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McKenna: The future’s bright

The human interaction sought by face-to-face advice may face genuine competition by technology-based solutions and articificial intelligence

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The Future is Already Here session at last week’s third Top Gear event by The Platforum show-cased a series  of technologies which could radically alter the traditional financial services industry. 

The Platforum managing director Holly Mackay gave me the brief of bringing together a group of technology suppliers which could really challenge conventional thinking and demonstrate that what many in our industry consider science fiction is actually science fact and set to dramatically transform the way our industry works. In just under an hour, the three organisations presented technology which addresses the vast majority of the reasons trotted out as to why advice cannot be automated.

These are all technologies which could be embraced by the traditional financial services industry and harnessed for the benefit of both consumers and the industry.

Artificial intelligence experts Yseop highlighted the limitations of the human brain and scientific analysis that suggests humans can only monitor a limited number of factors simultaneously. By way of alternative, it demonstrated how smart machines can monitor vast numbers of financial products, funds and client circumstances to provide an intelligent support service. Such technology can create and manage highly complex decision trees involving literally thousands of variables, including the ability to identify when a client is giving conflicting information and the capability to guide them step-by-step towards making the decisions that will achieve the best outcomes. This can actually turn regulatory change into a commercial advantage by building services that can rapidly adapt to rule changes. 

Technology and vision care specialist VSP Global, which has been working with the application of many wearable technologies in the insurance industry, including Google Glass, explained how these emerging services have the potential to totally reinvent the traditional approach to underwriting.  Eye scanning techniques can provide early onset notification of a wide range of conditions, including diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. In this context, the eyes are quite literally the window into an individual’s health. 

Such techniques can also provide the ability to assess the health of both cardiovascular and nervous systems and can be used to build an extensive picture of an individual’s future well-being.

nViso killed one of the sacred cows of the advice industry in a Top Gear presentation which brought to life the full extent of the possibilities for automated advice. Almost without exception, when advisers question the viability of online advice, one of the first common arguments put forward is that machines cannot pick up non-verbal clues or understand human emotion. nViso founder and chief executive Tim Llewellyn demonstrated how facial biometrics can be used to measure human emotion and what customers are really feeling.

Using a process measuring facial expressions, micro-expressions, head and eye movement and bloodflow, the software monitors 170 points in a facial image.

Using technology in this way can overcome social desirability bias – the tendency of respondents to answer questions in a way that, consciously or subconsciously, they believe is socially acceptable or popular with others. This could have very obvious benefits in areas such as risk profiling and factfinding to ensure an accurate representation of the consumer’s true feelings.

Overall, this event showcased a series of individual technologies which, if brought together, could deliver exactly the sort of scalable and affordable digital advice propositions that FCA chief executive Martin Wheatley has been calling for. It was fascinating during the Q&A session at the end of the presentations how all three companies, none of whom had met previously, were already seeing in ways in which their combined technology could create empathic algorithms that could measure how and when to deliver prompts to consumers about their personal finances that would be timed around when they could be demonstrated to make the best financial decision.

This  session showed reasons to be optimistic about what technology and financial advice can deliver to consumers but also highlighted how any business not radically rethinking its business model is simply waiting for its own demise.

Any extended summary of each of the presentations mentioned above can be found at http://www.moneymarketing.co.uk/opinion/ian-mckenna/

Ian McKenna is director of Finance & Technology Research Centre

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