ORLANDO, Fla. – Advisors are right to assume that robos are going to change the industry. However, they might make things better for advisors, too.

"We see ourselves as delivering virtual advice not robo advice," says Bill Harris, CEO of Personal Capital at Pershing's Insite 2015 conference. "We do have a lot of algorithms and a lot of technology that help us scale what we do. But in addition to the technology are the individual advisors for each client."

Harris explains that there is a difference between robo advisors, which is an automated program, and robo advice which is a combination of human and robo advisor.

"I don’t think [robos] are going to redefine the landscape," says Harris. "I think it's an evolution."


Instead of working against robo advisors, Harris believes that it is in a planner’s best interest to bring them on board.

To that end, Pershing announced on Thursday it is joining the list of established financial firms adding digital fronts to accommodate the robo trend.  

"Our digital enablement strategy is a client-focused approach that has been designed to help advisors unleash the full potential of various digital capabilities," Ram Nagappan, managing director and chief information officer of Pershing, said in a statement.

"Today's consumer is used to having information and being involved," says Harris. Harris believes that the adoption of a robo advisor will help alleviate some of the burden advisors race regarding asset allocation and portfolio management. This would then allow more time for personal connections with clients. "It's the best of both worlds," he says.

Robos can help determine things like risk tolerance for a client if a survey is done through a technology platform, says Margaret Hartigan, CEO of Marstone. "In some cases you might actually learn more about a client through answers you get via technology," she says because clients might feel more inclined to be honest when dealing with technology rather than a face-to-face meeting.

One of the most significant ways that robo advisors can aid planners is through changing a client's behavior.

"There is a big difference between behavior and education," says Harris. When an individual downloads the Personal Capital mobile app their spending goes down by 15%," he says. "The mobile device shows you right now when you’re making a purchase decision."

This behavioral change leads Harris to believe that clients will end up saving more money allowing advisors to work with more assets.


While robos won't eliminate the need for human advisors, this change in technology will have an impact on the way clients and advisors interact, says Brian Walter, the global wealth management lead for banking and financial services within the IBM Watson group.

Walters points to the way WebMD has changed how patients interact with medical professionals. His wife, he says, turned to the website for information when his children were born thinking, she knew what they were sick with before even consulting the physician.

"It put [doctors] on their heels," he says, explaining that access to information had changed the way doctors treated patients. "Your clients are much more informed, they have opinions and crowd source information."

Walter says that he believes advisors will have to "carve out time" to do more research and be more informed on specifics of the industry than in the past.

"We live in a very exciting time," he says. "Technology, next to regulation is one of the most impactful things to industry."

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