Robo advice won’t rule the world

Mortgage Introducer

February 1, 2018

Richard Adams is managing director of Stonebridge Group

For all the hype and noise around ‘robo advice’ propositions, I’m a great believer in walking the walk, especially if you’re going to talk the talk about how your proposition is a ‘game changer’, ‘revolutionary’ and that it’s going to radically alter the mortgage advice process and those that provide advice. I get the sense that, as time goes by, those who have suggested the above will either be hoisted by their own petard or will slowly row back from such statements.

Indeed, without naming names, one of the ‘robo advice pioneers’ was recently quoted as saying that the best customer outcome is actually one that uses both technology and the skills of advisers themselves, rather than leaving it just to the former. Not quite a climb-down but perhaps an admission that ‘robo’ will not rule the world in the way they’d initially imagined.

In all of this of course, some have seemingly forgotten the customer/client and rather than doggedly pursuing a ‘tech at all costs’ approach, firms (in my view) would be better off seeking to deliver efficiencies in the customer advice journey. Of course technology can help deliver this in many areas, but not all, and we might also be better off moving away from the ‘robo advice’ moniker completely because this is rather misleading and hardly transparent.

The reason being that ‘robo advice’ does not really exist – all those firms that purport to be purveyors of this service still require significant human intervention and, according to another network boss who recently visited one such firm, are still having to deal with reams of paperwork, rather than the flowing technology system we have been led to believe.

We should also be aware that there has been not a single mortgage application submitted without human intervention – which of course is not to say that won’t happen in the future but I suspect it is some way off, and to be honest, doesn’t seem particularly desirable anyway, certainly not for the client. In that sense, the expectation of what ‘robo advice’ is and the reality are clearly very far apart – it reminds me of The Wizard of Oz; a booming voice played out across the land and then you peel back the curtain and find a rather disappointing result.

Ask anyone about the future and we’re told to ‘embrace technology’ – it seems rather vague to me when put in such terms because I don’t know of any firm that isn’t utilising technology in various ways, be it our own Revolution system, the client portal we offer, websites with plug-ins and calculators, the list goes on.

However, fundamentally we know that clients want advice and they want a better experience/journey – yes, that will involve technology, most likely at the research stage, but they also want the reassurance and confidence that comes with dealing with a professional/authorised/qualified/experienced human adviser that can not only take them through the whole mortgage process but can also deliver the wide range of ancillary services and products they need.

That has not, and will not, change. Yes, competition is growing. Yes, people are buying through different channels. Yes, there is a greater level of uncertainty about the political and economic future. However, the fundamentals of what a mortgage adviser is needed for, and what they should be delivering, has not really changed at all.

In a true sense it’s about utilising the tech and meshing it with the provision of advice and delivering the proposition to customers. In a way, you can’t have any of it without the other – a lesson the ‘robo advisers’ appear to be learning as time goes on.

I’m therefore incredibly optimistic about the sustained role of the adviser in the future – as long as we can continue to service the customer’s needs and can make it the best experience possible for them, then I’m confident of ongoing success for many firms, regardless of the competition (tech or otherwise) that will inevitably grow in the future.

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