Robots Can't Do This

30th October 2017

One day back in the spring, I stopped by the office to check on operations and audit the firm’s all-hands meeting.  Since dedicating 100% of my time to FindBob, the day-to-day operations of my family’s firm have been transferred to my more than capable management team.  That day though, one of my managers, Jun, was noticeably absent.  No big deal I thought, he must be sick.

Later that day I received a call from Jun apologizing for his absence.  For the last day and a half, he’d been supporting a client whose husband had recently passed away.  

Jun's Client

Jun developed a close bond to this family over the 10 years he’d been their advisor. He knew the husband was the family rock; the protector and primary supporter. This client looked after the family expenses, saw to the everyday maintenance of the home and was also the family chauffeur.  The pain of his passing might ease in time, but right now the loss of him was raw and real to his grieving family.  In his 20+ year career, Jun had witnessed this event far too many times and he needed to help. He helped the family at the funeral home, drove them to the bank, picked up relatives at the airport, and took them to a number of other appointments.

I’ve been privileged to meet many people like Jun in our industry.  People whose decency and humanity go beyond their fiduciary obligation of just passing along a cheque.  For them, it's about a lifetime of care and empathy and responding when it’s needed.  It’s also about understanding who people are. Learning what’s important to families like Jun’s client doesn’t happen at the point-of-sale, it takes a lifetime of service and human connection.


One morning a couple of years ago, my good friend Scott called.  Like most friends and clients nowadays we typically connect through email or text, so receiving an actual phone call in the early morning wasn’t a good sign.  

Scott knew that my youngest daughter had been diagnosed with Autism at the age of 3 and he wanted to talk to me about his own son, Morgan.  


Scott told me that Morgan hadn’t been making many of the typical developmental milestones you’d expect for a 3-1/2-year-old. He and his wife, Amy, had begun the assessment and diagnosis process a couple of weeks prior to his call to me.  Morgan had officially been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  This can be a shocking and hard diagnosis to hear and he needed someone to talk to.  I cleared my morning and we spoke for almost two hours.

Just before we hung up I reminded Scott of the policy we took out for his boys when they were first born.  It seemed like an eternity ago, but when we assessed their needs we made sure to put money aside for Morgan’s education and with the remaining budget, put a life and critical illness insurance policy in place.  That single decision years ago, now let Scott and Amy focus exclusively on supporting Morgan for the next year.  

A $60,000 tax-free, lump sum cheque came in handy for out-of-pocket therapy and medical expenses not covered by their health plans. It also afforded Amy to take an unpaid leave of absence from work to focus on Morgan during a critical age in his development.  That planning years ago gave them both peace of mind and the tools needed to help their family.

Listening and Understanding

Morgan, Scott, and Amy’s story is one I’ve witnessed countless times in my firm and throughout the industry.  Despite critical media focus and regulatory observation and examination, the truth is we don’t simply take and fill orders for manufacturers of financial products.  We transform lives.  We help people. As hokey as that sounds, it’s what we do.  We listen, very carefully, to identify the needs of our clients, we collect data, and if necessary prescribe solutions that meet those needs.  And that’s just the beginning.  In many cases, those decisions translate into a lifetime of service.  Not only does that mean ensuring our clients stay the course through market volatility, but also adapting the plan and pivoting to navigate through all of life’s unexpected ups and downs.  Not only were we there for Morgan’s unexpected health calamity, we were with the family when Scott and Amy got married, bought their first house, when Amy needed to go on sabbatical, and when they contemplated the renovations to their home to have Scott’s folks move in.

The Human Advantage

Regulatory uncertainty, media scrutiny, and the fintech revolution suggest that advice is dead; that people don’t want - or need - that human touch.  I’ve witnessed brilliant minds discuss how artificial intelligence will, and can, replace traditional service.  Some principals suggest that the robo-advisor will be the only trusted advisor clients will ever need. Just point, click, done.

So what, if any, advantages do real-life financial advisors offer in today’s day and age?

Like any incumbent, financial advisors are successful for a number of reasons:

  • We’re coaches Consumers who receive financial advice cite this as the most important aspect of what financial advisors do.  From cash flow needs, to saving, to accumulating wealth, and navigating market volatility advisors help consumers stay-the-course or adjust as necessary based on the plan set out at the onset of their relationship. We bring context and focus when clients are bombarded with conflicting information and stories of doom from the media.
  • We’re educators – The financial universe is vast and complex.  There’s so much to understand beyond completing a risk profile questionnaire (something robots are good at).  Some studies suggest that while digital tools are helpful, the majority of clients, especially High-Net-Worth clients, want personal advice from a real-life advisor.  Understanding a client's savings and retirement goals, insurance needs, and estate and tax planning objectives (not to mention the plethora of product options) isn’t something that can be addressed by digital platforms today.
  • We’re humanThe reality is truly empathic robots will be a long time coming.  Humans have the ability to cognitively assess what others might be thinking and recognize emotional states.  No computer can do this.  Today, the ability to empathize is considered an important trait by those who deal with financial advisors - truly listening, making our clients feel understood, and demonstrating true care.

Always Be Human

The world is moving quickly.  Technology seems to be moving even faster. Despite this speed and advancement, there is one thing that no computer can emulate - being human. They can’t care about people when a loved one dies and they can’t offer a friend a shoulder to lean on.