While it is becoming increasingly clear that “robo-advisors” are not disrupting human financial advisors, the adoption of robo technology by financial advisors themselves is beginning to shift the competitive landscape… both amongst financial advisors themselves, and the technology vendors who serve them, as the very role and value proposition of financial advisors themselves begins to get re-defined.
In this week’s #OfficeHours with @MichaelKitces, my Tuesday 1PM EST broadcast via Periscope, I’m interviewed by Neesha Hathi, Executive Vice President and Chief Digital Officer at Schwab, at the Schwab IMPACT 2017 conference, about the latest advisory industry and FinTech trends – including the Robo 2.0 trend currently rolling through the industry, why Robo 2.0 will spur the rebirth of next generation financial planning software, and why it’s the rise of better “small data”, rather than “big data”, that is likely to be most important to advisory firms in the coming decade.
One of the biggest trends rolling through the advisory industry right now is rise of “Robo 2.0”. Robo-Advisor 1.0 was all about companies like Betterment and Wealthfront, which made convenient and easy-to-use tech tools for opening accounts, investing those accounts, and managing them over time, and offered directly to consumers. However, we’ve learned that only a small subset of consumers actually want to buy these solutions directly, while there is a large base of financial advisors who want to use these same tools within their own businesses. As a result, Robo 2.0 tools are focused on facilitating the ability of financial advisors to quickly and easily open investment accounts, get the dollars actually transferred, invested, allocated in reasonable models, and model management tools to make it very easy to allocate and rebalance models along the way. The good news for advisors is that these trends drive efficiencies and lower business costs. But the challenge going forward is that now that all of this can be done with a click of a button, advisors need to find new ways to add value for their clients.
Looking forward a bit further, the biggest change we’re likely to see in the industry 5 to 10 years from now isn’t actually the adoption of Robo 2.0 tools, but instead, the rebirth of next-generation financial planning software as investment management receives less attention. As advisors are forced to focus on other areas of financial planning – everything from HSAs and healthcare conversations, to debt management issues, and cash flow planning more generally – advisors are going to need better financial planning software tools to help clients with these issues. Which presents a huge opportunity for those who are interested in building tools oriented towards financial planning, and advisors who want to focus more on financial planning… while for those still mostly focused on investments, the next decade is going to present more of a competitive business challenge.
Another trend that many have predicted will influence the next decade is artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data. But I’m very skeptical about the discussion of these technologies coming into advisory businesses. Because the reality is that so many of the challenges in what we do for clients are not big data problems. Instead, it’s small data – i.e., the uniqueness of every advisory firm and the clients they serve – where better insights are needed. So while there will certainly be some applications for large firms to leverage big data and bring insights on the entire industry, at the advisor level, the most exciting advancements are in the small data areas that are directly relevant to firm owners and their clients. For instance, automated business management and benchmarking data that makes it easier to track the components of business growth and performance, and tools that automate the many business management reporting processes that advisors are manually doing today.
The bottom line, though, is simply to recognize that we’re in the midst of some big FinTech trends within the advisory industry right now. So if you are an advisor who wants to stay relevant and continue to add value to your clients in the future (or a tech provider who wants to make the tools to help advisors do so!), it is important to understand how these trends will shape financial planning in the future!