Artificial Intelligence, Member Exclusive

Human financial experts may be too challenging to automate — hybrid solutions are the next-best thing

  • For now, humans continue to offer financial expertise that can’t be automated.
  • So instead of trying to replace financial advisors altogether, companies are focusing on automating the gap between users and experts.
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Human financial experts may be too challenging to automate — hybrid solutions are the next-best thing

Technology has managed to do a lot of things in finance, but there still seem to be places where it can only do so much: specifically, with financial advice. 

In general, people’s finances tend to be things that impact them on a highly emotional and personal level. 90% of Americans say managing their finances causes them anxiety, for example.

With this in mind, certain fintechs and incumbents have been turning more to hybrid solutions -- automating what they can and leaving the rest to the human experts. 

Albert, for instance, has taken a hybrid approach to providing financial advice to people. The company has a team of financial experts that users are able to text. The advice these experts provide is then automated to match other similar scenarios.

While automation can help people manage their daily finances, it’s not enough, said Yinon Ravid, Albert's CEO and co-founder. People need support from human experts, as well. This is especially true when it comes to life events and special circumstances.

“While we want to automate things as much as possible for customers, the concept of fully setting and forgetting your financial life, we believe, is a little foolish,” said Ravid. “Customers have a very personal and emotional attachment to their finances. And they do need to work with an expert from time to time.”

Then there’s Intuit, which offers solutions to automate certain processes for small businesses. Its bookkeeping software Quickbooks helps users track expenses and organize their finances. The software also includes a QuickBooks Live Bookkeeping feature, which connects small businesses with financial experts when needed.

“Ultimately, by connecting businesses with our experts, small businesses are guaranteed accurate books,” said Ariege Misherghi, vp and expert segment leader at Small Business Self-Employed Group at Intuit. “And bookkeepers are provided with an additional revenue stream and opportunities to develop professionally.” 

Incumbent financial institutions have also stepped into the hybrid zone. Vanguard’s Personal Advisor feature connects its customers with financial advisors over the phone and then builds a plan that can be tracked and followed automatically. Schwab, meanwhile, offers what it calls Intelligent Portfolios, which automate investments for users and includes access to financial advisors’ support when needed.

But with all the nods towards hybrid solutions, there are still some hopeful glances being turned to fully automated ones.

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Cleo is an AI financial assistant specifically targeting Gen Z. It helps users manage their finances through an AI bot that they can send messages to and ask questions as if it were a real person. 

Cleo’s AI assistant is designed to be personable. The company has a machine learning department and team of behavioral experts and writers to develop the bot’s traits.

“We know this is the combination that gives Cleo a ‘human touch’ and what makes Cleo special and, I hope, will eventually lead to us being the financial advisor for a billion people,” said Barney Hussey-Yeo, CEO of Cleo.

While its reviews have been positive, the company is not quite where it wants to be yet. The assistant can currently only offer limited financial advice.

“Building an AI that motivates a billion people to improve their financial health is a big goal and an incredible technical challenge,” said Hussey-Yeo. “We’re not even 5% of the way there yet but if we succeed, there’s not doubt we’ll have built something truly legendary.” 

It's not just fintechs taking on this exceptionally techy challenge -- incumbents are, too. In addition to its personal advisor feature, Vanguard also offers a robo-advisor, a digital solution that helps users track their investments. And this year, Goldman Sachs is preparing to release its own robo-advisor focused on passive investments. Like Cleo, the feature was built with younger users in mind. 

As Gen Z grows older, it will be interesting to see whether AI is able to eventually replace financial advisors. For now, it doesn’t seem likely. 

“The process of analyzing financials and making decisions will probably never be replaced by AI,”  said Tim Yoder, tax and accounting analyst at FitSmallBusiness. “Certainly, computers will continue to improve the information available to the accountant, but there are too many scenarios, factors, and gray areas to consider for AI to make complex financial decisions,” 

In terms of the immediate future, services like Albert and Quickbooks may have gained momentum because of the pandemic.

“I do think that online bookkeeping services, where small businesses are matched with human bookkeepers, will experience dramatic growth in the coming years. Small business owners are becoming more comfortable with virtual meetings, especially since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many people to stay at home,” said Yoder.

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