Lee Robertson: Why we should embrace robo-advice


I seemed to be discussing technology and the massive changes it is bringing all last week. This was partly because I had a couple of calls calls from journalists asking what I thought about “robo-advice” and partly because we were revisiting some of the software we use to keep our clients informed about the softer side of what we do for them.

I know we are all aware of the massive changes coming via technology but both journalists surprised me: they said that when they had spoken to other advisers on the same subject they were met with universal disdain for robo-advice. Comments ranging from “it will never work” to it being nothing more than a passing fad were apparently the norm.

I take a different view here. While I do not think it will ever completely replace personalised, face-to-face advice, I do think the sector will grow and I welcome the arrival of another interaction channel with the public.

From lifestyle to travel, research to graphic design, communications to our own area of financial advice, the changes are profound and the pace is quickening. Recent examples of mine that got me thinking included using Uber and Airbnb for the first time: both cheap and very efficient.

In my own business we are doing more and more decent graphic design in house. Some of the new software is incredibly intuitive and takes minutes to learn. Those of us in our forties and fifties probably all remember how we initially struggled to build Microsoft Office skills, particularly at the more creative end with Powerpoint. Looking at the same landscape now we are presented with a whole new generation of presentation and design software such as Canva, Picmonkey, Haiku Deck, Prezi and Slideshark. Crucially, much of this functionality is available for free or for so little the pricing is an irrelevance.

Communicating with the world is also getting faster, easier and cheaper. From some of the new Adobe software offerings to Mailchimp, MyEmma and Constant Contact, it is now incredibly simple to build stylish, professional and measurable newsletters and bulletins without outside help. What traditionally would have required a graphic designer or similar can now be done in-house quickly and for virtually no cost.

So returning to my earlier point about robo-advice I just cannot agree that this will be a passing fad. Technology is here to stay and just as it is disrupting the travel, taxi and hotel sectors among others, we would be fooling ourselves to think it will not disrupt the traditional advice model to some degree.

I am an optimist, however, and would suggest the robo-adviser will incubate clients for full advice models. As advisers also embrace and deploy technology we will see a blurring of the distinction between the two different models over time. As clients build more assets and their affairs become more complex it is likely they will seek advice over and above what might be available in the largely commoditised online offerings.

I suspect the public will be the ultimate winners here with a much-improved hybrid of online and face-to-face advice. Who would argue they do not deserve it?

Lee Robertson is chief executive of Investment Quorum.