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Robots at your beck and call

The hype about autonomous systems serving people in a variety of ways doesn't quite extend to personal finance

Robots at your beck and call

A couple of days back, I read a most interesting article called Silicon Valley-driven Hype for Self-driving Cars on the New York Times website. The article argues--quite convincingly I thought--that completely autonomous self-driving cars will be a long time coming and their imminent arrival is just a lot of competitive hype. Assisting drivers with 'auto-pilots' is one thing, but not needing a driver at all is something very different. Google is the only one who is trying for the latter, and it has recently pushed the target date from the end of this decade to 30 years away. In this context, 30 years sounds like a way of saying 'We have no clue and it could be never'.

In the last couple of years, there has been a lot of talk about a many types of jobs being eventually taken over by autonomous intelligent system. From drivers to agricultural labour to surgeons to legal workers and perhaps even cricket umpires, are on their way to being replaced by automated systems. The future will be robo-everything. Perhaps it will.

However, one robo-something that is already upon us is robo-financial-advisors. In the US, there are already billions of dollars of assets being managed by systems that take inputs from investors, figure out an investment portfolio and then manage it. So are financial advisors on their way to be 'robo'ed'? In India too, there are a large number of financial distribution companies that are in the process of being set up which claim to be robo-advisors. Some older, existing financial distribution setups have also declared themselves to be robotic in nature, something that their customers may already have suspected.

Which is all very good. However, the only problem is that a lot of financial advice-giving is about managing investors' psychology, whether in a good way or a bad way. People have different kinds of needs, hopes, doubts and fears. You can either provide a solution or you can exploit these. Either way, it's hard to do it with an algorithm.