Let’s make the Retirement Income Review Worthwhile

The federal government has appointed a panel to undertake a review of the three pillars of the Australian retirement income system: the age pension, the superannuation guarantee (SG) and voluntary contributions. Here are the key issues I believe the review panel should highlight for further attention.

I must admit that I am not convinced that the retirement income review will deal with anything that the Morrison government deems remotely problematic for its re-election prospects, such as the inclusion of at least a portion of the family home in the pension assets test, increasing the age pension eligibility age and increasing the superannuation guarantee (SG) beyond 9.5 per cent.

Lifting the SG gradually to 12 per cent, as proposed, would increase fund flows to industry super funds, whose values are aligned with those of the unions – a group whose influence this government would very much like to diminish.

Having said that, it must be acknowledged that this review is an opportunity to confirm the baseline information on which future policy decisions can be made to deliver a much-needed reset of aspects of our retirement income system.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers but I do know that the best way forward involves strong political leadership and industry consultation, which will hopefully follow this fact finding review. Here are some points I urge the review panel members to consider.

Shifting the focus from accumulation to draw down

The focus of the Australian superannuation system until now has been on the accumulation phase – and that has been successful. Recent research has shown more than half of Australians aged 66 are not accessing the aged pension at all because their assets and incomes are too high, and only 20 per cent are on a part pension.

Regardless, both self-funded retirees and those entitled to the age pension need support, education and appropriate retirement-income solutions. The focus now needs to shift to helping all Australians achieve their income needs and goals in retirement.

There are a number of obstacles that need to be removed, or at least addressed, in order to optimise superannuation savings for the average Australian such as housing affordability, wages growth and persistently low interest rates. There is also the issue of too many women still retiring with inadequate superannuation balances.

The first generation of contributors to our compulsory superannuation system is about to hit retirement. Super funds must be prepared to meet the retirement income needs of this group.

The age pension system is outdated

Since the Commonwealth age pension was introduced in Australia back in 1909, life expectancy has gone up 25 years for men, to 80.5 years, and 26 years for women, to 84.6 years. Yet the age pension eligibility age has increased by just one year for men and six years for women.

With many Australians now enjoying a good 30 years of retirement, clearly, something’s gotta give. The age pension framework has simply not kept pace with Australia’s changing lifestyles and demographics. Its original role as a safety net has been transformed. The age pension now primarily serves as a supplementary source of income to superannuation savings.

Improve incentives to keep seniors working longer

People are living longer and the age pension eligibility age is increasing, albeit far too slowly, but incentives to keep working are not developing quickly enough.

People aged over 65 are healthier than ever before and, increasingly, want to continue to work in some capacity. My experience with elderly people also has shown that they are generally happier and healthier when they are productively contributing to society so long as the work is not too stressful. But financial incentives such as the Pension Work Bonus need to be improved and employers’ attitudes towards older workers must change. Tax incentives to employers of seniors would also encourage them to employ older Australians or keep more retiree-age people in the workforce.

Strategies to increase the ratio of workers to people on welfare

As the Australian population continues to age, the ratio of workers to people dependent on welfare falls. The vast majority of welfare payments are made to age pensioners and people on disability pensions; a relatively small amount goes to unemployment benefits. This trend is largely due to the fact that people are living longer but also due to the natural phenomena that as societies become more affluent, their citizens have less children per capita. This trend is obviously unsustainable and needs to be reversed if possible.

A significant lever to correct this imbalance is immigration. There is never a shortage of people wanting to migrate to Australia, and generally migrants are young people (the median age in 2017-18 was 26), often with families, ready to work and spend and contribute to GDP growth.

Sadly, more recently, there has been populist rhetoric against immigration and, as a result, the number of migrants and people with temporary visas allowed into Australia has dropped significantly in the past few years.

I have no doubt that this is one of the factors causing our economy to slow. The most counter intuitive reason I have heard is that immigration puts strain on our infrastructure therefore we should slow it down for a while. This is an infrastructure problem not an immigration problem.

If some of the lifts in a building broke down, you would not stop new tenants moving in or existing tenants from hiring new staff until the owners got around to fixing the lifts. You would fix the lifts immediately, make do with what you have in the meantime so long as it was safe and allow business as usual. It is absurd to suggest that because our infrastructure needs to be enhanced we should reduce population growth. The very core of GDP growth is population growth.

With interest rates at record lows, now would be a great time to borrow to fund massive infrastructure enhancements, creating jobs and GDP growth. A new influx of immigrants could help do much of the work, and at the same time increase the ratio of workers to people on welfare.

Instead, the government has taken a populist approach and fought to keep our budget in surplus, potentially missing a once in a century opportunity to borrow money for next to nothing to fund much needed infrastructure enhancements.

Former political foes, Paul Keating and John Hewson, have both spoken about the opportunity for an infrastructure-led recovery. I hope the government takes notice rather than taking the road that secures the most votes in the short term.

Increase the superannuation guarantee

Labor introduced legislation in 2012 to increase the super guarantee to 12 per cent by this year. The timetable was subsequently changed by the Abbott government with the SG now set to hit 12 per cent by 1 July 2025.

However, the Morrison government is facing increasing pressure from its own MPs and senators to delay or abolish the planned increases. Those on the other side of the debate such as Rice Warner are saying that a higher SG would alleviate pressure on the age pension system and grow capital markets, which would benefit the entire economy.

In my view, any increase to the SG rate equates to money out of the economy in the short term. The government has said that the current precarious state of the Australian economy is the reason for delaying this.

However, I suspect that the real reason is that it would see more money flow into the coffers of industry super funds, some of which would inevitably find its way to the Labor Party.

Address housing affordability

Another major issue that directly impacts the pension system is housing affordability. Our retirement system was built on the assumption that most people would own their own home by the time they finished working. As it currently stands, an increasing number of Australians are likely to be paying rent in retirement, placing greater pressure on the pension system.

Recent modelling from the Grattan Institute found that the number of people aged over 65 who own their own home will fall from the current 76 per cent to 57 per cent by 2056. For low-income retirees, it will be well under half. The pension system, as it currently stands, is simply not equipped to manage these pressures. Rents have been outpacing the CPI-indexed government rent assistance payments for some time now, particularly in the major cities. There is a definite need to increase assistance for the growing number of retirees who do not own their own homes as well as thinking outside the box on housing affordability.

Treatment of the family home

Is it time for the high-value family homes to be included in the age pension assets test? Again, the likelihood is that no politician would touch this with a barge pole. Just look at what happened to Labor after it took the removal of franking credits to the last election.

Be that as it may, I don’t believe we should throw our hands in the air and give up on the implementation of big picture policy reform in this country. As Paul Keating recently remarked, large scale reform will be necessary to halt the increasing levels of inequality in our society.

There are clear anomalies with the current system. For example, a retired couple with a home worth $4 million and $245,000 in assets is eligible for a full pension, while a couple with a home valued at $500,000 and $860,000 in assets will receive no pension at all.

However, there are two sides to this issue. The above example shows an extreme situation that I am sure most would consider to be quite unfair to the second couple. Others would say that it is equally unfair that a couple who have lived their lives in an affluent area and are entrenched in that community, are forced to downsize to the point of having to move to where housing is more affordable.

So, this is certainly a tricky one. Innovation and competition in the home equity release product market may result in retirees being able to remain in their homes, but to cheaply and efficiently access some of the equity to top up their retirement incomes.

Conclusion

In any case, these changes are going to be unpopular. Whichever way you look at it, they will take money out of the pockets of elderly Australians, which are a large and growing portion of the voter base. However, the longer this issue is left, the worse it will become. Slow and steady change over the next 10 to 20 years will be much more palatable than large sudden shocks. This is also why we should look to employ other mechanisms such as migration to minimise the impacts on the elderly.

How the ban on adviser commissions could hit hip pockets

The federal government might have voted against a royal commission into misconduct in the banking and financial services industry 26 times but it’s making up for lost time.

This month the Senate passed the first substantive stand-alone piece of legislation relating to issues raised by the royal commission. The bill ends the payment of product commissions from fund managers, super funds, insurers and other financial product providers to financial planners and advisers.

The financial services industry is warning that, ironically, higher fees – not lower – could be one of the “unintended consequences” of the legislative change. 

If that sounds a bit like deja vu, you’d be right. In 2012, the then Labor government banned commissions for advisers as part of the Future of Financial Advice reforms.

This represented an overhaul of the mainstream remuneration practice in the industry, meaning consumers, and not product manufacturers, would have to pay for the provision of advice. The thinking was that removing this “conflicted remuneration” would allow consumers to get more objective, impartial advice.

But the rule was not applied retrospectively, which meant advisers could continue to receive any ongoing commissions relating to investments they made before the legislation’s effective date of July 1, 2014, under a so-called grandfathering clause.

After evidence to the royal commission that consumers had been charged “fees for no service”, Commissioner Kenneth Hayne concluded that the carve-out allowing these grandfathered commissions should be “repealed as soon as reasonably practicable”.

After the Parliament did exactly that on October 14, Financial Services Assistant Minister Jane Hume said one of the key benefits of the reform is that it will end the conflict whereby some advisers may have been hesitant to move clients into newer, better-performing products because they were receiving an ongoing commission on the old one. “Consumers will benefit from lower fees following the removal of conflicted remuneration for financial advice,” Hume said.

Higher fees

But the financial services industry is warning that, ironically, higher fees –not lower – could be one of several “unintended consequences” of the legislative change.

Phil Anderson, a policy expert at the Association of Financial Advisers, says advisers have been reviewing whether their clients should be switched into newer products ever since the FoFA reforms, and the total size of the pool of commissions paid to advisers has been diminishing as a result.

But there are important, technical reasons why it might not be in the client’s interest to switch to a newer or cheaper product, he says, even though that seems counter to the government’s thinking and conclusion of the royal commission.

GCT and Centrelink triggers

He says there are certain circumstances where the stopping of grandfathered commissions could actually leave a consumer worse off.

“The requirement to move product could trigger a capital gains tax liability,” Anderson says. “In some cases, the client may be advised to defer the recognition of a capital gain to a later time, when they have a lower taxable income.”

In addition to CGT concerns, advised consumers could also lose Centrelink benefits. In 2004 and 2007, the federal government made changes to the assets test for eligibility for social security payments to include income streams such as annuities and account-based pensions, which were previously exempt.

But these changes were grandfathered so that people relying on the previous rules in planning for their retirement were not disadvantaged.

“If they were moved to modern products now, this grandfathering would be lost and the income stream would be fully included in the asset test,”  Anderson says.

Another potential pitfall could face Australians in superannuation products that include a life insurance policy.

Switching super

Switching to a new super fund could cause them to lose cover which might not be attainable at the same rate or in the same form if the client’s health circumstances have changed over that period.

If rebates of commissions that would have otherwise been paid to advisers are passed on to clients directly – as some of the large bank-owned wealth management companies are already implementing – this could also have implications for older clients.

“A rebate will in many cases be taxable income and in the case of partial-age-pension clients may reduce the client’s pension by 50¢ in the dollar,” Anderson says. “In a limited number of cases it may push the client above the maximum income test threshold for the pension.”

Regardless of age or life stage, switching to a new investment product could also result in hefty exit fees, Anderson adds.

Although exit fees have been banned in the superannuation system, they still exist on some other financial products.

John Ardino, chairman of Lifespan Financial Planning, agrees that clients could face Centrelink and CGT consequences, which could make switching them into newer products problematic.

Aside from these technical issues that could create unintended costs or losses in some circumstances, the industry also warns that ending commissions will simply push up the price of advice, making it more expensive for those who already have an adviser and less accessible for those who don’t.

“The result of all this for consumers is that it will raise the costs of advice, reduce access to advice and leave thousands of clients orphaned without any access to advice,” Ardino says. “This is a major disruption for clients
needing financial advice and a major disruption to the practices of advice providers.”

Anderson warns that if some clients whose advice is now subsidised by product commissions decide they cannot afford a fee for service, their investment portfolios and financial lives could be adversely affected.

“If clients lose access to advice, then they may find over time their asset allocation progressively moves away from their target asset allocation,” he adds.

Beware the warnings

But consumer advocacy group Choice, which has long argued that the grandfathered commissions carve-out should be repealed, said consumers should be wary about warnings from industry bodies and lobbyists.

“There have been countless instances where the industry has squealed about unintended consequences to prevent and slow down reform and there has been no basis to the concerns,” says Choice campaigns manager Erin Turner.

While she doesn’t dispute that switching products could result in complexities and even financial losses, she says that is precisely why conflicted payments needed to end.

“A good, holistic, expert adviser is going to consider those issues and will consider the costs as well as any potential benefits,” she adds. “At least you can now know that the conflict is not there and they can give you a more objective assessment.”

Lifespan scores triple win at 2019 IFA Excellence Awards

I am very pleased and proud to announce that Lifespan Financial Planning scored three gongs at the 2019 IFA Excellence Awards in Sydney last Friday, the 6th of September.

Our National Practice Manager, Michael Gershkov, the received Practice Management Consultant of the Year Award, while Prashant Nagarajan from Finnacle (one of our Victorian based advisers) won the Innovator of the Year Award. I was very honoured to win the Dealer Group Executive of the Year Award – an achievement only made possible due to the outstanding efforts of the Lifespan head office team, our incredible network of advisers and of course the unwaivering support of my wife Pamella. So thank you to all of you.

We also had a number of other Lifespan advisers nominated as finalists for awards including Gail Gadd, James McFall from Yield Financial Planning, Phillip Richards, Robert Rich & Glen Malkiewicz from Endorphin Wealth as well as Smart Home Deposit.

Michael was a worthy winner of the Practice Management Consultant of the Year category. Since joining Lifespan earlier this year, he has worked tirelessly to support our advisers. From helping them recruit and retain staff, to engaging with clients, build referral partnerships and find ways to improve efficiencies through technology. Michael has done a great job of partnering with our advisers for success.

The Innovator of the Year award was thoroughly deserved for Prashant, who has shown an incredible amount of initiative and creativity in incorporating digital solutions to enhance the efficiency of his business. See below for a very interesting summary from Prashant on his approach to digital innovation.

In 2020, we hope to assist more of our advisers to participate in the IFA Excellence Awards. The process is very rewarding and a terrific way to reflect on what you have done and articulate your value proposition. We will issue more information on how you can prepare your business for awards success in the near future.

Prashant Nagarajan from Finnacle – Innovator of the Year

“As a financial adviser and principal of a technology focused financial services business, I must always think about better ways of doing things, especially regarding the use of technology and automation in the advice delivery process. We have a number of practices within the business that are both innovative and demonstrate a new way to think about client engagement. We conduct our meetings via video conferencing to reduce wasted time and travel commitments for our clients. This also means we can service clients anywhere is Australia and around the world.

“We also write and draw throughout our meetings using new technology solutions, while sharing the screen with clients to create an interactive and highly informative experience. This also allows digital signatures and recordings to help with compliance and education for clients which can be reviewed and enjoyed anytime.

“We have created online data capture forms making the completion of important compliance steps easy and simple for our valued clients, and when submitted they are automatically emailed at the press of one button. We have found clients do not wish to deal with paperwork and at Finnacle, we have none!

“When it comes to marketing, technology has become our primary source of lead generation. This has been integrated with instant text notification when someone has submitted their contact details for one of our promotional campaigns so we can get in contact with them within minutes.

“Clients love our service offering which is based on a subscription model (similar to a phone plan) where ‘members’ choose the services or advice solutions they want plus they can pay for these via a monthly fee. We believe this is the new way of providing financial services, especially to the younger generations (who are our target market).

“With a team of four and a network of specialist referral partners to help clients, our innovations have created an improved low-cost business model coupled with significant financial gains now and down the pipeline. Process efficiency has resulted in very high customer satisfaction levels demonstrated in regular client surveys.

“Zoom meetings, online data capture and automated social media advertising have resulted in a more systemised way of doing business where leads are generated regularly, information is collected in a timely manner and we have many touch points with clients without them having to travel.

“Our business innovations have also helped with the satisfaction of our staff as they can work from home and in their own time frames. The continuous technology developments available to us ensures new innovations can overcome most issues we are faced with and what are problems for some advisers become opportunities for us. In turn, our business gains leverage by being a low cost, efficient solution which translates into a very affordable service for our Gen Y and Millennial clients.”

Lifespan Financial Planning throws weight behind advice industry fighting fund

Lifespan Financial Planning throws weight behind advice industry fighting fund

Lifespan Financial Planning, one of Australia’s largest privately-owned financial advice networks, has thrown its financial support behind the industry’s constitutional challenge to legislation to ban grandfathered commissions and encouraged its adviser network to do the same.

Lifespan has contributed $10,000 to the fighting fund set up by the Association of Independently Owned Financial Professionals to defend the property rights of financial advisers. Lifespan will top this up with a total of 50% of the individual contributions made by its 180-strong adviser network.

Lifespan founder and executive Chairman John Ardino said the legislation before the senate to abolish grandfathered commissions would increase the cost of receiving financial advice and lower consumer access to advice significantly when the opposite was needed.

“Our industry is at a critical crossroads. The outcome of this challenge in the High Court of Australia will affect the industry for years to come. We believe we should be doing as much as we can to ensure that outcome is a positive one for our clients, ordinary Australians who need access to advice for their wellbeing, as well as the advice industry which is being unfairly treated. The government adopted these flawed recommendations from the Hayne Royal Commission without any objective justification that grandfathered commissions have caused any harm to clients,”

he said.

Moreover, Ardino says “the commission’s recommendation to abolish Grandfathered Commissions is invalid because the commissioner failed to follow the directive in clause K of the terms of reference requiring consideration to be given to the impact of his recommendations on the economy, the cost and access to advice, competition and other factors.”

Mr Ardino added that grandfathered commissions involve no misconduct, no fees for no service and no breaches of professional standards or community expectations.

“Grandfathered commissions are legitimate income supported by the advice to the Labor government given by the Solicitor General in 2011, which Bill Shorten announced at that time. In effect, he said that these commissions constituted property rights protected by the constitution and that the government could only abolish them by compensating planners on just terms.

“The Government and Commissioner Hayne have falsely argued that this 2011 advice no longer applies. Moreover, there is a real risk that adviser property rights may be wiped out unilaterally by fund managers feeling obligated to stop paying grandfathered commissions, potentially in breach of their distribution agreements.

“Advisers may have to litigate against fund managers as well if it can be shown they acted improperly,”

Mr Ardino said.

Rethinking financial planning for Millennials

Rethinking financial planning for Millennials

Many financial advisers steer clear of younger clients in the belief that they don’t generally have much to invest and are too young to be interested in retirement planning.

However, the massive potential of this group cannot be ignored. The intergenerational transfer of wealth from Australian Baby Boomers to their children over the next 10 to 20 years has been estimated at up to $3 trillion.

And despite what some planners might think, there is a high earning Millennial cohort; the so-called HENRYs – high earners, not rich yet.

Some planners, many of them Millennials themselves, have structured their entire businesses around engaging this group. The strategy relies on the expectation that if these young clients are serviced in the way they want to be serviced, they will remain loyal to their planner until they hit their peak earning and investing years and beyond.

Much has been said, both positive and negative, about the defining characteristics of Millennials; those people born between 1981 and 1996. We’ve all heard the stories about how they are narcissistic and obsessed with fame, self-promotion and avocado on toast.

However, more positive traits attributed to this group include:

  • Tech savviness
  • Expert multi-taskers
  • Socially conscious
  • Information seekers
  • Scepticism about ‘big business’ – they appreciate ethics and transparency in marketing and don’t respond well to the ‘hard sell’.

So, what does all this mean for financial planners seeking to engage Millennials? One of Lifespan’s authorised representatives, Arkadiusz Bryl, founder of Real Knowledge, Diverse Solutions, is an expert at reaching younger clients through digital marketing. Arkadiusz regularly advises other planners on digital marketing and how to engage younger clients. He believes many financial planners overthink their approach to servicing younger clients.

“Ultimately, they want exactly what Generation X and Baby Boomer clients want, which is a secure financial future. They just want to go about it a different way.

“They might not want ongoing advice yet, but they do want help when major events occur in their lives such as getting married, having children and getting a promotion.”

Millennial’s do however seek complete transparency, in an age where you can find almost anything on the internet they appreciate when you lay everything out on the table and share or even involve them in the advice process.

As a licensee, I agree with Arkadiusz and can appreciate that traditional methods of engagement do not resonate well with Millennials and a different approach is required. Statistics show that more often than not, when an existing client’s wealth is transferred through a life event, the servicing adviser loses relevance and the beneficiary of the outcome will seek advice from somebody more attuned to their way of doing things.

Millennials are taking a greater interest in all things financial. They want to be well informed and are not afraid to seek assistance – but the engagement piece for most older advisers remains a challenge.

Where many firms get it wrong is believing that the service model needs to cost a lot of money. The broader adoption of many modern technologies means that the cost per client can come down significantly. Advisers need to accept that not every interaction has to come at a cost to the client.

What Millennials don’t want is to be told by an adviser, ‘come back when you have $200,000’. I guarantee you’ll never see them again if you take that approach.

A fresh approach to client engagement

The traditional approach to engaging clients just doesn’t work with Millennials. They don’t respond well to being told they should have particular investments or insurances. They want to be educated and make at least some of the decisions themselves. With that in mind, Arkadiusz begins his initial client meetings with a visual fact find.

It is a ‘no pitch, no sell’ proposition in which the prospective client is taken through a series of simple steps which shed light on their actual financial position. The simplicity of the process is also a pleasing contrast to the information overload that is so prevalent in modern society.

We took 120 people on a visual journey of their goals, needs and objectives by hosting an event where we provided everyone an empty “visual fact find” and I teamed up with an illustrator where we took everyone on a live journey on how to “smash goals, not avocados”. We provided no advice and 87 attendees left reviews that they learnt more about their financial life in 2 hours than in their whole life. Which made me think. Why can’t I do this on an even bigger scale.

The propensity for Millennials to educate themselves also makes content production crucial for advisers targeting this group. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea as it requires a significant time commitment. Arkadiusz has developed free ‘lunch and learn’ events in which he educates potential clients about developing a financial plan. He’s also created catchy titles around the content he produces such as “How to rob a bank without a gun”.

Millennials respond more positively to word-of-mouth endorsements than traditional advertising, therefore, social media is an ideal channel through which to engage them. Mass marketing through social media is also an effective way to keep costs down. For example, Arkadiusz posts videos to his audience of more than 1,000 Instagram followers every day, also often on weekends, and hosts a free group chat event online every week.

As I’ve mentioned, this business strategy would not suit most advisers, particularly those with no grasp of digital marketing.

Arkadiusz has few clients on retainer – he works with most of them on a transactional basis. His model relies on scale for its success. It also requires a constant flow of new content for social media feeds.

Critics might say that he is giving away too much of his time and intellectual property for free. But his response would be that by keeping them happy now, he is building a base of loyal clients who will be with him throughout their peak earning years and beyond.

Remember, the core values of Millennials are community focus and social responsibility – both in clear evidence here.

Rise of the Machines: AI for Financial Planners

Rise of the machines: AI for financial planners

The promises of radical business transformation have driven the inexorable rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in the financial planning industry over recent years.

The idea of having a machine that can continually learn on its own and identify and solve complex problems in a nanosecond is extremely alluring. But, the reality is that machines that can think like humans, but with millions of times more brainpower, are some years away yet.

While no one has yet to hit on the ideal AI model for financial planning, there are still a number of key areas in which the current iterations of AI are of enormous benefit to the industry. A 2018 global survey of 2,135 businesses by McKinsey & Co revealed that within the financial services industry, the top three business functions using AI were service operations (49%), risk management (40%) and sales and marketing (33%).

AI can seem incredibly daunting to the uninitiated, not to mention the fear that it could put planners out of work. But in reality, the opportunities far outnumber the threats. AI can both enhance a financial advice business’ service offering and help it to grow. Love it or loathe it, you can’t ignore it. Do so and you’ll be left behind.
So, what are the benefits and challenges of AI for financial planners?

Benefits

Improved standard of client service

AI allows planners to spend more time servicing clients and adding to their value proposition by performing many of the mundane tasks that consume so much time. For example, AI applications can monitor client portfolios and send alerts when asset allocation changes or prices move outside of certain pre-set parameters

A planner might also use AI in client meetings to see various types of data and model potential outcomes of various investment options.

Cheaper and more efficient compliance function

AI allows planners to spend more time servicing clients and adding to their value proposition by performing many of the mundane tasks that consume so much time. For example, AI applications can monitor client portfolios and send alerts when asset allocation changes or prices move outside of certain pre-set parameters.

A planner might also use AI in client meetings to see various types of data and model potential outcomes of various investment options.

Cheaper and more efficient back-office function

AI can also improve efficiency in much of the back-office function. A number of fintechs are currently developing AI applications that can automate tasks such as compiling SOAs. At present they are best suited to the simpler SOAs and, even then, will generally require some human input.


The compliance function is another area where AI has huge potential for both planners and regulators, although it is still in the very early stages. As a licensee, I hope to see AI reduce compliance costs, which have blown out across the industry in recent years.


Lifespan is currently working with Kaplan on the development of its Red Marker Artemis software. Artemis uses AI to check compliance of written material with RG234.


The goal is to eventually be able to automatically run compliance checks on SOAs and other written representations as a starting point for humans to then use professional judgement on areas of concern. One of the challenges with supervision and monitoring is that 99% of what is reviewed is fine, however, AI can make zeroing in on the areas of concern much more efficient.


Nevertheless, having competent humans to then evaluate the possible risk and/or compliance breach and decide on a course of action is still critically important and I think we are a long way from having this replaced by AI.

  • Chat bots to answer general advice queries.
  • Fraud detection.
  • Client database analytics, providing valuable insights.
  • Algorithmic trading.

Effective way to reach Millenials

AI is potentially a good way to engage, or at least get a foot in the door with, the hard-to-reach under 40 demographic. Before you get too excited about the prospect of having a robot meet with your clients while you sit back and count the money, research shows that clients still value at least some face-to-face service from a human, even younger clients. A solution might be a combination of face-to-face service with AI taking care of the mundane back-office tasks.

This will undoubtedly change as AI becomes more intelligent, with greater deep learning/self-learning capabilities, and clients becoming more comfortable with technology handling their financial advice. Furthermore, with the industry professionalising and moving to a more user pays type structure, the cost of face to face advice is set to rise dramatically meaning that most consumers wont be able to access a live adviser and will have to settle for google or an AI for their advice.

Challenges

Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater

It is important to remember that AI is just a tool to enhance your client value proposition. It is a long way from being a viable alternative to face-to-face service. Nevertheless, its transformative potential should not be ignored.


It should work away in the background, freeing you up to spend more time on the functions that add value for your clients.


There is a risk of putting the cart before the horse and focusing on AI for investment insights, for example, instead of using it to gain a deeper level of understanding of a client’s situation in order to deliver more tailored advice.


AI is still unable to present a truly end-to-end bespoke advice solution to clients. There are too many nuances to each client’s individual circumstances. It’s important not to be distracted by the latest gimmicks or to rely too heavily on the data rather than the individual.

Regulatory challenges

One of the more interesting aspects of AI is how the latest developments can draw the ire of regulators, given that governments can be sometimes slow to respond to technological innovations such as AI. Don’t forget that most regulations were written and put in place long before AI came along.


Having said that, I believe the fintech community is working closely with ASIC and the government to make the implementation of AI in the advice industry as smooth as possible, which could result in changes or carveouts to regulation to help facilitate growth in this space.


Given how rapidly technology evolves, fintech development will be difficult to keep up with from a regulatory point of view, especially when client demand for tech-driven tools is increasing.


ASIC’s guidance on providing digital product advice in RG255 is too broad and does not cover all of the issues that arise in interactions between robots and clients. New guidance will most likely need to be drafted to address AI where it interacts directly with clients.

Incompatibility of systems

There are still issues with compatibility of systems. No one has yet worked out a way for all the different applications to talk to one another and seamlessly integrate. Long standing providers of both advice and product solutions will continue to have to wrestle with legacy issues and old systems.


Client bases are also extremely diverse, with many older clients still wanting face-to-face appointments and information in writing. In any event, new technologies will give rise to new services, new systems and new product options.


New technology is generally the focus of younger demographics, both as providers of solutions and as end users of the technology. AI will soon have a central role to play in the financial services industry and advisers should be open minded and prepared to explore the benefits that these technologies will bring.