Consumers show some interest in wading into icy 'robo-advice' waters

Will the age of automation supplant financial professionals?

From self-serve checkout kiosks in supermarket to autonomous vehicles on the roads, it seems like everything is going the way of the robot these days, all in an effort to save on productivity expenses and benefit the end user from a standpoint of convenience and cost management. Some have even speculated that financial professionals may feel the effects, where agents' experience and depth of knowledge would be replaced by what amounts to wires and digital circuitry.

And, according to a recent survey, many consumers would be willing to give it a try to see if automation was indeed preferable to human-to-human consultation.

"74 percent would be open to advice from a robot on the best insurance purchases."

Nearly three-quarters of Americans say they'd be open to getting suggestions regarding the best type of insurance to buy from a robot than an actual living, breathing individual, a new poll from professional services firm Accenture found. Approximately 19 percent indicated they wouldn't bother even giving it a try, knowing they wouldn't like it, and 7 percent weren't sure.

Advice on insurance isn't the only area in which consumers show an openness to robotic, automation-based interaction. Nearly 80 percent said the same about getting investment suggestions from a machine and 68 percent expressed willingness for retirement planning.

Few enthusiastic about automation alone
At the same time, though, the vast majority of respondents would be loath to conduct all their financial decisions with technology alone. At just less than 70 percent, two-thirds said they'd rather receive services from a financial professional than a robot for complex topics and 60 percent had the same preference when it related to dealing with complaints or concerns, the poll revealed.

"We found strong consumer demand exists today for robo-advice in all areas of financial services - banking, insurance and financial advice," explained Piercarlo Gera, Accenture Financial Services senior managing director. " While financial institutions may expect to benefit from internal cost reduction by providing customers with a 'robo' option, our research found that consumers also expect first-class human interaction."

He added that to effectively marry the two service providers, firms should ideally combine technology with expert staff, so that consumers are given a choice. One might refer to this marriage as "phygital," a hybrid term that's often referred to in several service sectors - linking "physical" with "digital" - that relates to improving customer experience.

"40 percent say main advantage of automation is saving time."

Helps to save time, money
As for the reasons why many consumers would be willing to take robo-advice in the first place, it's largely for the time that they would presumably save. Thirty-nine percent of respondents cited quicker services as the main advantage, Accenture found in the poll, and 31 percent tied it to enhanced affordability.

At the same time, though, not everyone is pleased by the robo-revolution. In a separate poll conducted by YouGov, two-thirds of Americans cited automated messages as the most annoying calls they received in a given month. Close to 33 percent indicated they received 20 or more calls per month, and close to 20 percent said the total was closer to 30 or more.

There's no denying that automation will affect just about every industry in the coming years. However, there's still a seat at the table for financial professionals, as no robot can ever fully replace the experience that agents provide, which their clients highly value.

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