ChatGPT is a media darling. The chatbot has become something between a social-media influencer, and for some, a modern day Oracle of Delphi.
Intrigued, I sit down and key in a question. How should I prepare for a longer life?
Text appears across my screen at a maniacal pace. A nearly 600-word response materializes in nearly less time than it took me to type my eight word query.
The artificial intelligence bot provides a remarkably well-rounded response, advising exercise, nutrition, staying mentally active, retirement planning to ensure my financial security, and even urges me to consider long-term care in older age.
I dive deeper. I ask: What should my retirement plan include?
Again, at lightning speed, the bot provides the outline of the basic elements of a retirement plan in a neat, clear, and numbered list.
How far can this bot go?
Finally, I propose a more nuanced hypothetical question asking: How might a 65-year-old retiree live comfortably on a savings of $1 million?
ChatGPT immediately provides the range of possibilities as well as caveats that one might consider in planning for retirement with a $1 million nest egg.
Are retirement and financial professionals about to be automated out of a job? Perhaps, but only if the business of advice does not change to embrace the profoundly human, and yes, the emotional, side of advice.
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ChatGPT and other emerging generative AIs are set to transform the business of financial and retirement advice, not just because of what the technology does, but how it will change client expectations for human advisers. Despite decades-long industry positioning that financial professionals are here to take emotion out of money decisions, advisers must now embrace being human more than ever.
Countless and dire studies forecast that AI is coming for our jobs. Truck and transit drivers are biding their time until autonomous vehicles become commonplace. Fast food workers are being replaced by robots. Journalists, even novelists, are seeing stories written by AI. Legal briefs are no longer being drafted by young lawyers, but by computer programs. Even computer programmers are finding that code need not be written by human hands.
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However, a closer examination of two professions suggests that rather than competing with technology, it is better for advisers to embrace their human side. Not too long ago online booking sites, crowdsourced advice, and other automated tools were leading many to write an epitaph for the travel agent industry. While there were disruptions and displacements, travel agents are alive and well today.
Successful travel agents do not compete with technology, instead they leverage it to deliver personal advice that, for now, AI cannot provide. Rather than simply providing the transactional business of ticketing and itinerary planning, personalized insight is the new premium service.
As one Florida based agent noted, “Over the last decade our business has changed.” While few people seek travel agents for a simple trip, such as a train or plane ticket between cities, clients are seeking someone to help sort through complexity.
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The once transactional business of “booking travel” has given way to reducing the stress of planning a memory-making family trip that has to be just right, to navigating the intricacies of international travel that entails visas, vaccines, and other requirements, to arranging travel with multiple destinations and tight connections, and to providing on-the-ground knowledge of destinations that responds to the unique preferences of the client.
Travel agents are now stress managers, curators, educators, and yes, sales outlets of travel experiences, not just trips.
Physicians are using AI to assess diagnostic results, e.g., X-rays, and other time critical tasks. Not only are these intelligent systems providing a second set of eyes, AI is freeing up valuable time for physicians to spend less time with data and more time with patients to explain results with empathy and in simple language. Perhaps more important, intelligent systems are providing doctors with the opportunity to develop deeper relationships with patients to understand what else is happening in a patient’s life that is affecting their overall well-being.
ChatGPT, and other AIs, provide content, not real conversation.
Recent developments in the fintech world, where some believed that an endless array of calculators and planning tools would meet the needs of clients, have met with less than glowing success. Clients find these systems to be transactional, not personal. True conversation is more than the exchange of information, it is a sharing of feelings, meaning, and confirmation that the person you are speaking with understands you.
High-performing advisers realize that their job is more than offering plans, portfolios, and projections. Those functions are increasingly being delegated to intelligent systems. Compass Financial Group’s Richard Hill observes that while clients expect superior money management “people want empathy and crave a relationship” that requires a human touch to explain, to provide context, and in many instances, to give reassurance that all will be OK.
Patti Brennan of Key Financial goes further and suggests that clients “are looking for someone who isn’t just focused on managing their money; that’s just table stakes. What they really want is to know they’ve got someone they can count on during times of crisis; someone who will be a trusted advocate for their future and quality of life.”
As AI evolves, advisers will have to evolve as well. Advisers “will need to continuously define and focus on the experience they provide their clients to maintain relevancy,” Daxs Stadjuhar at National Managing Director at Mariner Advisor Network notes.
Morgan Stanley’s Nicholas Serenyi makes the case that “as technology changes, advisers will have to work hard to improve their value proposition and demonstrate that they can provide better advice than a robot.”
The future of advice will certainly be high-tech, but it will also require high touch. Advisors will increasingly find that more of their time will be spent serving as educators, as coaches, and even as navigators to help people anticipate what might come next over an ever-increasing lifespan.
At least for now, algorithms make terrible conversation.