David Chaplin 's Opinion

A personal finance columnist for the NZ Herald

Inside Money: Auto advice - join the program

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Would you allow your financial planning to be fully automated? Photo / Thinkstock
Would you allow your financial planning to be fully automated? Photo / Thinkstock

Six steps , four risk profile components , three portfolio types (defensive, balanced, growth): this is financial planning by the numbers.
A computer could do it.

The truth is software is already deeply embedded in the financial advice process but most clients, to date, have preferred it to have a human face, leaving the systems to operate behind the scenes.

But a new Australian company is having a crack at deleting the humans from their traditional 'client-facing' positions.

Officially launched late last year, Trulity promises its customers a fully-rounded financial advisory experience for a flat fee of only A$27 per month.
"The software produces exactly what you would receive if you visited a financial planner but does so at a fraction of the cost," the Trulity website boasts.

Tellingly, Trulity wasn't created as a revenge project by a disgruntled ex-client with nerdish, digital expertise but by an experienced former financial planner steeped in the traditional ways.

Bill Kruger, who I was interviewing for an Australian magazine article, told me that after 20 or so years as a financial adviser he had come to the conclusion that "80 to 90 per cent" of financial plans were virtually the same.

That is, if clients fall roughly into a limited number of categories the end product (the financial plan) they receive would inevitably look similar.
Kruger thought the experience could be reproduced as computer code. Whether enough consumers are ready to trust the software to direct their financial affairs is another matter.

According to Kruger, the client take-up so far is "as good as could be expected".
There are a couple of important caveats. For instance, Trulity is all-care, no responsibility. While the software can create a range of recommended portfolios (mainly direct shares, ETFs, passive funds and the like) it is up to the clients to buy the underlying products themselves if they want to follow the advice (although it's not advice).

Another Australian firm, Decimal, has taken a more controlled approach to automating financial advice.

Decimal chief, Jan Kolbusz, says the key to a successful advice system is the ability to track every action of clients (and their advisers) much as Amazon or Google does.

While clients potentially could use Decimal without human assistance, Kolbusz says it's designed more to work alongside flesh-and-blood financial advisers.

Neither Trulity nor Decimal would work in New Zealand as is, of course, given the tax and other regulatory quirks of the respective jurisdictions.
Is this another opportunity for Kim Dotcom?

David Chaplin

A personal finance columnist for the NZ Herald

David is a freelance journalist who has covered the financial services business on both sides of the Tasman for over 15 years. David has edited magazines and websites for the financial advice, investment and superannuation industries. Today, he contributes to various publications in Australia as well as his bi-weekly blog for the NZ Herald under the 'Inside Money' banner.

Read more by David Chaplin

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