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Jason Chapman: Robo-advice obsession ignores what clients want

The industry needs to wake up to the fact clients do not trust technology when it comes to their finances and are missing out on the many benefits it offers

Tablet-Technology-Computer-Business-700x450.jpgBarclays recently became the first UK high street bank to incorporate Apple’s voice assistance tool Siri into its mobile banking services. It is the latest development in a growing convergence between our finances and technology, which has also seen conversations around robo-advice reach feverish levels.

But while providers and advisers get excited by the potential of technology to improve financial services, do clients feel the same? Apparently not.

Recent research we conducted has found substantial levels of consumer apprehension, with just over half (53 per cent) of those surveyed saying they trust technology to help with their finances. To put this into some perspective, 72 per cent said they trust it to help with their health and fitness.

Those figures are stark. But there is more. Just 18 per cent said they trust technology to provide advice and 14 per cent to make fund or investment choices.

Interestingly, more people trust technology to fulfil the important role of offering a prognosis for a health issue (31 per cent) than the comparatively menial task of moving money into a savings account (25 per cent).

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On demographics, just 40 per cent of over-55s trust technology to help them manage their finances, compared to 69 per cent of 18-34-year-olds. Looking at advice specifically, just 10 per cent of over-55s say they are comfortable with technology playing a role.

These findings should be a real wake-up call for the industry. They indicate that our current obsession with innovations like robo-advice are out of step with what clients are comfortable with. Clearly, we are not doing enough to make them aware of the benefits technology can offer.

If we do not address this trust deficit, clients will simply opt out of solutions that have the potential to improve their financial wellbeing.

How do we do this? Part of the answer lies in easing customers in to new technologies and helping them get comfortable with it in their financial lives. This will involve giving people safe environments to test new services out, as well as educating on issues like safety and decision-making, and debunking misconceptions.

Financial services can learn a lot from the health industry, too. Fitness firms have been successful in understanding human beings’ innate desire to compete. Sign up to Strava, for example, and you can chart your own performances alongside other people’s. This drives the desire to share information and do better.

Imagine the level of interest in seeing how much others put into their pension or save as a proportion of income, or perhaps how stocks and shares Isa performances compare.

We cannot expect a sudden change in client mindset and, of course, we must accept that some will always remain cautious when it comes to technology. But the digital shift is showing no signs of slowing so financial services must invest in keeping clients up to date with new services.

If not, technology will not realise its full potential and people’s financial lives will suffer.

Jason Chapman is managing director at Willis Owen



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  1. “They indicate that our current obsession with innovations like robo-advice are out of step with what clients are comfortable with.”

    Quite so. Therefore perhaps one of the reasons the geeks persist with trying to dragoon clients into Robo advice is because they have an agenda.

    It is one think to do your banking on line – which is a convenience – but quote another when the bank tries to flog things through the portal – wich is an intrusion.

    The geeks overlook the fact that advice (in it’s pure form) is a complicated business and clients need to engage one to one to ensure that their requirements are fully understood. It is after all as we have heard for years – a people business.

    You can go to a MacDonald’s for a hamburger or you can go to a decent restaurant with a comprehensive menu for a decent meal and be able to ask the waiter what he recommends and which wine would he suggest.

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