digital investing

Advisors’ work has changed significantly over the last two decades, with digitalization reducing paperwork and the need for support staff, leaving time to serve more clients. But that evolution may be nothing compared to what’s coming as advisors make use of new artificial intelligence tools.

Jason Pereira, partner and senior financial consultant with Woodgate Financial Inc. in Toronto, said AI is “going to accelerate that trend at an exponential level.”

Pereira, speaking last weekend at the Institute for Advanced Financial Planners’ annual symposium in Edmonton, outlined the AI tools advisors can already use to cut down on time spent writing emails, reviewing documents, following up on client requests and developing financial plans.

While the tools may be unsettling to some advisors who see a threat from technology replacing primary tasks, Pereira said it presents an opportunity for advisors to focus on clients.

“The future is not the robotic,” he said. “It’s us being the bridge between the robotic and the human.”

Client meetings

With more client meetings taking place on screen, Pereira is using an AI meeting assistant called Fathom that produces an interactive transcript of the call. Advisors can bookmark items — a trade request, for example — during the call to retrieve after.

“It allows me to stay laser-focused on the conversation and never have to look away, because taking meeting notes can be an interruption to the personal connection,” Pereira said.

Fathom also produces a summary, with links to the point in the video when a topic was discussed, and that summary can be copied into a customer relationship management (CRM) program. Fathom can also interact with other platforms. Pereira’s team uses Slack, so he can push the trade request from the Fathom meeting summary to Slack, where his team will pick it up to process. They receive the snippet of text, he said, as well as the embedded video they can watch to verify the instructions.

There’s also technology to help advisors cut down on the time they spend preparing for meetings. Pereira described a U.K.-based platform called Sifa (he disclosed that he’s on the company board) as a ChatGPT specifically for financial advisors.

Sifa allows advisors to upload client information — financial planning questionnaires, mortgage statements, insurance contracts — and interact with it. The platform can aggregate data from different places. Once the data is there, an advisor could ask what a client’s house is worth, for example, or what their retirement goal is. Right before a meeting, they may want to ask for the names of the client’s children.

Financial plans and client documents

Financial planning software is also adopting AI. Pereira uses Conquest Planning, which has introduced a strategic advice manager — SAM — that can build a financial plan based on the client data entered. Pereira pointed to a study from U.S. financial planner Michael Kitces that found the average financial plan takes 10 hours to construct.

“When we talk about getting financial plans in the hands of more people, one of the big obstacles, of course, is the time and effort it takes to produce one,” Pereira said.

Another tool called FP Alpha, which is currently only available in the U.S., allows advisors to upload a client’s tax return and receive a summary tax profile and tax optimization tips, Pereira said. They can also upload wills and power of attorney and trust documents, creating a summary of the entire estate.

“We all talk about tax planning, but being able to have a visual conversation with clients about this is a great starting point,” he said.

Most advisors use DocuSign now, but Pereira said there’s still the risk of clients just hitting the sign button without understanding the document. To address the problem, he said DocuSign is now providing AI summaries.

“This is incredibly valuable, because it can extract the important pieces of information, put them right in front of the person [and] get them to understand what it is they’re doing,” he said.

Conquering the blank page

Whether it’s writing an email, a blog post or a PowerPoint slide, getting started can be the hardest part. Pereira uses a site called Perplexity to help. The AI search engine allows you to search a topic (How to register a business in Canada, for example), and receive a list of steps that includes sourcing — a starting point from which to answer a client question.

“Within a few seconds, I can produce content that otherwise would have taken me a while to think through — to basically compose, to format, to edit,” Pereira said. “So it’s a shortcut.”

Another platform called ChatPDF allows you to upload a document (the Income Tax Act, for example) and ask the platform questions.

Pereira said he uses Grammarly to check spelling and grammar in emails, but the platform now has an AI bot that goes much further, scanning an email for intent and tone, and providing recommendations for how to reply. While he wouldn’t use it to respond to a client’s portfolio question, Pereira said the tool “has cut down on my less cognitively burdensome emails.”

Safety and compliance

Businesses and governments around the world have raised privacy concerns about ChatGPT, with some organizations banning its use.

“Do not ever put client information into ChatGPT or any open protocol,” Pereira said.

Some of the tools, such as Sifa and Conquest, are specifically for the financial industry, while others, such as Fathom, are for more general use. Pereira said it’s up to advisors to evaluate the platforms’ security and make a case to compliance.

It’s also up to advisors to take what these new platforms provide and use it to coach clients — not to abdicate their financial planning knowledge to the technology. If financial planning software says a client should start taking CPP at 70, for example, you have to be able to explain why.

As technology makes more tasks easier, Pereira said advisors need to spend time understanding clients’ personal biases and hangups around money — the things that get in the way of following advice — and develop customized plans based on clients’ behaviour.

“Sometimes you just need to change the advice, because it doesn’t matter if it’s 100% optimal,” he said. “If it’s 85% optimal but it’s what they’ll accept and it’s what gets them what they want, that’s really what matters.”

Disclosure: Investment Executive was a media sponsor of the IAFP symposium. Part of the sponsorship included transportation costs. No coverage was guaranteed in exchange for the sponsorship.