Everywhere we look, technology and the digital revolution are blurring traditional lines and breaking down pillars, which will result in a very different world than the one we're used to today. For example, 10 years from now the automotive industry will no longer be about reliability, safety or the "driving experience"; fewer people will own cars, and those vehicles will be electric and self-driving. In the medical profession, robots are already being developed to take the place of surgeons. The world of financial services is not immune to this phenomenon — and the pure investment broker or advisor is the one who is most vulnerable.
When disruption happens, it's often very fast and transforms the way we see and do things in the blink of an eye. As digitization and the commoditization of information continues, and as the value of professions attributed purely to knowledge and technical skill continues to erode in favour of technology, professions need to quickly reinvent themselves or risk becoming irrelevant.
For financial advisors, the perceived value of general investment advice and portfolio selection is clearly at risk as technology begins to compete in the advice space. Case in point: the selection of financial products is becoming commoditized and the fees available from product-related advice are dropping. This leaves financial advisors vulnerable and in need of figuring out their true, sustainable value proposition.
The good news is that clients are beginning to recognize the importance of true, professional advice. In turn, the financial services sector is beginning to recognize the importance of understanding the client as a whole person who has complex and multi-faceted needs, and how product advice is a supplement to, but not replacement for, holistic financial planning.
All this bodes well for qualified financial professionals whose "value add" includes taking a holistic view of their clients' overall situation. But for those advisors who have placed too much emphasis on investment selection and "getting better returns than the next guy" as the key to their value proposition, the writing is on the wall.
Just as other professions are having to adapt to the digital age, tomorrow's financial planners and other allied financial professionals need to adapt to focus on developing the skills that technology can't supplant more than ever, such as managing relationships, demonstrating empathy, understanding how and why clients make the decisions they do and helping clients make the right decisions.
Tomorrow's financial professionals are going to have to become trusted advisors, coaches, relationship and behavioural managers with a thorough holistic understanding of their clients.
Communication, relationship, critical thinking and behavioural skills have always been more highly valued in most walks of life than pure technical knowledge. These are also the skills that truly distinguish what it means to be a professional. With the help of technology, better educated clients and armed with the "right" skills, qualified financial planning professionals will be able to deliver superior service with stronger outcomes, in a more cost-effective manner, while regulators will be able to move from prescriptive to professional principles-based regulation.
In this new world order, there'll be greater opportunity than ever for financial planners to focus on what they've been trained to do best: provide unique, personal and efficient professional advice — all while being recognized and well-compensated for the true added value they bring.
But the future of the financial services sector rests with the ability of regulators, financial services firms and advisors to make the transition from a product– and transaction–based approach to one focused on professional financial planning relationships. As such, the future success of advisors rests in their ability to attain the skills and qualifications required of 21st century financial planning professionals.