Advisers tasked with processing a “mountain of information” will get a reprieve through artificial intelligence, according to Morgan Stanley Wealth Management’s chief digital officer.

“We are bringing in the latest developments in predictive analytics and machine learning — not to replace our advisers with some cyborg bot — but rather help them be faster and smarter in serving their clients’ needs,” said Naureen Hassan in a speech Wednesday at SourceMedia’s InVest conference in New York.

Naureen Hassan Morgan Stanley InVest 2017
Morgan Stanley Wealth Management Chief Digital Officer Naureen Hassan spoke about how her firm aims to radically rationalize an advisers' workflow. Dan Nelken

Morgan Stanley and its wirehouse competitors are racing to launch digital advice tools, with both UBS and Wells Fargo enlisting SigFig for their robo platforms. Merrill Lynch made its service, Merrill Edge Guided Investing, live this year. Morgan has planned a rollout of its automated investing in 2017 as well.

LEAVING REPORTS TO THE ROBOTS
Hassan, who Morgan poached from Charles Schwab’s robo last year, described how the firm’s coming AI tools could cut hours of work for the firm’s nearly 16,000 advisers. One algorithm under development would help advisers marshal the 55,000 reports produced by the firm each year.

The tool would send an alert to advisers each time the firm’s research division issues a recommendation on one security or another or publishes a relevant report, Hassan said. The system would tell advisers which clients’ portfolios may be most affected and draft emails to inform the clients.

“What we want to do is, with one click of a button, they can take action on that research report to all their clients within minutes, not hours, not phone calls,” Hassan said. “That’s the promise of what we’re trying to build.”

The firm will roll out the tool this fall, a spokeswoman for Morgan Stanley said.

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ARMS RACE
Rival firms have shown they’re headed down a similar path. Like Morgan’s planned offering, the UBS-SigFig service will save advisers’ time through automated messaging to clients on important dates, according to Richard Steinmeier, the head of the UBS Wealth Advice Center.

Steinmeier spoke in a panel on large firms’ response to the disruption posed by robo adviser startups entitled “Empires Strike Back.” After falling behind early adopters, Merrill Lynch took only 18 months to bring the finished Merrill Edge product online, said Aron Levine, the head of the division overseeing it.

“We have a dedicated tech organization, a dedicated digital platform organization all tied to Merrill Edge, which gave us the advantage,” Levine said. “And we were able to go to market relatively quickly, especially considering the size of the company.”

Tech upgrades could shave hours off advisers’ administrative work. In a time and motion study of a few branches, Morgan Stanley found that advisers’ teams spent over half the day on administrative tasks like letters of authorization and confirmation calls, Hassan said.

“That’s 50% that you could be spending talking about your goals, your children,” she said. “This is a waste.”

The range of new technologies that wirehouses are attempting to deploy is indicative of how much the industry is changing.

"Digital is a far broader opportunity than robo," Hassan said.

Tobias Salinger

Tobias Salinger

Tobias Salinger is an associate editor of Financial Planning, On Wall Street and Bank Investment Consultant.