Despite the billions of dollars being allocated to financial technology or “Fin Tech,” some believe automation will never trump personal interactions. As Carla Dearing, CEO of financial wellness company SUM180, puts it “… money is emotional and there are always intangibles to consider in deciding what to do next, which cannot be captured by robots …” (Read “Why Robo-Advisors Will Not Replace Human Financial Advisors,” The Street, February 28, 2017).

Last month, industry pundit Michael Kitces offered interesting insights in his “Why Broker-Dealers Launching Robo-Advisors Are Missing The #FinTech Point” article. He acknowledges the growth in automation but suggests it won’t be a cure-all to attracting Millennial heirs who expect to inherit their parents’ wealth. What makes more sense is to exploit the “tremendous operational efficiencies” for purposes of “onboarding clients and efficiently managing (model) portfolios” while allocating ample resources to “marketing and business development.”

Whatever your view about the next big thing involving a mobile interface or data analytics, a critical question remains. Will you or your financial advisor soon be made redundant by some version of R2D2 or C-3PO?

Drum roll please! If research by Oxford University academics accurately foretells the future, financial advisors can breathe a sigh of relief – sort of. In their 2013 paper, “The Future of Employment,” Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne quantify low probabilities of replacement for securities, commodities and financial services sales agents. Financial managers, financial examiners, financial analysts and financial specialists similarly fall into the “low probability” category. Personal financial advisors fall into the “medium probability” bucket with an estimated fifty-eight percent chance of being replaced by a computer. Of course, those who specialize in complex areas such as estate planning are logically more a fixture than any digital counterpart.

Like any career, the friction between technological progress and added-value by a particular individual is real. One solution is meaningful continuing education. Another approach is for investment professionals to actively empower their clients by providing them with solutions to specific problems. Consultative selling can be a time-intensive process and not one that is always supported by an organization’s business model. Some investment advisors or asset managers are rewarded for short-term and not longer-term performance. These decision points are seldom simple to parse but nevertheless vital to consider at both the micro and macro levels – for both service providers and their clients.

According to the authors of “A Nurturing Campaign” (Financial Advisor Magazine, August 1, 2017), other investment industry professionals are key to securing leads for your business. Savvy advisors, consultants and money managers know the importance of cultivating relationships with peers, positioning one’s self as a competent technician and being ready to reciprocate as appropriate.

I agree that effective networking is the way to go. Besides the prospect of adding clients, investment professionals benefit when others are willing to candidly exchange information about ways to improve best practices and avoid mistakes.

Not everyone is a believer. It takes time and money to market your skill set to potential clients. Some posit that leaves little time for outreach to others, especially for those whose “to do” lists seem to aggressively expand each day. This kind of thinking is unfortunate. The world is a small place and today’s competitor could be a close ally later on.

To those who do seek referrals (and hopefully give them when you can), I applaud your initiative but would like to respectfully remind you that your request is only a beginning. Be clear with what you want, when you need an introduction and what you expect. Help others help you build your book of business by recognizing their busy schedules and any limitations they might have about being able to provide effusive praise. (Company policy or regulations could prohibit lengthy or detailed referrals.) By asking someone to do the heavy lifting you should be doing, you risk criticism for taking that individual for granted, coming off as impolite or turning a positive connection into one tainted with a hint of annoyance. I know this from firsthand experience.

Just last week, I received two separate requests for recommendations, both of which ended costing time and frustrating everyone involved. The first person asked me to write a recommendation letter and have it sent one day later. Ordinarily I would have said no because of the short turnaround but I like the high-integrity work this person does and his client focus. So I stayed late at work to write something, only to discover that the directions provided to me were incomplete. The net result was that I used up several hours of time and he could not meet the cutoff. Another individual gave me ample time to write a recommendation letter but told me, after I had already spent about ninety minutes drafting text and reviewing her service materials, that I should revise my letter to include passages of her numerous research papers. Of course I would have to take time to read them in depth as it had been awhile since I looked at them. We mutually agreed that she would ask another colleague – someone with the schedule flexibility to review her impressive portfolio of thought leadership items.

A few of my takeaways from these recent experiences are as follows:

  • It’s gratifying to be able to recommend high integrity, knowledgeable colleagues but important to set boundaries in terms of time and realistic expectations.
  • Arrange for a call to ask for a recommendation or referral. Email seems impersonal to me for this purpose and increases the likelihood that the referral source will waste time because instructions were unclear or incomplete or both.
  • During the call, catch someone up on what you’ve been doing and your professional value-add so everyone is clear on your achievements, business philosophy and goals. Let the recommending party ask you questions. Be specific about how the referral will be used and by whom.
  • Afterwards, send a handwritten note to acknowledge that person’s gift to you of their time, energy and belief in the positive way you handle clients.

Small courtesies can grow into large payoffs. It’s hard enough to stand out from the competition. Why not shine by demonstrating courtesy and respect for other people’s time?

Illustration depicting a green roadsign with a optimistic concept. White background.

Most of us are disciplined enough to put together a financial plan or seek the help of an advisor. While true that retirement planning is important, the future should not give way to living life in the present. If you agree that every day is a gift, check out a new movie called The Hero.

Starring Sam Elliott, the recipe is straightforward. Take one aging actor who learns he has a serious illness. Add a younger love interest, a friend with a questionable work ethic, a caring ex-wife and a disappointed daughter. The result is a tale of redemption and a story about hope. The audience sees a man who is sympathetic because he wants a second chance to make a difference in the lives of those around him.

The Hero is a quiet film and likely too slow-paced for some. However, for those who crave solid character development and a ride towards grace, grab some popcorn and head to the theater without delay. Your reward is a chance to watch someone grow by recognizing his limitations and then being willing to ask for help. Lucky for him, he gets it aplenty.

There are flashbacks to the hero’s glory days as a celluloid cowboy, motivating viewers to distinguish good deeds from bad ones and understand that reality and make-believe can collide.  The scenes of this lanky “everyman” eating, sleeping and appreciating the nearby ocean are far from mundane. They reflect the “extraordinary ordinary” moments, something I describe in my book The Big Squeeze.

Sam Elliott refers to this gem of a movie by Brett Haley as a career brass ring in his June 2017 interview with Variety. I concur. The film is an enjoyable wake-up call for anyone in the doldrums. We root for the main character to live a rich and fulfilling life among friends, family and business associates for whatever time he has left. May we all be so lucky to renew and refresh, even when it seems like life hands us more lemons than we can squeeze into sweet lemonade.