Paige Swartzendruber has literally grown up in the wealth management space and continues her father’s legacy, working alongside him as both a financial advisor at Family First Financial Strategies and an executive at Berthel Fisher Companies, a Cedar Rapids, Iowa-based diversified financial services firm.
Over the course of her career, she has had a front row seat to the trends and technologies that have impacted the industry’s evolving ecosystem in ways large and small: robo-advisors, the growing presence of private equity, the rise of RIA aggregators, increasing regulatory burdens, pandemic-related market volatility, cryptocurrencies and others. And now generative AI is taking center stage as disruptor du jour.
DWN sat down with Swartzendruber recently to delve into her perspectives on how AI may transform the different entities in the wealth management space and affect the people who work within them.
DWN: Do you see AI replacing the traditional Home Office service and support teams?
Swartzendruber: Like any innovation, AI will shake things up a bit. We may see some displacement – To my mind, this will be a de minimis amount in the near term.
For all of its capabilities, AI cannot replicate what I believe is the core element of every business relationship: True connection. In wealth management, we’re all in the relationship business. The bonds that are formed over time are foundational and integral. They can’t be replicated by a machine.
So, I’m not anticipating a large-scale shift, at least for the foreseeable future, in the client-facing arena. A chatbot isn’t going to get the job done when you’ve got an anxious or upset person on the end of the phone line or waiting in your lobby. They want to talk to another human.
Firms that decide to get a little too “innovative” for their own good will soon find that relying on AI to replace the empathy, intuition and rapport of a human is bad for their bottom line.
DWN: If AI doesn’t change financial-advisor-facing support, in what areas do you see it having the most impact?
Swartzendruber: There’s no doubt AI brings unprecedented efficiencies to tasks that involve analytics: large-scale data processing, research, data assimilation and anomaly/pattern detection. We’re seeing usage in marketing, risk management, customer service, regulatory compliance and other areas, as well.
In many ways, we’re in uncharted waters. As such, this is a situation that concerns many of us, including SEC Chairman Gensler, who has said AI is a regulatory priority for his organization.
There’s great potential surrounding AI, but there are legitimate concerns, too. AI is not going away. Nor is it going to render humans obsolete in business, particularly in people-centric industries such as wealth management. That said, it’s up to our industry as a whole to monitor the impact of AI, deploy it effectively and ensure it remains a tool we leverage, and not a destination in itself.
DWN: Long-term, over the next five-to-10 years, do you believe AI will change the competitive dynamics between large scale-driven wealth management firms and smaller, boutique firms?
Swartzendruber: Absolutely. I see AI as having the potential to be the great equalizer. Firms that lack the resources to compete on many fronts with their larger counterparts will be in a position to delegate time-consuming, labor-intensive functions to AI technology.
This frees up such firms to dedicate time, resources and energy toward what they do best: Developing and maintaining meaningful relationships, delivering personalized support and building lasting connections. The back- and middle-office efficiencies created by AI will level the playing field in a transformative way.
Smaller, boutique firms like Berthel Fisher, that have built their reputation and client base on personalized connection and customized service, will have an advantage. The dynamic is already in place. AI can’t help the big-box firms in that area.
AI creates efficiencies but, more importantly, it creates opportunity. That adage, “there’s only 24 hours in a day,” takes on new meaning when what used to take an advisor three hours to complete now takes three seconds … the opportunity lies in using that new-found time wisely, to serve clients better.