Firing line  

Jo-Anne Smithson: AI cannot manage conflicting desires

Jo-Anne Smithson: AI cannot manage conflicting desires

Succession Wealth’s Jo-Anne Smithson says it will be a while before AI can manage conflicting desires

Jo-Anne Smithson has worked for Succession Wealth since it took over Investors Planning Associates in October last year. 

She says one of the biggest challenges in her new role as integration director is managing the internal communications process within a business. But more broadly for advisers, a huge challenge is – and probably always will be – managing conflicting demands between a couple seeking different financial objectives. 

Ms Smithson explains: “If you sit down with a client and ask them what they want out of life, often they don’t know, or if they are a couple they want different things. You have to manage those conflicts between the two halves and their conflicting demands.”

This has to be where advisers really add value, doing face-to-face advice, rather than people simply doing it using artificial intelligence. She says: “Maybe in time we will all learn to talk to robots and maybe tech will get to the stage that the robot will replace the individual, but certainly for the next 20 years people need advisers to sit down with them and work out what [the best financial plan] is for themselves.”

She agrees that AI will help people work out how they are going to do the small-scale investing, but when it comes to the big things, such as a new baby or planning a “smashing, great big wedding”, AI is not going to be able to help people make financial plans around these important life events. 

A moment of inspiration

Succession Wealth was founded 10 years ago on the inspiration of four individuals who came together and aspired to create a professional services company. It focuses on the people with higher thresholds of wealth, which is broadly assets over £100,000.

But while it is right to have know-your-client regulations in place, to help focus on the client and what they want from their advisers, it is absolutely imperative that businesses “know themselves first”, which is how IPA had operated and how Succession Wealth operates. “If we have got to know our client, we need to know ourselves and what we stand for”, she says.

However, Ms Smithson did not always know she was going to be a financial adviser. In fact, her route into the industry was far from conventional. She studied geography and joined an accountancy. “Of course this is entirely where you expected a geography degree to bring you,” she jokes. 

She qualified as a chartered account at Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte, now rebranded as PwC, and worked as an accountant at the London School of Theology, before moving into the financial advice industry. She became chief executive of IPA in 2011 and remained at the helm until it was taken over by Succession Wealth last year.