Why the robo-advisor takeover never happened

Why the robo-advisor takeover never happened

By Kim Papa Amadeo

April 24, 2024
Investors value the power of a human touch in financial planning.

“Robo-advisor” officially entered the lexicon 22 years ago, and in that very Financial Planning magazine article the author raised the question: “Are these virtual advisers our allies, our partners — or our rivals?” This uncertainty reached a fever pitch in 2012 when then-CEO of Betterment Jon Stein published a blog post with the headline “Financial Advisors Are Bad For Your Wealth.”

The industry freaked out. Will big, bad robo-advisors take over?

Since Stein’s flaming hot take 12 years ago, robo-advisors have grown in number and assets under management (AUM). However, the number of financial advisors has grown by 50% over that same period with their AUM growing steadily alongside.

Bar chart showing number of registered investment advisors employed in the U.S.

So, what happened? Why haven’t robo-advisors overwhelmingly replaced financial advisors?

While robo-advisors have earned their place by providing more affordable, accessible investment management, they simply can’t replicate the personalized guidance a financial advisor can provide. By taking the time to understand their client’s unique goals and situations, financial advisors can customize a plan, as well as help guide them through times of market volatility or major life changes. Over time that connection builds trust and confidence—and that’s what gives advisors the edge over technology.

The power of being personal

Around half of Americans who use a human advisor to manage their investments report feeling very confident about the growth of those investments, compared with only about a third who use a robo-advisor to manage their investment accounts.

Even younger, tech-savvy investors prefer working with a financial advisor over automated advice. Only 7% of Millennials rely exclusively on robo-advice, while 40% work solely with an advisor. And 26% work in combination with automated advice and an advisor.

Chart showing that 44% of investors use a human advisor while only 15% use a robo-advisor

 Advisors shouldn’t overlook the power of technology though. Embracing digital tools to complement personalized, high-touch services can enhance advisors’ offerings while embracing the human element investors crave.

Still a role for AI

While consumers may not be comfortable and/or confident using robo-advisors, which are driven by AI, advisors should be.

And it seems they are. An estimated 40–60% of registered independent advisors have adopted sophisticated portfolio management and reporting systems, which can feature machine learning and AI-driven technologies.

Do consumers need to care? Probably not, since advisors have historically been using custom portfolio models — which have evolved into a broader use of robo tools. The advisor provides the human element while AI can drive investment decisions.

Empowering financial advisors with the content they need

So, what does all this mean for marketers in financial services?

Financial advisors should seize this foothold. Now is the time for them to cement their trust and nurture long-term relationships with clients. But to do this, they need content to help them know:

  • What their clients need and expect from them
  • Where different clients stand on robo-advisors and AI
  • What language to use when discussing this technology with clients
  • What tools are out there, along with their strengths and weaknesses

Financial marketers should prioritize this content to help support and educate advisors — updating it frequently as technology evolves. Content can help advisors identify opportunities to provide the personal touch their clients seek.

How are you prioritizing and updating content for advisors? We’d love to talk about ways you can make your content work harder and give advisors the support they need to grow their business. Send a message to imprint@imprintcontent.com or fill out our contact form here.  


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