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Are Advisors Toast if Google, Apple or Amazon Join Robo-Advisor Race?

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Could it be only a matter of time until Google, Apple or Amazon enter the robo-advisor space?

Steven Miyao, president of the research and consulting firm DST kasina, “definitely” thinks so.

“The biggest concern that the industry has is that Google or Apple decides to come into the financial services business,” Miyao told ThinkAdvisor. “They have the technology to do it. They have the relationship with the individual investor. They have to-date decided not to do that for multiple reasons, but that’s really the biggest fear for them to come in and say, ‘We’ll start a broker-dealer. We’ll start a robo-advisor.’”

Alongside Google and Apple, Miyao also considers Amazon a major threat. He envisions Amazon saying, “Everybody who is on Amazon Prime, we have a robo-advisor. And for the [$99] that you’re paying for Amazon Prime, you get it for free!”

But, is this a real possibility?

“I think [Google, Apple and Amazon] are definitely looking at those businesses and seeing the profitability of those businesses,” he told ThinkAdvisor. “I’d be surprised if they wouldn’t.”

During a recent visit to ThinkAdvisor’s office, Miyao discussed several technology innovation trends that he thinks could disrupt the financial services industry.

Miyao, who is a trusted advisor to some of the world’s leading asset management companies, formed his company kasina (acquired by DST in 2015) with the premise to help innovate the investment services industry because “we always felt that there was a lot of space for innovation.”

“This is a very, very slow-moving industry,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve thought, ‘Why is that?’ It attracts a sort of a very conservative bunch of people because you’re managing money and so you try to be very deliberate about that and so … it makes people not very innovative.”

Because the industry is so slow-reacting to innovation, it opens up opportunities for other people – like Google or Apple – to come in, Miyao said.

“We look at other industries where that has happened. You look at Blockbuster. They knew that there was Netflix. They knew that people were going to watch movies digitally,” he said. “They knew that that was happening and they could not get themselves to change. And they went bankrupt. There’s no more Blockbusters, nobody goes to rent a video in a store. That has just transitioned, that’s changed.”

Barnes and Nobles also had a similar experience, Miyao noted.

Despite these trends that are “very apparent,” people don’t react to them because of short-term results.

So, what the established players in the financial services industry are going to have to figure out is how they can make investing and financial advice a lot easier, according to Miyao.

“Investors don’t really want to invest. They do it because they have to, but nobody on the weekend is like, ‘Oh I’m going to sit inside and I’m going to research my investments and not play with my kids,’” He said. “That’s the reason why you have a financial advisor.”

But, as Miyao sees it, that financial advisior doesn’t necessarily need to be a human. And, in the future, it mostly will be a computer for the majority of Americans.

“I don’t think people really want to have a human [advisor],” he said. “Maybe the older generation does but I think anybody after the baby boomers doesn’t really care who it is. They just want to make sure it’s taken care of. If you can automate that process, then that’s great.”

According to Miyao, 90% of Americans’ financial lives are most likely “very simple.”

“They have one or two incomes. They want to retire at a certain age and they want to send their kids to college,” he said. “There’s not that many different things to do: You get a 529 plan and you get a retirement plan and you put a certain amount of money in there and you give your risk tolerance for that. You think a computer can figure that out? I think so. I don’t think you need a human to figure that out.”

Miyao then imagined what the future of the robo-advisor could be like.

“In the future … you essentially will authorize the computer to get access to all of your accounts,” Miyao said. “And then the machine – it will be called ‘Alexis’ or ‘Siri’ or whoever – will pull all of that information in and then say, ‘You’re total net worth is this. What are your plans for the future? You have two kids and they’re going to go to college. You don’t have a 529 plan. You should really have a 529 plan. You should be doing an automatic monthly deposit, do you want me to set that up for you?’”

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