Op-Ed Featured on FS Advice

We've long been warned that the robot revolution is on its way, with everyone from pilots to family doctors in the firing line. The prophecy goes something like this: AI and robotics will make human capital obsolete, essentially leaving billions of us without work. For decades, we've been told it's a matter of when, not if. 

Thankfully, these doom-and-gloom predictions rarely come true. Instead, the revolution has taken a different form; one with more positive implications for those willing to adjust to the discomfort of change. In many ways, AI has emancipated us from dry and mundane tasks, while allowing us to focus our collective energy on work that is more challenging, more meaningful and less exposed to the threat of automation. As people have become dislocated from their previous job descriptions, many have realised the growth opportunities that are born from developing new skills and pathways. 

When disruption pays off

The role of automation, meanwhile, has been to complement, rather than replace humans. Think about the relationship between accountants and Xero. About a decade ago, forecasters were tipping Xero would spell the demise of the humble accountant, by essentially replacing their core function. Instead of using accountants as the intermediary between the client and the tax office, the software was expected to be the key that would relegate accountants to the history books.

What actually happened was very different. Accountants embraced Xero as a critical part of their toolkit and used it to unshackle themselves from heavy administration and data entry. It allowed them to instead channel their efforts towards helping clients build their businesses by sharing intelligence, analysing performance and reporting. They could focus on where they could really add value. Importantly, Xero was not seen as a threat and instead, accountants began recommending it to clients for their own small businesses. 

The revolution is here

Why am I saying this? In my opinion, we're on the cusp of the same thing happening in financial advice and more specifically, paraplanning. A paraplanner's traditional role has involved preparing and compiling compliant documents for advice delivery, including Statements of Advice (SoAs) and Records of Advice (RoAs). That traditional function has become usurped by technology that can help produce compliant advice within minutes. 

Instead of waiting four to six weeks to turn around an SoA, Asendium builds all advice documents simultaneously. As you are entering information for your fact find, Asendium places the data in the appropriate areas across your advice documents so that as soon as you are finished with your fact find and strategy paper, Asendium builds your SoA from the ground up in 60 seconds by pulling all the relevant data points into your desired template.

At Asendium, we're invested in creating this model and partnered with Fourth Line on the compliance side because we know time and cost are the two biggest threats to advice businesses. I've seen this through personal experience, as a former financial planner and things have become much worse since I left. With fewer than 18,000 advisers to service millions of millennials, pre-retirees and retirees, the advice turnaround time will be a critical challenge for advisers of the future. Advisers are also being crunched by the cost of professionalisation, insurance and compliance. One of the biggest cost bases in any advice business is paraplanning, which has driven planners to search for cost-effective solutions. 

If the cost of the paraplanning process on its own is on average between $500 and $1500, that already sets a high cost for advice. When you add the surrounding process steps to provide the necessary data for that SoA to be assembled, you are left with high creation costs with little room for profit margin. With all of this to consider, is the reality of cost-effective advice even possible?

Speeding up advice delivery – in a compliant and economical way – will help advisers to service more clients and build their revenue. Of course, this ultimately reduces the unmet advice needs among Australians and will help more people to retire with both comfort and dignity. Where this will leave paraplanners depends on the individual and how willing they are to adapt to evolving industry demands. 

Where paraplanners can add value

By now, I hope you can see I don't subscribe to the doom-and-gloom predictions about industries on the brink of collapse. On the contrary, I believe technology presents opportunities for people to offer value in new ways that are both more meaningful and irreplaceable. This revolution has arrived for the paraplanning industry. The technology I've described – which cuts compliant SoA production down from weeks to hours – is already here. We've just secured more than $1.1 million in a capital raise and are increasing our footprint by the day. None of this is a pursuit to “replace" paraplanners though. I believe paraplanners who are willing to go on the journey will be able to implant themselves in businesses and make their services indispensable, but as with any change, mindsets have to evolve to meet these changing needs.

Instead of production, the paraplanners of the future will be sought for their strategy input, their relationship management, and their ability to easily navigate and compliment technology. While the administrative side will be largely managed by automated platforms, paraplanners will be able to focus on building the firm's client base and communicating the detail of the practice's value proposition. 

With that in mind, paraplanners who want to prepare for their industry's evolution may wish to take the following actions:

  • Further develop soft skills – Paraplanners are often prized for their critical thinking, teamwork and communication. These skills are likely to become more important as the role develops and changes. Paraplanners have a strong future as the face of advice businesses, which will require great relationship building skills and leadership capacity. 
  • Become a strategy master – Many financial planners will tell you paraplanners often know the nitty-gritty of an advice business like no one else. It stands to reason, given how involved they are with advice production and implementation. In light of that, paraplanners can offer unique insights into how to develop an advisory's niche, how to attract new clients and how to find efficiencies. These skills will be valuable for planning businesses of the future and should be nourished by paraplanners looking to secure their future in the industry.
  • Invest in technology proficiency – Paraplanners can carve out a key role as the gatekeeper of the firm's technology. For paraplanners who feel like their technology proficiency is not up to date, now is the time to undertake some free online courses and build on those skills. With the need for production skills reduced thank to automation, paraplanners can reinvest their time in ensuring technology is integrated for a seamless client experience.

While all industries are changing, paraplanning is changing at an accelerated pace. With the lines between planner and paraplanner blurring, paraplanners who embrace the change are uniquely placed to make themselves a critical part of the furniture of any advice business.

Read the Op-Ed here.