Adviser vs. machine: Your practice in Jeopardy!

By Daniel Williams


Is anyone else watching "Jeopardy!" this week, where past superstar humanoid contestants pit their knowledge against Watson, an IBM-programmed supercomputer?

It’s been a fascinating battle of wills, as Ken Jennings, who won 74 consecutive contests against other carbon-based life forms in 2004-2005, earning more than $2.5 million, is now trading trivia with a glowing orb. Is anyone else reminded of the creepy HAL from "2001: A Space Odyssey"?

I know I am. At any moment I expect HAL, er Watson, to say: “Look (Ken), I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill and think things over.”

In viewing the show, I can’t help but make the leap in train of thought to advisors versus machines. I know you’re all confident in your abilities to close the deal, but is there a supercomputer that could outsell you?

Think about a Watson-type computer advising clients. Speaking in a Ben Stein-like voice the machine says: “Mrs. Johnson, my calculations show you will receive exactly 7.2341 percent on your investment tax free. How does that make you feel, Mrs. Johnson? Good. I am glad to hear that pleases you. Excuse me, Mrs. Johnson, I have a fax coming in. Sorry for the delay. Now, Mrs. Johnson, if you will please use the stylus to write your name on my display screen. Thank you, Mrs. Johnson. Very nice doing business with you.”

OK, so the computer misses out on the human connection. But how many of you already rely heavily on computers to perform direct mail queries and mailings? How about to organize your client database? How far do you go in allowing a machine to handle your communications, your schedule?

This doesn’t have to be an adversarial relationship. Think about it this way: What if you worked in conjunction with a supercomputer? You take all of the relevant financial information of your client – their assets, debts, goals, etc. You then feed the data into a computer, which then analyzes the scenario and plays it against all potential products in the greater product pool to come up with the perfect investment strategy. Voilà! Client happy; adviser happy.

There’s a way to use technology to better your practice while at the same time making sure to keep the human connection with your clients. After all, remember the fateful words HAL says to Dave the astronaut when there’s a problem onboard the 2001 space station: “It can only be attributable to human error.”