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The Case for More ‘Human-Centric' Technology

Technology needs to become more human.

As wealth management firms increasingly use digital tools to reach and serve investors, they’re also honing in on clients’ personal values, attitudes and goals for building a long-term nest egg. The missing piece in those two trajectories, according to a senior J.P. Morgan executive: not deploying technology in a more people-centric way.

Kelli Keough, the managing director and head of product at J.P. Morgan Wealth Management, told Financial Planning’s recent INVEST conference that the industry has created something of a false dichotomy. By drawing a stark line between automated investing tools and in-person guidance from human advisors, firms are missing an opportunity to use digital tools in a more human and meaningful way.

“We talk about digitization, but we have done ourselves a disservice by setting the two in contradiction with each other,” said Keough, who holds a doctoral degree in social psychology from Stanford University. “The reality is if we do technology well, first of all, what it does is it helps more people engage in financial services.”

Blending technology and in-person advice is a big bet for giant wealth managers. When Swiss bank UBS paid $1.4 billion for online advisor Wealthfront last January, it said it would create a new service that combines automated advice with access to human advisors.

J.P. Morgan launched its own robo advisor platform in 2019, charging an annual advisory fee of 0.35%. The firm also acquired one of the largest British robo advisors, Nutmeg, in June 2021 as part of its expansion into the U.K.

Keough, who spoke with Nicole Casperson, the founder of the WTFintech? newsletter, at the panel on June 17, cited two examples of how technology can take a more “people-centric” approach. Because research shows that women “are more comfortable starting to invest on their own digitally using technology” before working with a human advisor, she said, humanizing those tools can boost an advisor’s business. As for software that uses a client’s personal data to generate bespoke insights, recommendations and products for building an investment portfolio, it’s also a gateway to the human touch. 

“Personalization is about making technology for you, aligning with you, your goals, your needs and then bringing insights that are specific to you,” Keough said.

Asked how the industry could adopt a more humanized approach as it increasingly relies on automated tools to generate advice and recommend investments, Keough said advisors should flip the process.

“As opposed to starting with the product first,” they should start by digging into an investor’s “holistic needs” for home buying, paying for college and retirement. Then, products can be aligned with those discussions of goals and values.

“Let’s start with your human values and then let that flow through, and then hold us accountable for how well your portfolio is actually aligning with your values,” she said.

Wealth management can also put people before algorithms by fostering more diversity in their ranks.

“One of the things that we know that women and diverse folks look for, for many of us — all of us, often — is we look for somebody like us,” Keough said. “And so as firms, it’s critical that we broaden our workforce so that any of us can find somebody that we feel comfortable with in working on our finances.”

Keough was previously J.P. Morgan’s global head of digital wealth management and oversaw the launch of the Wall Street bank’s digital investing platforms. Ultimately, she said, all advisors should be “people who are empathetic, well trained, understand individuals, listen to them, take into account their goals, their values, long before products.”

Originally published by Financial Planning on June 29, 2022.