Robo-advice 

Firing Line: Mark Fordree

Firing Line: Mark Fordree

Using a digital advice service could be seen in the same way as using an ATM or internet banking, according to Mark Fordree, chief executive and co-founder of Australian robo-advice business Ignition Wealth.

Mr Fordree's company was the first in Australia to get its licence for a digital advice business – it obtained it three years – and it claims to be the biggest, with “over one million client journeys” under its belt.

Ignition Wealth is considering expanding in Ireland, but is staying away from the UK at present as it appears to be an overcrowded region with many other robo-advisers jostling for dominance.

He believes digital advice is the next step change in financial services, and will soon become accepted like many other technological developments.

Mr Fordree explained: “People don’t go to branches any more because it’s more efficient to do your banking in your own time. When ATMs first came in, people were quite distrustful of going to a machine in a wall to get at their cash.”

Now we hardly use cash at all, he added.

“We’re worrying over a step change about the way advice is delivered. Digital advice is going to enable people to do a lot of this stuff themselves – I’ll do it over a cup of coffee in my living room at 7pm.

“We don’t think digital advice is going to replace the human adviser. We’ve said the robo-adviser is going to do the heavy lifting around data, generating the risk profiling, and the human adviser is going to be more focused on adding value in more complex situations.

“Digital will bring down the initial cost of advice and make it much more accessible to more people.”

Ignition Wealth automates much of the initial data collection on attitude to risk, by collecting data from the adviser and client's bank account on the individual’s income and lifestyle, and recommending the type of portfolio they should invest in. 

Mr Fordree said the algorithm adopts a very ‘conservative’ approach, and it is clear, for example, that if someone only has a 12-month time horizon and a cautious approach, then they would not be put into an emerging markets fund. This can be overridden, though, for example if someone has a A$10m (£6m) inheritance they've not told the system.

He said: “I’m not aware of one complaint at all – the system is designed to be very clear in what the advice has been about.”

Educating the client in the basics of investment principles has been an important feature of the website, especially the relationship between risk and return. But, ultimately, digital advice can massively bring down the cost of advice because of the automation of the initial data-gathering process. 

“We see the asset allocation and portfolio construction reducing in cost dramatically because we’ve got Vanguard and BlackRock giving it away almost for free,” Mr Fordree said.

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