There are potential disruptors aiming toward the financial advice industry, but those disruptors might not be what the industry is focusing on.
“I don’t think the financial advice industry has a ton to worry about from the Amazons and Googles, because if they do enter that space, it will be direct to consumer, maybe on the banking side, and possibly the robo side, and I don’t think they will have a huge impact on the financial advice industry,” said Jon Mauney, general manager at Betterment for Advisors.
Madeline Parra, co-founder of Purple Dot, warned that the bigger disruption risk to wealth management will come from new markets and market opportunities that financial advisers aren’t yet thinking about.
“I wouldn’t say outsiders will disrupt the industry, but they are primed to create new markets,” she said, citing the example of the trend toward “buy now, pay later” that works like credit without the added interest charges in most cases.
“Theoretically, credit card companies should have been able to create buy now, pay later market, but they were too late,” Parra said. “It’s one of those things where credit card companies might be thinking, ‘damn, we should have done that.’”
That’s an example of how Parra believes technology and innovation could horn its way into the wealth management space, not so much enhancing what already exists, but by creating new market opportunities.
Of course, it’s also not a good idea to underestimate the potential of big tech, according to Andrew Rogers, director of product strategy at Carson Group.
“Maybe they aren’t going to (disrupt wealth management), but they can in an instant,” he said. “Nobody thought Amazon was going to be in the grocery business, but then they bought Whole Foods.”
As Adam Grealish, head of investments at Altruist Corp. warned, technology and automation are coming and much of it is driven by consumer demand. “The end client is increasingly expecting more out of the experience,” he said.
When it comes to development potential, Parra emphasized that money is no longer an issue. “Venture capital is pouring billions into the market,” she said, citing a record $5 billion worth of VC investment into fintech last year.
And when it comes to VC investors, Parra said both the pace and expectations are fast and furious.
“VCs are looking for a billion-dollar outcome, and relatively quickly; 10 years is now too slow,” she said. “And they’re going after the new markets. Robinhood has exposed all the flaws. Maybe they are the Myspace. Who will be the Facebook?”
But even as the panelists, generally representing technology innovators, warned about being on the alert for disruptive forces and opportunities, they also cautioned against embracing technology for technology’s sake.
“Technology allows advisers to do the things that they’re already doing better,” said Grealish, citing things like automated account rebalancing, risk monitoring and tax management. “Technology helps with showing the value of the adviser’s services and highlighting the value and putting the adviser back into the spotlight. That’s the final piece in completing the circle.”
But Parra warned that: “Technology is not always the answer to innovation.”
“You have to build things that people want,” she said. “Always start with the end client experience, and don’t assume you know what they want. Build what people want and understand what that action is.”
Rogers agreed, adding, “So often we want to do something with technology when we don’t even know what is it we want to automate.”
Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He’s also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.