For many, relying on GPS is a given—gone are the days of keeping an atlas in the car or printing out turn-by-turn directions—and we often unwittingly obey whatever directional commands we’re given. A GPS will not question the destination you enter; it will simply tell you how to get there. While a higher-end model may allow you to customize the route to help you get there faster, avoid paying tolls, or put the lowest mileage on your car, GPS is designed with the sole purpose of getting you from point A to point B.
In theory, a financial advisor functions much like a GPS, tasked with providing step-by-step guidance to help the client reach an end goal and rerouting them with another option when an obstacle gets in the way. The fundamental difference here is that a financial advisor doesn’t just take the information and start navigation. A financial advisor—a human one—offers a feature more powerful than projected arrival time: interaction.
When choosing a GPS, you can personalize it to a certain extent by choosing the color scheme, setting its voice in a foreign language or accent, or even selecting a celebrity to give you directional commands, but the GPS won’t evolve. As new software, updates, and sleeker models are released, or as new roads open or traffic patterns shift, an existing GPS might remain stagnant. By contrast, when selecting an advisor, you can take the time to find the right fit for you and your financial goals. You can talk through your destinations (retirement or other major financial goals), and you can ask your advisor about the latest trends and groundbreaking options in the industry, learning new advancements along with them.
Another important difference between an advisor and GPS is the ability to ask the question, “why?” A GPS isn’t going to ask you why you want to make it to a certain destination or present you with other, possibly better suited, options for you. Meanwhile, an advisor, who should know your short- and long-term goals, your particular anxieties, and your general background, can both support and challenge your decisions. They are able to question movements that do not align with your plan, and they can engage you in a discussion to understand if you are making decisions based upon emotions, stress, or other external factors. Serving as that sounding board is crucial to the advisor-client relationship, while a GPS’ conversation is limited to stock, robotic navigational words.
GPS also lacks the adaptability that a financial advisor should have. If a GPS cannot find the address or destination you enter, it shows an error message or offers up other, sometimes unrelated, nearby options. If there is an unexpected accident or road closure along your route, the GPS will re-route you, but won’t ask if these unpredicted events and altered trip duration have changed your mind on your end destination. By contrast, even if your goals are unique from the “typical” client, your advisor will take the time to think through all of your options and present a comprehensive, personalized plan for you to consider. In addition, an advisor can work with you as you experience life events that may cause you to rethink what you’re saving for, and they can continually check in and perform audits of your progress and priorities. Unlike a GPS, your advisor won’t say, “Error...Retirement goal not found.”
The key difference between a GPS and an advisor is that an advisor wants to know why you want to go where you’re going, while a GPS just takes you to the address you program into it. With all of the talk about robo-advisors in the financial services industry, it’s important to be reminded of the personal, friendly touch that you just can’t get from a GPS, or a robot.
Picture this: you get into your car to meet a friend at a restaurant you haven’t been to before. You plug the address into your navigational system, and instead of finding directions for you, your GPS says, “Why are you going to this restaurant? I thought you were trying to eat out less in order to be healthy, and I can assure you this restaurant is not a healthy choice.” Besides being flabbergasted that you may have the first robotic device that has self-actualized, being reminded of your health goals might make you think twice about your restaurant choice. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone who holds you accountable for all of your goals and points out the choices you make that bring you closer or further away from realizing them? From a financial standpoint, you do: the (human) financial advisor.