Rise of the robo-advisers

  • Banking
  • Saturday, 01 Jul 2017

WITH the huge investments in artificial intelligence and self-learning machines being one of the buzzwords of 2017, it won’t take long before robo-advisors arrive in Malaysia. 

It is not too futuristic at all: in the United States, financial comparison sites already compare robo-advisors. 

It will be quicker than you think, before CompareHero.my starts comparing robo-advisors besides cards and loans.

 In certain cases, such as high-frequency trading, robots already account for 80% of the daily volume on the stock market and buy and sell stocks in microseconds.

Traditionally, people have two options to get sound financial advice. If you were poor, you would do it yourself (Google) and if you were rich, you would have access to an army of accountants, financial planners and legal and fiscal experts. 

Not so much choice for the middle class. Robo-advisors are meant for exactly this huge demographic. 

An actual financial planner or investment professional typically requires a fee of 1% to 2% of the value of the assets under management, while robo-advisors are either free or many times cheaper, around 0.25% of assets under management.

Today’s robo-advisors are mostly focused on giving you investment advice, but their skillset is rapidly expanding. 

Soon, they will be able to download your banking transactions, LinkedIn and other social media data, and suggest long-term financial goals and how to achieve them. 

They can pick your investments, get you optimal insurance and help track your expenses.

Like Tesla’s self-driving car, it can be a bit scary to submit total control of your investment portfolio over to a set of algorithms. But is laying your money in the hands of a human financial planner not just as scary? 

n fact, it is much easier for a robo-advisor to stay up to date with the latest laws and regulations, and understand exactly all financial products available in the market, something we humans simply don’t have the brain capacity for. 

Besides the lower cost and its ability to offer customised advice with regards to tax-loss harvesting and portfolio rebalancing, it could give you better returns on your money than either a DIY approach, or costly human expertise.

Robo-advisors may be equipped to give us better advice, but do you trust them?

It is no secret that many financial planners and insurance agents are paid commissions and thus have a vested interest to always sell you something, specifically high commission products. 

They are not as objective and neutral as they want you to believe. In theory, robo-advisors – especially free robo-advisors - can suffer the same defect: it depends on the honesty of the software engineer who wrote the code for the robo-advisor.

Similar to online applications, robo-advisors spell bad news for many middle men, agents and financial planners: they really have to prove their value – either in hard returns or on the personal or relationship front – if they want to stay in business. 

Automation and artificial intelligence no longer make only low-skilled jobs obsolete, but will soon also start to replace highly skilled individuals.

Will robo-advisors take over our e-wallets and stop us from buying that expensive gadget because it knows it interferes with our long time financial goal of retiring at 55 or going to the Galapagos Islands within five years? 

Maybe. They have not been around long enough to test their returns over an extended period of time, including bear and bull markets. 

However, they are constantly evolving. The future is not far away, it starts tomorrow!

Mark Reijman is co-founder and managing director of https://www.comparehero.my/dedicated to increasing financial literacy and to help you save time and money by comparing all credit cards, personal loans and broadband plans in Malaysia.
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