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How to Keep Robots From Taking Your Job: Clara Shih

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In the near future, could millions of jobs be replaced by technology?

It’s definitely possible, says Clara Shih, Hearsay Social CEO and founder.

During a recent lunch with media in New York, Shih talked about how self-driving cars are already a reality and will replace human drivers in a matter of time.

And the same could be true for many other people and jobs, including financial advisors.

According to a report from The Economist on the future of employment, the probability that robots will take someone’s job in the next 20 years is high for jobs like telemarketers, accountants and auditors, retail salespeople, technical writers, and real estate sales agents.

“It sounds so doomsday but it’s actual data,” Shih said.

A Harvard Business Review report called The Great Decoupling looked at data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and found that until the 1980s, labor productivity, real GDP per capita, private employment and median family income all rose in tandem in the U.S. First the median income started to trail, and then around 2000 job growth slowed.

“Starting 10 years ago, right around the dot-com boom and right around when predictive analytics and big data became a possibility – it started to trend the other way,” Shih said.

Whereas in the past new technology meant new jobs, Shih says this and other data suggests that it’s now costing jobs.

“Technology isn’t creating net new jobs, they’re actually replacing a lot of jobs – like factory workers and, over the next decade, people that drive and traditional salespeople,” she said. “This is actually a really big problem – not just in financial services. It’s a social problem. What happens when X percentage of our population is unemployed or unemployable?”

The jobs that are particularly threatened, according to Shih, are jobs that tend to be transactional — jobs like salespeople, sales agents and marketers.

“These are all industries where it just doesn’t make sense to have a person doing it,” she said. “It’s a) more costly and b) less convenient.”

Shih used booking a flight as an example.

“Buying Seat 3B in United flight 111 – it’s the same seat and same flight whether I buy it on Travelocity or whether I pay extra to buy it from a travel agent,” Shih said. “Most of us will just go to Travelocity or Kayak or whatever.”

The jobs that are “very safe” from the threat of technology are those that use creativity and those that relate to other human beings, Shih said. These are jobs like athletic trainers, clergy and therapists.

“Financial advice, religious advice, getting motivated to work out, those are things that – for now – computers can’t do,” she said.

For financial advisors, the biggest technology threat is robo-advisors. Platforms like SigFig, LearnVest, Betterment and Wealthfront, which Shih called “great tools for consumers.”

“If you’re a traditional advisor, just basically offering the same level of services but charging way more, you’re just not going to be able to get away with that anymore,” Shih said.  “The question becomes: Are advisors going to go away? Well the advisors who don’t add more value, they are and they should go away.”

Whereas, Shih said, the advisors who can leverage these technologies will better position themselves.

There is a role for advisors, Shih said, especially when it comes to things like planning for the future, planning for retirement and sending a child to college.

“Those are highly emotional decisions that trusted experts can potentially add value to guide people through,” Shih said.

That’s why Shih is calling now “the age of the trusted advisor.”

“If you are, in most professions, a trusted expert in your field, if you are a trusted coach and you have empathy and you are a trusted advisor whether you are a financial advisor or different type of advisor – then not only is your job safe but you’ll be able to charge more because that’s what people value.”

Shih, a ThinkAdvisor contributor, considers someone a trusted expert or advisor if that person is able to be “high touch at scale.”

“They’re able to provide the extra level of service but instead of just for a few number of people, they’re able to use technology to do that for a lot of people because they’re no longer wasting time, cold calling and doing other activities.”

She said what makes these trusted advisors successful is that they are personalized — but also personable.

“There’s a premium on people who know how to build relationships and who excel at the emotional component,” Shih said. “Frankly, people crave that. That’s what’s missing from a lot of people’s lives … people crave what the digital age has robbed from them.”

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