Digital advisors are viewed as a positive industry trend by nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of broker-dealer and registered investment advisory firm executives.
However, those polled at Fidelity's annual Executive Forum event shared reservations and greater confusion about advice options and increased regulatory scrutiny. Only 13 percent said they felt they were well informed about the differences in the digital advice options available in the marketplace today.
“That is why a lot of our activity in this space has been centered around education,” said Michael Durbin, president of Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services. “We make sure we are on top of this dynamically changing marketplace, and that we in turn can educate our advisor clients on how they should be thinking about the different models out there, the way in which new technologies are being deployed, and what the impact might be on their existing practices.”
These online platforms provide financial advice or low-cost investment management services for clients, says Fidelity.
According to those polled, many are already incorporating some of the digital advisor practices and solutions into their businesses. Fifty-two percent are using technology to drive collaboration, 46 percent are using lower cost investments in portfolios, 22 percent are offering do-it-yourself tools for goal planning and asset allocation and 20 percent are lowering minimum asset levels.
However, 54 percent of the executives polled felt digital advisors cannot replace the human element of advice. And according to Fidelity, 66 percent of mass affluent investors prefer a face-to-face relationship with an advisor. This presents an opportunity to blend the best practices of the digital advice model with human interaction.
“Imagine the impact digital advisors will have if firms are able to reinforce the value of the human element with the technological solutions these models offer,” said Durbin. “This is an interesting win-win; it allows advisor practices to expand their client base and it also allows a broader set of consumers to get advice, which we think is a good outcome.”
Fidelity did not define "mass affluent" for the purpose of this study, but generally speaking it means investors with under $1 million of investable assets, said Durbin.
Fidelity Institutional polled 92 clients at the company’s annual Executive Forum client event in May.