Over the past decade, “AI” has become a pervasive buzzword around the world. Standing for “artificial intelligence,” AI now influences nearly every aspect of our daily lives, from the smartphones we rely on for communication to the smart TVs streaming popular shows and smart speakers playing our favorite songs. Ironically, as we discussed at a holiday party, AI is used in our emails and voice-activated devices to put contextual advertisements in front of us.
AI has certainly disrupted the financial industry as well, with most advisors believing they can no longer compete without offering cutting-edge tech to their clients. But as much as I appreciate the impact of artificial intelligence, I believe another AI is even more important in the financial services field: “advisor intelligence.”
I coined this term based on the premise that what clients really want from a financial professional is to feel more confident in their decision-making. Whether someone engages a tax, legal, insurance or investment professional, it’s generally because they wish to make better decisions than they could on their own. Taking it a step further, they want a human to provide expert and credible insight into their condition.
So what is advisor intelligence? I liken it to “special wisdom” that reflects a combination of knowledge, experience and empathy. For instance, an advisor with 20 years of experience derives part of their advisor intelligence from having witnessed many different client situations and multiple market environments during an extensive career. In applying this intelligence to a client’s current situation, they should be able to help that person make better, more informed decisions that serve them.
Technological Ubiquity and Commoditization
Neither man nor machine can definitively predict the future. Although mathematical projections might provide some insight, there will inevitably be changes in tax regulations and markets, as well as new tech developments that impact the accuracy of any forecast. So when a client is trying to make the right long-term decisions about an uncertain future, advisor intelligence becomes a vital resource when matched with number crunching.
Technology clearly plays a part in the financial decision process, but I believe that fintech innovations are quickly moving toward ubiquity and commoditization. Within the next couple of years, almost every financial advisor will likely have robust planning tools and calculators, as well as transparent client dashboards.
So if everyone employs essentially the same tech tools, the person using them becomes the value proposition and differentiator. No matter how good the data and analytics become, clients still need a human (preferably someone with experience) to provide interpretation when a decision needs to be made.
Most investors today are comfortable with technology and can utilize it to draw some basic conclusions. For example, almost anyone can look at a recent stock chart online and tell whether the market has been trending up or down. Similarly, my company produces a type of asset “location” visualization called an Asset-Map, which is relatively simple for clients to read in its basic form as they go over their finances with an advisor.
But that map is more complicated to interpret when it becomes denser with data, just as sophisticated market data is often beyond the understanding of a typical investor. In these scenarios, analysis can cause paralysis for a person who doesn’t know how to read and understand the information, or make educated decisions based on it.
Conversely, someone with advisor intelligence who can expertly interpret market data is able to immediately identify issues and help a client understand them. That ability to get to the point of a financial problem quickly, and reveal how to fix it, provides credibility that enhances an advisor’s value to the client.
Opportunity Cost of Tech Fixation
It all comes down to advisor intelligence being a resource that can’t be replicated by fintech alone. Unfortunately, many advisors today spend an extraordinary amount of time either implementing or upgrading technology, because they believe that simply having high-end tech is the way to compete. But they’re often so busy focusing on technology that they can’t devote much time to applying their advisor intelligence, despite the fact that tech is supposed to be a time saver.
The ideal scenario is for an advisor to both offer cutting-edge tech and utilize the time savings to conduct more frequent client meetings and attract prospects. The result would be happier clients and a more successful business based on providing actionable insight, also known as advisor intelligence, in real time.
H. Adam Holt, CFP, ChFC, is the CEO and founder of Asset-Map, headquartered in Philadelphia.