To Robo or not To Robo — that is the question

While taking a break, I took the opportunity to revisit my financial portfolio and considered picking up the phone and setting up an appointment with my financial analyst. But, wait a minute; I had received a communication recently from this institution about the availability of a machine-like interface where I can interact with a faceless agent who can provide me guidance on making financial decisions. Really? Who is behind this interface? Who is really thinking on my behalf? How capable is this person? Can I trust this “thing”? These were the thoughts that went through my mind as I pondered over my next step. Welcome to the world of Robo Advisors, the world of logic and algorithms and mathematical calculations that can have a direct impact on your own finances. Intrigued? Well, I am not surprised. I reached out to my colleague, Anthony Golia, the Chief Architect for Financial Services at Red Hat to have a conversation around this technology as well as the pertinent human and emotional perspectives that it could entail. Join me as I take you through this new world of financial advisors.

Process Automation as a way to increase efficiency and productivity while enhancing the customer experience is not a new concept. What is new here is the application of technology and analytics to seemingly subjective decisions that cannot be always based on simple binary arithmetic. Perhaps, this is where those little gray cells in the human brain excel to address the gray areas of decision making frameworks.

These five considerations came out during my conversation with Anthony to contrast the Robo Advisor interface versus the interaction with a human advisor can be classified as follows:

  1. Volume of data: Robo Advisors can process incredibly large volumes of data from a multitude of data sources. They can also synthesize this data very quickly and run analytics on them to provide insight to us as individual customers as well as the human advisors who work with us. Human advisors, on the other hand, can process — very simply put — what is humanly possible. Barring the precocious kid who processes integral calculus in elementary school, humans have some obvious limitations on the volume of data that they can process at any given instant.
  2. Depth of insight: That being said, humans are perceptive. The human brain can apply context and come up with specific insight that is easier to process and apply as we deem fit. Robo Advisors on the other hand, tend to provide insight at a higher level providing an overall frame of reference while leaving the specifics to the individual at hand.
  3. Diversity of connections: Computers can never be Data Scientists. No matter how sophisticated the technology is, the human brain can always make intriguing and innovative connections using the same data, and this can vary from one human to another — which is what cognitive diversity is all about. While Robo Advisors do have access to high volumes of data which can help them correlate different events and patterns, the human brain can zero in on unique connections that are made with insight external to the data being processed.
  4. Touch of emotion: It is all about the human touch. The warmth of the welcoming greeting and the handshake or fist bump, the friendly chit-chatting about the baseball game over the weekend etc. establishes an emotional connection that cannot be experienced with Robo Advisors. Especially when discussing topics like the funds needed for life-changing events like weddings, graduations etc., the human advisor can very quickly make a connection with a simple question about the logistics and offer some personal insight.
  5. Agility of interaction: Perceptive human advisors have a way to quickly change the tone and message of their interaction to adjust to the body language of the customer. Human advisors are processing not just what they are hearing but also what they are seeing and processing a wide variety of data points even though they may not realize it. Robo Advisors have yet to get to the level of sophistication where a frown or a smile on the face of the customer is quickly factored into the ongoing interaction during the session.

There you have it. Those are the considerations that came out of my insightful discussion with Anthony who asked me which way I would go when reaching out to my financial institution.

After giving all of this due consideration, I decided that I would go with the best of both worlds. I would prefer to work with a human advisor for sure — but one who is taking full advantage of the insight that Robo Advisors provide. I would expect my financial advisor to apply the human dimension to the output from Robo Advisors, filter out the content that best applies to my scenario and make appropriate recommendations.

How about you? What are other considerations we must take into account in such scenarios? Are there other approaches you would recommend to balance the options available? We would love hear from you in the comments section below.

We certainly value a human response to this particular question over any other response from any other automated device. Let’s face it. Humans came first — and then, came the machines.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NadhanEG

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