Robo cop or Robo flop?

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Platforms and back-office systems have evolved

Robo cop or Robo flop?

The 'robo' term is too generic to have real meaning and is more likely to confuse your customers than help them. Not all digital advice services will be fully automated.  Some are, but others streamline parts of the process and still involve human interaction. It is not a matter of one or the other is right, rather, what do you want to offer your clients? Equally, decide if you want to offer an advised service, non-advised or both.

It is important to identify your objective to be able to identify the right solution. Are you trying to open up a new channel to enable you to reach customers who cannot afford your traditional service? Do you wish to allow some of your existing clients to access some of your services in a streamlined manner? Are you looking to create a service the children of your clients can use to start investing, before they reach the stage where traditional advice is affordable? Or are you trying to put in place low-cost ways to deal with clients who are no longer economic in a post-RDR world?

To test this, it can be worthwhile creating a number of client personas and thinking about how your service would support the needs of each. Imagine a typical client for the service you want to offer and identify the type of solution you would expect to present them with. This will help you to identify the features you need your service supplier to offer.

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Automated advice services are in their relative infancy. At this time, most focus on the accumulation phase of saving. We are now seeing a handful of decumulation services emerge and several more are in the pipeline: currently, if you are looking at the latter, you will significantly limit your options.

When planning any new service, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of how you will take it to market. Build it and they will come simply does not work as a digital strategy. The high cost of customer acquisition is the biggest single challenge to the emerging direct-to-consumer digital advice services.

Established advice firms should be in a far better position than start-ups to offer low-cost services, but they still need to be able to reach customers cheaply. Have a clear view of how you aim to achieve this in order to identify any special requirements. For example if you are planning to target the service to members of auto-enrolment schemes your firm has set up for employers, do you have the ability to co-brand the service with the employer?

Every time two software systems need to talk to each other, there is a potential point of failure. The fewer different systems you can have running in your business, the more likely it is that you will be able to effectively streamline your operation. If you are looking to launch a low-cost advice solution, it is important to minimise the level of any manual interaction that may be necessary. For this reason, I would always encourage people to talk to their existing software suppliers about what they have on offer or what they are planning in the near future.