The 'dinosaur' in the room

20 August 2019 - Elizabeth Nichols

The way financial and professional advisers and their clients communicate with each other is evolving – but we should embrace and not fear that change, says Corporate Services Partner Tim O’Connor.
“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders”; am I referring to millennials or the i-generation? The answer is neither, it is a quote attributed to Socrates around two and half thousand years ago.
It is the right of all of us getting greyer and grumpier to bemoan the young and how they don’t appreciate how lucky they are. However, from a workplace perspective we are seeing massive changes in the priorities and needs of firstly millennials and now centennials as they start work.  
We must not fall into the trap of thinking that the youth of today just doesn’t have the same work ethic, but there does seem to be a movement towards a more equal work life balance. The priorities are also shifting, with holidays, cars and technology perhaps being of greater importance than say home ownership. There is no element of judgement in this, it is only appropriate that different generations set their own agendas, the only cautionary note is that it is rarely possible to have it all.
If you combine this shift in attitudes with the ever approaching, supposed saviour of productivity, that is Artificial Intelligence (AI), then we may be facing a new industrial revolution.
Economically we have been baffled by the productivity puzzle since the global recession. Employment remains strong, but productivity does not grow accordingly. Many hypotheses have been considered around this disconnect, including the need to retain skills, even if not fully utilised, due to the difficulty in recruiting high-quality staff. The generational change in focus and work habits must also shoulder some of the blame.
Probably, as with all things in life, there is no simple answer and it is rather a combination of factors all having an impact. For many commentators the fix for this productivity gap will be driven by technology, and specifically AI.
I am told fairly frequently that before long a computer will be doing my job, and I smugly think to myself that no machine can possibly provide the service and personal advice that I do. I am certain that people will still value being able to unburden themselves to their professional advisers and want face-to-face meetings where you can read the body language and the nuance of conversation.
The reality is that if you, dear reader, are over forty, and you are reading print copy of this paper, then the above statement will be true for most of you. But for the next generations of clients and customers who network both socially and commercially very differently to me, the value of face-to-face is much diminished.
Within my team I am already seeing an increased reliance on email and a reluctance to pick up the phone and I predict that this will only increase. Whilst I get frustrated by this, I am also finding increasingly that my new, younger clients have the same attitude. They would much rather I communicated electronically, and they can choose to follow up with me if they need greater detail. Whilst they are clearly missing out on my charm and charisma, they know the service they want and my role is to deliver it.
As communications evolve, there will clearly be a level of professional service that can be provided by more sophisticated AI with matters of greater complexity or sensitivity then being referred to the human adviser. This will clearly reduce work, drive efficiencies and therefore economies. My concern with this however is the loss of the training and upskilling to generate the advisers of the future.
If we are to lose the trainee accountants, financial advisers and lawyers of the future to technology, then we are relying very heavily on AI to develop and take over the advisory and people role too. 
If technology takes those roles, what do the people do instead? Are we left with a workforce that is based largely around the service industry? There is nothing new in any of this, and we can glower at the computer in the same way that our 18th century counterparts glared at the Spinning Jenny, but “progress” is inevitable.
This brings us neatly back to the current generational changes and the fact that we have a diverse potential client base in both age and service requirement and it is important that we do not ignore any of them. Whilst technology must be embraced rather than feared, there are still a very large number of businesses and business owners who want to be able to sit and talk to a human.
There is still a place for the trusted adviser and some of what we do cannot necessarily be replaced by AI: yet. We must however be open to making sure we provide advice in a format that our clients want, not just what we have always done. 

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