Personal Finance

Consumers think financial planning is hard. Technology could change all that

Key Points
  • Many consumers think financial planning is as difficult as training for a marathon.
  • Investors and financial firms alike are aiming to take the pain out of planning by using technology.
  • While most people — from millennials to baby boomers — are open to these innnovations, many still want human guidance for their most complex problems.
Technology and savings
Technology and savings

Americans often think financial planning is as difficult as training for a marathon. And many are hoping that new innovations in technology can help take the pain out investing their money.

The good news is that managing money will likely look a lot different in the future, thanks to technology.

That's according to a new survey released by financial services firm Charles Schwab this week.

More individuals say they favor tech to help manage their money than would use it to have their food delivered, find a date, diagnose a health issue or drive a car, according to the survey results.

And many financial firms are working to help make it possible with just a touch on your mobile device. Consumers are responding. A number are already turning to their smartphones and tablets instead of visiting bank branches.

Yet when it comes to their overall financial plan, many still want that human touch.

Eighty-six percent of the 1,000 individuals surveyed said they still want to be able to interact with a person, and 43 percent said they prefer human help over automation for even routine daily financial tasks.

"Money is highly emotional," Walt Bettinger, president and CEO of Charles Schwab, said in an interview this week. "When you talk about emotion, it's important to have someone to be able to be there, ask questions, build trust.

"Digital efforts, technology will be important, but it's never going to make the people side of money go away."

Many financial firms, including Schwab, have launched so-called robo-advisor services, which rely on algorithms to create financial plans. Schwab's robo includes a combination of automated and human advice.

Innovations ahead

While there are many innovations that could impact the way consumers manage their money, most of the investors surveyed expect robo-advisors to have the biggest impact.

Other developments they said will impact their financial futures include cryptocurrencies, artificial intelligence, big data and virtual reality, in that order, according to survey respondents.

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Americans foresee using robo-advisors more than any other technology in their daily lives, the survey found.

Even then, 70 percent of those who prefer robo-advice still want to be able to get human help when they face more difficult situations.

Generational differences

It may come as no surprise that millennials — who are in their 20s and 30s — prefer using technology for money management.

But 82 percent of members of that generation prefer to work with brands that make it possible for them to talk to a person, the survey found.

That is in keeping with other recent research from Fidelity Investments, which found that most millennials are making financial planning a priority, particularly when it comes to balancing rewarding themselves now with saving for the future.

Charles Schwab's Bettinger: Clients are moving into fixed income
Charles Schwab's Bettinger: Clients are moving into fixed income

At the same time, 43 percent of baby boomers prefer technology over people for help with solving their financial problems, according to Schwab's survey.

Whichever way you choose to manage your money, the best approach is a proactive one.

"The easier that we can make it, the more that people will engage," Schwab's Bettinger said this week. "Ultimately, that's a good thing, because people need to engage with their money to make better decisions."

Schwab's online survey included 1,000 adults over 18. It was conducted in July and had a margin of error of 3.1 percent.

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