From Human to Robo-Advisers (and Back Again)

Machines are meant to take most every job away from humans, or so the common sentiment (and frequent media buzz) declares. In financial services, this trend is nothing new; decades ago, the advent of the automated teller machine was supposed to herald the demise of the bank branch.

More recently, the rise of tech innovation has caused something of an existential crisis in the financial advisory space, with new digital tools changing the traditional adviser/client relationship. The rise of the robo-advisers meant that for many retail investors — specifically low-to-medium-dollar investors -— interaction with a human wasn’t needed. An algorithm that knows some basic info about your investing risk threshold and goals could do the job for you. Just set it and forget it, to borrow a phrase.

Well, it seems the tide may be shifting back again — or at least halfway back. Bank of America Merrill Lynch announced this week it will soon be adding human advisers to its digital advice platform, Merrill Guided Investing. The advisers will “fill a service gap between the firm's purely digital, self-directed robo-adviser and the full-service advisers of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management,” according to InvestmentNews. While technology and automated services will no doubt continue to play a critical role in the delivery of financial services, perhaps we will reach a pleasant middle ground where robots and humans exist happily side by side.