By Ben Mattlin/ FA-mag.com
Artificial intelligence (AI) may sound like science fiction, but it’s already integrated in many smartphone apps and other aspects of daily life. Perform a Google search or online chat with customer service, and chances are you’re using it.
Nationwide Advisory Solutions (formerly Jefferson National) recently commissioned a study of AI in the financial services industry, and its findings illustrate the shape of things to come.
Namely, 66% of RIAs and fee-based advisors—and a whopping 94% of early adopters—believe AI gives them a competitive advantage. For example, “chatbots” work round-the-clock to respond to client questions. AI can also assist in fraud detection and account management, and can help firms understand their clients better, predict their priorities and provide personalized holistic planning.
“Advisors need to manage disparate data from multiple sources on a daily basis,” says Craig Hawley, head of Nationwide Advisory Solutions. “Artificial intelligence is an effective solution to make the complex simple.”
Hawley explains that fee compression is driving demand for greater efficiencies and more automation, while the commoditization of investment management is forcing advisors toward greater specialization and fueling the drive for more customized and holistic financial planning.
“AI has the power to help on all three fronts,” he says.
Ed Swenson, chief operating officer and co-founder of Dynasty Financial Partners in New York City, believes the technology in the future will revolve around data. “The convergence of data and AI is fundamental to the success of wealth management firms of the future,” he says.
Swenson expects artificial intelligence to also play a significant role in asset allocation and portfolio rebalancing. “A financial advisor able to harness data through immense processing power and marrying that with capital market assumptions will make much more efficient investment decisions than humans can make on their own.”
But don’t expect a flawless transition to an AI-enhanced world. “AI uses refined algorithms, predictive analytics, natural language processing, speech recognition, image recognition and other advances in machine learning to make sense of the data that you capture,” Hawley says. “Not surprisingly, the biggest challenge is that AI is only as good as the data that is feeding it—and more importantly, the human that is interpreting it.”
And with reams of data come concerns about cybersecurity. “Establish clear and transparent policies for cybersecurity and the protection of clients’ personal data,” Hawley stresses.
Ultimately, it’s worth noting that while AI can enhance advice, it won’t likely replace human interactions. “Many advisors are likely to think of AI in the context of robo-advice and automation,” Hawley acknowledges, adding that the most immediate impact of this technology is to enhance the human connection.
“With AI you can leverage what you’ve learned about current clients to make more informed decisions around marketing and prospecting to attract and retain new clients,” he says.
The widespread use of AI in financial services seems inevitable. “Acceptance is rising quickly,” says Swenson, “but more focus must be paid to best practices, cybersecurity, vendor due diligence and industry safeguards.”
Swenson went so far as to predict that the majority of firms will be relying on AI within the next five years. “Watch for ever-greater automation, less administrative tasks, more efficiencies,” he says. “What will not change, however, is the growing demand for great advisors providing expert advice.”