The World’s Biggest Fear: Getting Replaced By Machines

On a recent edition of an NPR’s Science Friday the host asked listeners about their biggest sci-fi fear about the future. The common thread that emerged from the calls: We’re all going to be replaced by technology.

That’s an understandable concern given the head-spinning pace of technological advancement in recent years. But, as I recently discussed with one of my clients, I believe the change brought by our ever-advancing technology will continue to make life better for everyone, including financial advisors.

Take a look at the benefits technology has delivered to our industry so far. In 1995 if we needed a client’s brokerage account balance, we had to phone the custodian and have them look up that balance. Placing a trade meant a call to the trading desk and a $50 fee per trade.

Back in the olden days, by which I mean the 1990’s, the “latest” world or economic information was defined as what you saw on the evening TV news or read in the morning paper or caught in a radio news bulletin while driving to a meeting. Reaching a client on even an urgent matter meant making a phone call (or several) and likely leaving a message.

And today?  Well, today, we can do all of the above – and so much more – using our smartphones, a device that didn’t even exist as a mainstream product before 2007. Thanks to other advances in computing and biotech over the past 25 years, problems and questions that once seemed impossible to solve are being addressed within our lifetimes. These solutions range from treating diseases to the secure, instant transfer of money.

To get a real sense of how fast we’re moving, take a glance in humanity’s rearview mirror. While the 20th century did see the rise of many new technologies – planes, cars, broadcasting, space travel, basic computers – the pace was plodding compared to what we’ve experienced in the past 25 years. When we look further back in time, we see that many technologies remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years.

What does our current technological rocket ride mean to you as a financial advisor? Constant vigilance and adaptation. We have to adopt a culture of learning within our firms. Technology is going to continue to grow and evolve exponentially. If we are slow to identify and adopt new innovations and processes, we will be left in the dust by more agile competitors. The runway for catching up to early adopters is long and hard.  Just ask Walmart and the other retailers who are trying desperately to replicate Amazon’s online sales model.

No matter how important technology becomes in our business, human relationships will always be more important than “the machines.”  In fact, properly applied technology should free your team from routine tasks, thus allowing them to engage in activities that help build deeper relationships with clients and prospects. This is exactly what happened in banking with the advent of ATMs. Because the machines could handle many routine transactions, banks were able to shift their personnel resources from tellers into “relationship bankers” who resolve customer issues and market new services.

The tech wave shows no sign of slowing. We need to learn how to ride it. Visionary leaders will help their firms adopt new ways of doing things and figure out how to maximize the resulting efficiencies. Because the humans aren’t going anywhere. They are just going to have more time on their hands.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how your firm is handling this remarkable opportunity. Let me know your firm is addressing and harnessing technology and innovation.