James Coney  

Embrace the digital future or wither

James Coney

James Coney

Spoiler alert: the story ends with us all going digital.

We are currently in the middle of a gripping drama about how the world changes. A pandemic comes, and as well as brilliantly advancing science, it also accelerates the pace of technological change.

Some of us were ready for this; some of us were not. If you need to flick to see what happens in the final pages, then you really are not paying attention.

And if you are an advice business who thinks that none of this affects you then, well, you probably will not be here in a few years’ time.

Why is Financial Adviser going digital only? Because it is moving with the times. My own paper (and the Financial Times, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal) have all embraced this digital strategy too.

Internet shopping is booming, food delivery apps are en vogue, many staff have been told to work from home for at least part of the week permanently.

And advice has to move with these trends too.

If you look at the latest Financial Conduct Authority figures on the state of the advice market there are many reasons to be cheerful: adviser numbers are up and the number of adults seeking financial advice is up too. 

While this has happened, assets under management of the automated advisers has been climbing massively, and awareness of generic advice services has grown. There is your digital growth, right there.

These are reasons to be celebrate too, even if on the face of it they look like a threat to the traditional advice model. It is not – it is an opportunity.

Advisers need to think pragmatically about shifting the way they service the needs of clients. People want flexibility, transparency and a product that they can use from their mobile phone.

Zoom meetings are just the start. Online portfolio information, basic help and support, as well as guidance and information should all be part of an all-guns-blazing digital service.

This is not giving away business for free; it is adding to it. 

Advisers are traditionally very poor at innovation, and the FCA report suggests why: concerns about regulation and the point at which general information and guidance becomes advice.

This will come as no surprise to personal finance journalists, as we get a heap of grief from advisers all the time when we write about general principles of investing, risk and retirement strategies.

They think it is straying into their territory, when actually it is adding to it.

Advisers spend far too much time picking fights over the threshold of generic advice and guidance as well as arguing against robo-advisers, and not enough time thinking about how they can embrace this appetite and use it as an opportunity to prove their own worth.