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Best of Both Worlds: Blending Technology and Human Advice for a Better Financial Life


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With technology touching virtually every aspect of our lives, it can be easy to lose sight of the critical role that person-to-person relationships and human expertise continue to play in certain key areas — and in our financial lives in particular.

As tempting as it may be to default to the many tech tools available today to manage our money, and as useful as many of those tools can be in helping us to get a better handle on our finances, there remains a strong role for person-to-person professional guidance and the human element in our financial lives. Indeed, the best financial outcomes for people oftentimes are the result of them blending financial technology — algorithm-driven automated investment platforms (AKA “robo advisors”), apps, online calculators, automated banking tools, software, etc. — with advice from a trusted and skilled financial professional.

Investors appear to see merit to the “best of both worlds” approach. Among the key findings from a survey of more than 2,000 investors conducted jointly by the Financial Planning Association® (FPA®) and Investopedia in 2016 include:

  1. Investors require both high-tech and high-touch forms of advice to satisfy their financial needs.
  2. Investors are equally satisfied with automated investing platforms and financial planners/advisers, but appear to be more satisfied when utilizing both.
  3. There is a growing opportunity for automated investing platforms and financial planners/advisers to work together.

“It’s not a question of either technology or advice from a financial professional,” observes CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®) professional and FPA member Sean M. Williams, who heads Sojourn Wealth Advisory in Timonium, MD. “Really, you need both, where you embrace technology where it can help, and you’re also getting the care, advocacy and experience of a financial professional and all that relationship can bring to what can be a very complex part of your life.”

The role of technology. Today’s tech tools are “great at providing people information fast. People can now be more informed about their finances,” says Williams. “My clients enjoy having an online client portal where they have access to their financial plan and can see where they are financially. It provides comparisons and what-if scenarios to help aid them in making decisions. They even have access to it through an app.”

A small but growing segment of investors are relying on automated investment platforms to manage investments. And as the FPA and Investopedia note in their report, those platforms have value. “Automated investing platforms are making it possible for investors of all backgrounds and asset levels to get easily accessible, lower cost investment services.”

Almost three-quarters (73 percent) of the investors who use a primary automated investing platform say they are satisfied or very satisfied with the platform they use. They are most satisfied with the performance of the platform, the platform’s transparency regarding fees, its accessibility on multiple platforms, its investment options and its investment rebalancing services, all factors that have little to do with actual human interaction and intervention.

Beyond platforms and portals, cyberspace is teeming with tech tools that can make projections and perform other key financial functions in a snap. Need a ballpark figure for how much monthly income you’ll have during retirement? Want to track household spending or automate the process of saving toward a goal, such as purchasing a house or funding a child’s education? Want the ability to view investment accounts and adjust how they’re allocated in real time? There are apps, calculators and tools to do all that and more. Many are easy to use and come at little or no cost.

The role of a financial professional. Three-quarters (75 percent) of people who work with a financial planner/adviser indicate they are satisfied or very satisfied with that relationship, with nearly half saying they are very satisfied. They are most satisfied with the services their planner/adviser provides in the areas of estate planning, tax planning, investments and retirement planning, and with the adviser’s experience working on matters of top concern to the client.

For people who have needs in these areas, an automated investment platform may not be adequate to assess and coordinate the many moving parts and nuances involved. The more complex a person’s financial life, the more they may tend to benefit from personalized advice, delivered by an actual financial professional. “Sometimes it’s just having another set of eyes, an expert’s perspective, someone to provide counsel,” says Williams.

In the FPA/Investopedia survey, the small segment of investors who use a primary automated investing platform say they are less satisfied with the responsiveness of those platforms to their questions, an apparent communications shortcoming that could become more pronounced during times of financial stress, such as during a period of stock market turmoil. Forty percent of survey respondents say they are either uncomfortable or very uncomfortable using an automated investing platform during extreme market volatility; 30% would classify themselves as either comfortable or very comfortable doing so.

Here’s an area where access to, and the ability to communicate with, an actual human being, and do so in a timely fashion, can prove valuable. “It’s important for people to hear, ‘Don’t worry, your investments are going to be okay’ from a professional they trust,” says FPA member Vladimir Kouznetsov, CFP® with Retegy in Irvine, CA.

The ability to discuss and work through financial issues with a trusted adviser is important whenever a major stressor arises in a person’s life, says Williams. “It could be a first-time home purchase, it could be reshaping your finances after a divorce or the loss of a job — really during any large changes and transitions, where there’s nuance to how a person’s money should be handled in a specific situation, and where a person needs assurance and confidence.” Make a schedule to update your objectives and the corresponding areas in the plan on a regular basis, such as monthly, in order to be as prepared as possible for events that can change.

Blending technology and professional advice to get the best of both worlds. Given the distinct benefits that both financial technology and human advice provided by a financial professional can deliver, how do you maximize what each offers to improve your financial life? Start by forging a relationship with a financial professional with whom you have a rapport, who has proven skills in the areas of your financial life that matter most to you, and who will always put your best interests first (“fiduciary” is the formal term for one who is obligated to always act in the best interests of their clients). To find one in your area, visit the Financial Planning Association’s searchable database of CFP® professionals at www.PlannerSearch.org.

Make a point to ask your financial professional about the tech tools they offer to support and complement the services they provide. Do they provide clients access to an online portal to monitor investments and other elements of their financial plan, for example? Then have them walk you through how to use the tools they offer.

To the extent you’re comfortable doing so, use technology to communicate with your financial planner, because you now have multiple convenient channels through which to reach him or her, and for him or her to reach you, such as via email, text message, or web conferencing. These channels can augment and complement more traditional methods of communications (telephone and face-to-face).

Save time and make life simpler by automating financial functions such as bill payment, retirement account contributions, college savings plan contributions and the like.

And finally, search the web for articles about the best personal finance tools out there, then ask a financial professional about some of the tech tools he or she recommends, because the range and quality of these tools continue to improve rapidly. As Kouznetsov notes, “The best is yet to come.”

January 2019 — This column is provided by the Financial Planning Association® (FPA®) and FPA of San Diego, the principal professional membership organization for Certified Financial PlannerTM (CFP®) professionals. FPA seeks to elevate a profession that transforms lives through the power of financial planning. Through a collaborative effort to provide more than 23,000 members with tools and resources for professional education, business support, advocacy and community, FPA is the indispensable resource in the advancement of today’s CFP® professional. Please credit FPA of San Diego if you use this column in whole or in part. 

The Financial Planning Association is the owner of trademark, service mark and collective membership mark rights in: FPA, FPA/Logo and FINANCIAL PLANNING ASSOCIATION.  The marks may not be used without written permission from the Financial Planning Association.