While the debate rages on about whether robo-advisors will ultimately be a threat to human advisors, or whether the solutions that combined technology and humans will be the ultimate victors, the reality is that to view the battle as one of “technology vs human advisors” may be missing the real “threat” of robo-advisors. As technology platforms, their disruptive potential goes far beyond just impacting financial advisors.
For instance, the ability of software tools to re-create index funds – but without the mutual fund or ETF wrapper – creates the potential for today’s robo-advisors to disintermediate much of the existing index fund industry, aided by the tailwind of a benefit under tax code that uniquely favors these new “Indexing 2.0” robo-platforms over current fund-based solutions. Similarly, robo-advisors as “trading” software creates the potential to eliminate many active management middlemen, allowing a wide range of smart beta and rules-based trading algorithms to be implemented and automated directly.
And as the robo-technology trends shift from a direct-to-consumer focus to offer new robo-advisors-for-advisors solutions instead, the new platforms present the threat to today’s existing RIA custodians, who face the potential of a generational shift as new less-investment-centric financial planners adopt simplified robo-advisor investment platforms, and build a business there for the long run… which means in the end, the greatest threat of robo-advisors may not be their competition with human advisors, but the way that human advisors adopt them to disrupt much of the existing FinTech ecosystem!