargained with... it doesn't feel pity of remorse or fear...and it absolutely will not stop. ever."
Kyle Reese, The Terminator (1998)
A timeless quote from a timeless movie. As much as I love the Terminator films, there’s a reason I think it’s actually relevant here. This sort of sentiment, the idea that robotics, automation, AI and the rest brings a sort of soullessness, a lack of humanity, to existing services.
This is a well-circulated trope amongst those who have observed the unprecedented encroachment of technology into everyday life. If we’re to believe some of the robo-sceptics, it’s not just the manual, physical jobs under threat. Technology is now seen as a challenge to the heart and soul behind the great client relationships built beyond the factory floor. I’m talking, of course, about robo-advisors.
Do people really want to just talk to robots? Have we all switched off? Or do people just not care about the depth of nuance, the imparting of trust, the bespoke nature of an actual relationship with a service provider anymore?
For many financial professionals, particularly those involved in imparting advice, they’re the kind of qualities that you would argue vehemently couldn’t, and never will be, replicated by a machine.
Much like the Terminator, time and cost-saving technologies have caused significant ripples in the fabric of the places they have influenced - the Terminator to LA’s 1984 population - technology seemingly everywhere else.
"Cyborgs don't feel pain, I do”
It’s not unreasonable to be somewhat dubious about how technology could help the kind of work which, if anything, demands the human touch.
The misunderstanding lies somewhere between why we adopt technology in the first place, and how it can actually help us in a material way. After all, when the jobs seen as most under threat by automation are supermarket checkout assistants, tire fitters and laundry workers, it’s hard to see how the detail-centric, unique sort of work done in financial advice would benefit from the heavy-lifting that robo solutions are known for.
The difference is that technology is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s entirely reliant on where we put it, how it directly operates in conjunction with us. That’s why, in reality, technology could be the saving grace for traditional financial advice. We just have to know what to do with it.
‘Come with me if you want to live…’
Any great IFA knows their clients well and values the time they get to spend with them.
Based on a completely manual business, a single IFA might aim to work with around 100-200 clients at any one time, although many try to, or want to, take on more. They contend with many dormant clients, regulatory pressures - the increased workload on administration alone means that adequately serving a growing client base becomes increasingly difficult, even impossible, for a single advisor.
Proving to the FCA that ongoing service fees and charges are justified becomes difficult when an IFA is maxing out their client list.
That’s where technology solutions make real differences.
Automating, for example, an onboarding system or KYC reporting instantly gives you more time, resources and capital. To take it further, there would be nothing stopping an IFA adding a robo-advisor branch to their service - an additional vertical for lower-value clients who can’t afford a full service. Suddenly, the average advisor has increased their capabilities tenfold, perhaps more. The technology, rather than removing any of the human-added value, simply amplifies it.
‘Hasta la vista, baby’
Recent reporting claims that 1.5 million UK jobs are under threat from technology, the proverbial terminator, the self-aware singularity, the hive-mind robot coming to do what you do better than you ever could. It’s just we’re talking about admin, not exterminating the human race.
While these ideas have made great movies, they haven’t made much sense to anyone thinking practically and rationally.
Technology solutions, supplanted to the tailored sort of services like financial advice, allow a diluted customer experience to become a fully-fledged journey. A journey where a client can closely work on their goals, ambitions and future plans with an experienced professional who they can trust - the paperwork, the reporting, the needless legwork are no longer a factor. The funny thing is how simple these sort of applications are to integrate, and how quickly they can start to benefit their users.
‘I’ll be back’
To those getting behind these ideas, the future could be a hybrid advisor, managing more clients than they ever could before, offering more bespoke and comprehensive services with flexible pricing structures that cater to more potential clients. All the while, covering their regulatory responsibilities.
It’s certainly not as exciting an image as the Terminator movies, but it’s a lot closer to the reality of what you can achieve with technology. And there’s a much smaller risk of getting terminated.