Robots are poised to take over the world. Millions of them have already infiltrated factory floors, manufacturing hubs, and even our vehicles.
Even China, once the bastion of cheap labour, is feeling the need to automate. Entire teams are dedicated to making their factories go dark – operated mainly by robots who, of course, do not need light to get by.
Sure, you say, but that is only in the field of manufacturing right? I’ve got news for you: Robots are proving their superiority even in fields of medicine and law. IBM’s Super Computer Watson not only can play chess, it also diagnosed a leukemia patient correctly in ten minutes. (Doctors were stumped for months).
And computers are combing through tons of legal data and precedents far better than humans lawyers do. In fact, IBM’s ROSS (Think of it as Watson’s cousin who practices law) is already practicing in some firms.
And on to the field of Finance and Insurance. Robo-Advisors have been springing up faster than wild mushrooms, pledging to balance any investors’ portfolio more quickly and cheaply than any human fund manager ever can. (They essentially monitor an investor’s portfolio real time 24/7 and make the necessary adjustments based on a user’s risk appetite and investment goals.)
Even we (ClearlySurely.com) can lay a small claim to building the world’s first Robo-Planner. Our Insurance Self-Discovery Tool can flesh out any user’s core Insurance need within seconds. And that is only the start.
So back to the question at hand: Given the rise of machine capability and the imminent birth of A.I (Artificial Intelligence), will Robo-Planners eventually replace humans? Will it be the end of the Insurance Agent or the demise of the Financial Planner as we know it?
I don’t think so.
Robo Planners will empower Advisors
When we embarked on this journey to create this Discovery tool, the aim was never to replace planners but instead to empower them. How does this figure?
Much of a human adviser’s current role is education. He or she educates (or persuades) the prospect about the importance of Life Insurance, how it fits into their lives, and makes the prospect believe in it. That’s a major first step – and one that takes up a huge amount of time.
Working in tandem with a Robo Planner, the adviser now is freed up to do more complex and valuable work in the planning chain. The prospect already has an idea of why and how much Life Insurance he needs, and the adviser now can deep dive into the details and fine-tune the coverage to suit a prospect.
For most agents, the first meeting is usually about the education and persuasion bit. Now with the Robo planner, they can save this first meeting and jump straight into the heat of things – this saves time and also ensures that the prospect is ready and willing to receive the advice.
A typical Stranger-to-Client cycle for each agent might take up to 3 or more meetings. If the Robo Planner renders the first meeting unnecessary, we are looking at a productivity improvement of 30%.
You would have to search far and wide to find an Agent who is disagreeable with that.
Humans are still, only human.
Having built a Robo Planner myself, I can say this with utmost sincerity and conviction – the mathematics behind Financial Planning is far from complex. Given enough input from users, comprehensive plans are easy enough to generate.
So what’s stopping all advisory from being robotic, since the underlying principles are so easily satisfied?
Humans still need other humans.
That is the best part about us. We are actually hard-wired to receive information more readily when it comes to us from another human, compared to a disembodied robot voice.
Even when that robot voice is designed to “human sounding”, we don’t take to it as well. That is why we hate the automated caller responses that every major company now uses. (“Press 1 for English”)
I hate it with a passion. Each time I dial in to speak to a banking officer, I just skip straight to the part about reporting a lost credit card – that is the fastest path to having a live person handle my request. (Sorry about that OCBC!)
There is something about speaking to a non-living creature that creeps us out. (“Press 1 for English or say ‘English’ – without fail I will spam my keypad. Too creepy speaking to a robot)
We are social animals that evolved by surviving together. Even a simple act of shaking a person’s hand will improve our perception of that person. Never in a million years will you see me shake hands with a robot.
Beyond the physical, is the emotional bond. That bond is empathy. If I had leukemia, I want to receive that news from a human doctor. Even though a robotic lawyer may have sorted out the facts of my case, I would still want a human lawyer to tell me what my legal options are.
Same goes for financial planning.
Robo Planners will change the nature of Advisory
What will change, however, is the nature of the Financial Advisory work that humans now do.
We’ve seen it happen before, across the ages. During the Industrial Revolution, machines freed up work done in the fields and humans flocked to the cities. From agrarian labour, we shifted to manual labour in factories.
That was in the early 1800s. Fast forward another century – where factory work was gradually automated. We’ve shifted from manual labor to knowledge worker (for most of the developed countries). We became doctors and engineers and lawyers.
The next shift would be from Knowledge worker (computers can remember and search vast amounts of data far better than us) to Relationship worker.
Why such a distinction?
The point of being a relationship worker is that even if the robot possesses the “facts” and “information”, we just don’t relate to and take in the information in the same way when it comes from a computer. In other words, even if a robot can make the diagnosis, we want to hear it from another human being. Whether it’s regarding a health problem or a financial one.
More so than just acceptance, human advisors (when well trained to be relationship workers) can help uncover nuances in financial planning that a Robo planner cannot.
When it comes to financial planning, one of the greatest challenges to helping clients achieve their goals is that those goals are not even clear to the prospects in the first place.
Planning for a second child?
Saving for a luxury car?
Intending to be an entrepreneur?
All these are very relevant questions in the financial planning process that require empathy (and thus a human) to handle. The role of the financial planner is to help the client adapt their behaviors as necessary to navigate the (sometimes emotional) life journey.
A Future of Coexistence
Man and machine have always gone hand in hand. Ever since the first rock used to extract bone marrow to the super computers of today, every Luddite’s fear of being obsolete as a human being has never materialized.
As we witness the raw computing power and learning abilities that computers can do and feel its effects through other professions like law and medicine, it is only a matter of time before Robo planners are implemented. (We are working on that right now!)
Yet Financial planning will evolve from just delivering tailored solutions to a keen focus on empathy and being a “Relationship worker” instead.
The net effect of all this new technology?
For the competent and professional advisors, this technology will empower and augment their financial planning work, not replace them.
For those masquerading as financial advisors while selling the more profitable products, these are the people that will be phased out eventually. And we want them to to be phased out anyway.
Many people talk about the future.
Why not embrace it as it arrives?
Do you agree with us that robots will change the way we approach financial advisory? Will they empower human planners or make us irrelevant? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
www.ClearlySurely.com aims to eradicate the knowledge gap between consumers and Life Insurance. Our Vision is that one day, every Man, Woman, and Child will be properly insured.