Robo-advisors are hardly the predatory new agents of disruption that some have depicted them to be, Folio FN CEO and former SEC commissioner Steve Wallman told advisors at an Asset Managers Showcase event in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., sponsored by Financial Advisor.

After all, they have been around for two decades, Wallman said. Some advisors can remember back in 1994, when Nobel laureate William Sharpe started Financial Engines, an early robo-advice platform that struggled at first but eventually found a strong appetite for its services in the 401(k) market. Fewer remember NetFolio, a robo-firm launched in 2000 that folded in 2003.

Wallman also raised the possibility of a real game changer that could threaten both advisors and their robo-rivals alike. “What if Google came into [the business]?” Wallman asked.

In fact, several mutual fund companies report that they have been contacted by Google executives and questioned about the fees they pay to market their funds on custodian platforms. For decades, fund companies have chafed at the fees, often as high as 40 basis points, that custodians have charged. Were Google to decide to compete with custodians, robo-advisors and other financial services providers, it could upend the industry.

“Technology is overestimated in the short term and underestimated in the long term,” Wallman said. Advisors should expect robo-advisors to keep improving their services in areas like tax-loss harvesting and financial planning.

At the same time, the future for the current generation of these robo-firms remains uncertain, and much of the quarter billion or so of venture capital they have attracted may be squandered. Custodians and fund complexes like Schwab, Fidelity and Vanguard are ramping up their own automated platforms, squeezing the margins of the numerous smaller players in the business.

Regulators are likely to view robo-advisors favorably, Wallman said, because they offer consistent solutions. Moreover, “they don’t have a bad day, they don’t steal or break custody rules.”

In theory, these new entrants’ entire value proposition centers on offering services more efficiently at a lower cost, but questions arise when clients’ issues grow more complex. When it comes to advanced problems in areas like retirement or estate planning, Wallman expects the different technology providers to offer different levels of services and price it accordingly.

But technology has a downside, too. E-commerce has encountered wave after wave of cyber-security problems. Wallman noted that in several recent high-profile cases, including those at JP Morgan and retailer Target in which sensitive data was stolen, the cyber-security thieves have been vendors and temps. “The SEC expects [advisors] to have a whole framework to identify, protect, locate and recover stolen passwords,” Wallman warned attendees.

Yet Wallman himself chided regulators for their belated response to cyber-crime. While the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have historically been quick to trace cases of bank robbery and other financial crimes, they initially treated cyber-theft as mostly the victims’ problem. And that has allowed it to grow.