The advice process has not changed in 30 or 40 years while the traditional first client-adviser meeting is "akin to a hostage scenario", according to Nationwide head of digital advice Chris Williams.
Speaking at a roundtable of industry professionals in London, hosted by eValue, Williams explained that, having been an adviser himself for two decades, it was a humbling experience when he saw how the general public took to the advice process.
"I spent 20 years of my life advising clients thinking it was a positive experience and the feedback we got was that customers just hate it," he said. "It's really dull, really boring - they don't derive any real benefit from it. It's a chore [for them].
"We're not giving people access to the right, simple, straightforward solutions they need. Whether that be the auto-enrolment or robo-advice or whatever, we're just not being efficient enough in the way we're doing things. The advice process itself has not really changed in 30 or 40 years."
According to Williams - the leader of Nationwide's robo-advice development - it is a "chastening experience" listening to people who do not value what advisers have to offer. Advisers and managers, he said, are blinded by the minority who appreciate the current advice process but the "vast majority" do not derive real value from it.
Having explained his issues with the advice process, Williams went on to say robo-advice should exist primarily to improve efficiencies for advisers and customers rather than as a way to replace advisers.
In common with many involved in creating digitally enhanced propositions, Williams believes robo-advice should be complementary to the advice process, not the be all and end all solution in catering to the mass market.
Complicated issues such as defined benefit (DB) to defined contribution (DC) transfers, he said, should be referred to an adviser with expertise in the area. In his view, however, simple client needs should be catered to by a digital solution with the aim of maximising efficiency for both adviser and client and driving down costs.
"It's very difficult to see how you could do that [DB to DC transfer] in a stand-alone digital journey," Williams said. "The power of robo in terms of changing your business model comes from the '80-20' rule. The majority of customer needs are pretty straight forward and pretty simple.
"You should be looking to serve [clients] in the least possible time, not the most, so you are putting the straightforward cases - advice, guidance, whatever you want to call it - and trying to serve them as quickly as you possibly can."
Sharing his views on robo-advice, eValue strategy director Bruce Moss told the roundtable it would take at least five years to have the significant impact it is capable of. eValue launched its own robo-advice platform in May for both advisers and consumers.
Moss argued that, although digital propositions are arriving thick and fast, it will take time for robo-advice to stamp its authority on the market.
"It is going to be at least a five-year development programme in terms of people trying things, learning from what they do, refining and getting the confidence to go forward and build," Moss said. "We're not going to see robo-advice in any meaningful way overnight," he added. "It's a slow burner."
What advice gap?
As well as criticising the traditional advice process, Nationwide's Williams argued the ‘advice gap' does not really exist, as the idea implies there is an imbalance in the ratio of advisers to consumers wanting advice.
He did suggest, however, there are many other ‘gaps' the industry should be concerned about, rather than focusing on investments.
"In terms of the advice gap, I'm not actually sure we've got one," he said. "I don't think there's an advice gap in the UK - I genuinely don't think people are going out there looking for advisers.
"What we've got is a huge savings gap - a massive savings gap. People are not saving nearly enough in any shape or form and we've got a huge protection gap, which hardly ever gets mentioned because, as an industry, we're always obsessed around investments and portfolios and those types of things."
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