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The Future of Financial Advice

A human touch combined with well-designed AI bots will drive increased trust and customer success in financial advice outcomes.

For as long as we’ve had systems of money, we’ve had systems of people telling us what to do with it. Today, financial advice is a $70+ billion dollar market and growing, but emerging technologies like AI and machine learning are threatening to disrupt more traditional incumbents. While many think simply adding a digital product or service with a chatbot can replace the thoughtful advice of a human advisor, the real winning formula will be those who can cleverly combine personality matched chatbots to drive a better human to human advice offering.

The way advisors are typically connected to clients is based on either referral, geography or random assignment. But one-sized-fits-all advice does not work in an age where customer expectations are high, and different people respond better to different communication styles. Given the emotions around money, it makes sense to match advisors and advice to our clients’ personalities. So imagine intelligent chatbots who can adapt their behavioral style based on client’s preferred and most effective communication style. By designing effective chatbot-to-human ecosystems, firms can gain insights to better understand their clients and make the right match when assigning human advisors.

Let’s examine these chatbot archetypes across three basic segments of financial advice: Spending and Savings, Investments, and Tax Law and Estate Planning.

Spending and Savings

For those who are looking for help with overall budgeting, financial planning or developing health financial habits, the key players can span from more traditional financial planners or debt consolidation/settlement/reduction firms to book authors who’ve made a name for themselves giving financial advice. Dave Ramsey, Suze Ormon, and George Clason are all examples of contemporary financial advice gurus, but this tradition of advice spans all the way back to Benjamin Franklin and his timeless adage, “Beware of expenses, a small leak will sink a might ship.”

There’s a ton of wisdom out there for budgeting and savings, but the key is to get the personality and voice matched to what will be most effective with a particular customer.

Services like Mint are already moving in the right direction with the ability to allow you to budget, set target spend limits and be alerted when you break your budget. We already have chatbot services that basically serve as a voice search command for asks like what’s my current checking balance, how much did I spend on food, or when is the next cable bill due. With up-to-the-minute advice on budgeting and saving built in, chatbots will begin to consult people on everything from their rate of savings, to optimizing their entertainment spending. Let’s look at three potential characters/voices that our AI chatbot can take on:

  1. The Driver – The driver is like a tough coach or mentor. Highly pedagogical, this chatbot will be direct in scrutinizing your spending, and take on a stern tone when you’re exceeding the limits on any part of your budget. In extreme cases, it may even contain a feature to take over your accounts to lock down your spending, or create some level of friction for the user to unblock their own spending.
  2. The Supporter – The supporter is the positive coach and this voice can be used in conjunction with The Driver to play a good cop/bad cop game where effective. The supporter is all about helping you get up when you’ve stumbled on your budgeting and savings goals. This is a great voice for those who respond well to positive motivation.
  3. The Empathizer – The Empathizer’s tone is one of understanding and playing back. Some folks like to come to their own conclusions and the Empathizer allows them to do just that. By playing back your thoughts, the general idea is that you arrive at the solution yourself.

Investments

Today’s investment advisors take many forms, including that of a mutual or index fund that provides a basket of investments and charges a management fee; brokerages who provide current day “robo-advisors” primarily around risk tolerance, asset allocation and potentially tax-loss harvesting; and good old fashioned financial advisors, who provide financial advice for a fee. The main areas of value derived from these services are capital preservation and growth, low cost investment options, dynamic asset allocation and financial planning. We already have many automated elements one could consider “advice” in the form of automatic withdrawals and 401k plans, to Target Date Funds that automatically change your investment allocation and Robo-Advisors that match client risk profiles and goals.

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” –Warren Buffet

Investing behaviors range from the swing trader to the self-directed long-term investor, to the 100% index ETF client. Two potential characters/voices for these customers could be:

  1. The North Star – The north star voice is all about supporting the long-term plan, especially when the market enters volatile periods. The buy and hold investor suddenly gets worried when talk of recession is in the air and may want to raise cash. Similarly, their buy and hold strategy may look boring when they hear of friends making a mint in bitcoin, internet startups or high flying tech companies. The North Star works for investors whose nerves are easily rattled and for poor decision-making can cause them to make bad decisions.
  2. The Mentor – Some people have both the mental makeup and ability to trade successfully, but they still can get caught up with their ego from time to time chasing stocks or the market. The mentor is all about helping keep a perspective on their trading, pointing out past good and bad behavior, and helping the client stick to an investment/trading discipline and investments that fit their stated criteria.

Tax and Estate Planning

For the nuts and bolts of minimizing of tax liabilities and reducing wealth transfer fees, most turn to tax and estate planning lawyers, advisors or firms.

Given the tax overhaul, the reduction in SALT allowance, the new limits in the mortgage interest deduction and the changes to pass-through income, there’s a lot for individuals to keep up with and to plan for. But if financial institutions have a full picture of their clients’ financial situation, there’s an opportunity to offload the majority of basic tax and legal advice to bots, including warning a client of the pros and cons of any particular taxable event they might engage in. Keep in mind that this type of help can be very expensive and potentially available to only a few who can afford (Robo-advisors are already including tax-loss harvesting features).

Potential characters for estate planning can be:

  1. The Guardian AngelTax law can make mincemeat of mere mortals who don’t understand the code.The client is looking for facts and a perspective that seems to know all. Enter the Guardian Angel. Seemingly sent from heaven, the Guardian Angel evokes trust and respect, and a sense of limits known. It also has knowledge of the financial institutions own specialists and knows where to refer questions or interpretations that require a human conversation.
  2. The Organizing AssistantThe organizing assistant helps clients feel comfortable with financial institutions processes and gathers the necessary information for the client’s upcoming appointment with a firm’s human tax. The voice and tone are patient and warm, yet highly efficient.

The Human Touch

“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides.” – Artur Schnabel, pianist 

Creating a great bot to interact with your customers will not be the singular challenge. In the words of famed piano player Artur Schnabel, the bots may play all the standard notes quite well, but we need human beings for those moments when reading off the sheet music is inferior to riffing off the client’s rhythm, handling emotional situations and providing advice where clear answers don’t exist.  

Designing for success in these scenarios is about designing for the inevitable failures of our bot characters and not leaving our clients in dead ends or recurring non-helpful loops. Bots have boundaries, and many people will only trust a bot up to a point. There will be moments where bots—even with all the knowledge they have—fail to answer a clients’ questions, or even to help them think through more abstract issues. The real differentiator is ensuring that the transition between bot and human happens elegantly and quickly.

David Zemanek

David has spent his career working on the front lines for product and solution companies. It started with banking, financial market solutions, technology, deployed and SaaS software solutions, integration technologies, and now in the realm of innovation consulting with frog.

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