Robo-advice is a powerful complement to face-to-face financial advice in the digital age

Harness robo-advice by combining it with your personal reach as a financial adviser, and embrace the change enabled by the tech revolution. This is how futurist Chris Riddell interprets the emergence of online financial advice platforms that are gaining popularity with Australian investors. He says it's best for advisers to be excited by the potential of robo-advice, arm themselves with skills and knowledge and help clients build ever-better portfolios using these additional resources. "It's not about technology, social media, mobile or disruption," he says. "It's about having a mindset that's absolutely open to change… Customers' lives are being disrupted, too, and you have an opportunity to be a part of that journey with them."

Melbourne-based Riddell, 34, insists that development of data-capture and analytics as it relates to the financial services industry is a giant opportunity to offer more tailored advice to all clients. When it comes to personal advice for individuals, he explains, "Robo-advice will collect data for the financial planner. Then it will offer recommendations… So when the financial planner has a conversation with their client, imagine how much more valuable that hour will be." He's excited by the potential for robo-advice to "bring tailored, personalised advice into the 21st century, and into the world of 'real time'."

There's also scope to expand relationships through face-to-face time with clients who may feel overwhelmed by technology that's moving at lightning speed, he says. "As you continue to develop a relationship with your client and this data is collected, it builds a great profile on that client and allows the financial planner to give more tailored advice." This is where Riddell sees a significant opportunity for financial advisers moving forward. Though technology is providing unprecedented links between data sources, Riddell says, "the last mile in the relationship is always going to be done by human beings."

Chris Riddell has called himself a futurist for only the last couple of years, but his professional interests have always led him in this direction. "[Futurist] was definitely not a career option in high school," he laughs. Born in Britain, his professional life had its origins in IT. "I've always worked for businesses and companies on the bleeding edge of creating new products and technology," he says.

"People kept asking me over time for insights into what the next big thing was. I'd been doing that for years anyway [in technology]," he says, but "I was more excited about doing it across disciplines."

Riddell offers projections on everything from the future of travel and transport to fashion, as well as the impact of robots on ordinary lives. But has he ever called a trend and got it wrong, or missed something vital?

His greatest disconnect, Riddell admits, has been in acknowledging the differing adoption rates of technology across the world. "Our mobile infrastructure in Australia is blazingly good," he says. "What that means is that businesses are innovating in mobile in Australia in different ways from other parts of the world… I assumed the world was on the same journey and that the challenges we faced in digital were all the same." But as it turns out, that's not case. "Mobile banking [in Australia] is light years ahead of most other places. There's a level of sophistication that we have here when it comes to mobile. Small businesses can connect to their customers through their mobiles." In a country with 140 per cent mobile penetration, mobile is the future here and, Riddell believes, for the world as well. But adoption rates are slower elsewhere and the way we use technology differs too. "In Asia they're social addicts," he explains. "Social media is a much deeper thing than it is for us. And they're quite happy to blend their personal and professional lives on social media in a way that Australians are not." The one big thing Riddell missed was the different relationship with, and opportunities accessed by, mobile technologies across the world.

However, Riddell sees this revolution in mobile technology as nothing short of a dazzling opportunity and his positivity about the tech direction we're facing is contagious. "Technology used to be something special. It was reserved for nerds and people with lots of money," he says. "Now, a 10-year-old might have more technology in their hands than that space shuttle that first went to outer space… It's a seismic technology shift that's happened within one generation, or perhaps a generation and a half. That's mind-blowing."

According to Riddell, the slice and dice of tailored financial advice facilitated by intuitive technologies is an unprecedented chance for the financial services industry to achieve deeper relationships between adviser and client. Using the example of email communications with older clients, Riddell explains, "Older generations of Australians also have access to email. Now there's the opportunity to personalise content to a greater degree, but to do it in an automated style. You don't need to write out every email but can still deliver personalised content that's relevant and targeted." There's no excuse for not personalising content these days, he adds, and now it's possible to do so en-masse. "It's about blending the online (digital) with offline (face-to-face) interaction," he says. "With an older client, you might have a bit more face-to-face time. But you can use the technology yourself and blend it [into personal interaction] for your client."

Chris Riddell has crafted a career path observing current digital trends across the world and placing them in the context of what has gone before. He's excited by the future potential of this digital reach. "It's not all doom and gloom," he insists. "Times have never been so exciting and I think the next 10 years will show us that the opportunities are huge." For financial advisers, combining their considerable interpersonal skills with the benefits of what technology can deliver to us in real time, Riddell is confident of a robust future, both for advisers and those whose decisions they guide.

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