With the explosion of the internet over the past decade, raw access to data and information has exploded for the average individual, made even easier by the effectiveness of search engines like Google to filter through the volume to find the most relevant content. While most of us enjoy having the opportunity to dig into all of this newfound information, it does paint some potentially troubling implications for many professions, including financial planning, that have historically relied on the delivery of expert information as a core value proposition. If access to information explodes further in the next 10 years the way that it has over the past 10, will this force a change in the core value proposition of financial planners? What does it mean to be a financial planning expert if/when the internet makes all the "expert" information accessible to the average person?
The inspiration for today’s blog post comes from some recent conversations I have been having with renowned futurist Thomas Frey, who will be the opening keynote speaker for the upcoming FPA Retreat conference this May (for those who are interested, early bird registration ends in a week, on Friday, March 25th!). Frey will present his own insights and ideas at the conference, but I have to admit that thinking about the issues have definitely been stirring my own brain a bit as well.
Right now, I think most will agree that while the internet has increased access to information, it’s increased access to all information, both good and bad, quality and not. Some would contend that expert-based professions like financial planning will remain safe, then, because it still requires a trained expert to filter through the information and separate the good from the bad.
I’m not so sure, though. Just look at how chaotic information on the internet seemed 10 years ago (if you can remember), and how much more effectively it’s organized now, thanks in large part to search engines like Google, notwithstanding the fact that the raw volume of content has exploded to many multiples of what it was 10 years ago. In other words, if Google could make as much order as they have already out of the chaos of the information growth over the past 10 years, imagine the tools we’ll have to be capable of filtering and analyzing information from the internet 10 years from now, whether delivered by Google or some new company we’ve never even heard of yet. I don’t think financial planners can simply rely on the fact that the information on the internet is "too overwhelming" to be a threat.
On the other hand, the financial planning body of knowledge itself continues to grow increasingly more complex. Granted, what we do is not rocket science – literally or figuratively – but certain medicine, and rocket science itself, provides a great example of professions where just having access to the raw information alone still doesn’t make you capable of using it. I might be able to get a schematic for how to build a rocket, but I don’t think I could execute it. I might be able to look up something on the internet about a specific condition, but I’ve still never taken Organic Chemistry and have no actual understanding of how a particular medication will actually interact with my body and cells. These professions appear somewhat "safe" from the encroaching information accessibility of the internet because just having the information isn’t enough; the body of knowledge is so complex, that no one could apply it without the help of an expert anyway.
Or perhaps the application and implementation is really where it’s at, and the core value of financial planning is less about having the expert knowledge, and more about being able to apply it to individuals so they change their behavior for the better. Maybe financial planning is more analogous to the psychologist than the medical diagnostician, where the value is not just the expert analysis, but being able to guide clients through their own personal steps of change and self-improvement. After all, just having access to books about Freud and Jung certainly doesn’t help me be less neurotic; I need a psychologist and a coaching or therapy process to address those challenges! Similarly, perhaps I will always need a financial planner to help me with my saving and spending goals, regardless of having access to information, because I need the human interaction that holds me accountable to achieving my goals to really succeed.
So what do you think? Do you view the growth of information access via the internet to be a threat to the profession? Will clients someday get all of their advice by just looking it up on the internet? Or from a software program on the internet that gathers their data and tells them what to do? Or are there other aspects of financial planning, based in the human interaction itself, that are necessary and that will support financial planning in the future, regardless of the accessibility of information?
Let me know what you think in the comments here. Or consider coming to FPA Retreat and joining in the conversation!