listen. innovation

Being More Human

Rebecca Fender | CFA Institute

July 11,2017

In a world that continually faces disruption from technology, the only way humans can compete with machines is to double-down on our humanity.

As the CFA Institute stated in our April 2017 report1, "Future State of the Investment Profession," "In a world where the cost of information discovery races to almost zero, the speed of parsing this data also increases far beyond human capability. Enter machine intelligence." While the option of having computer programs handle some of the more tedious, time consuming or complex work of the financial services industry is good for business, where does that leave the people? How can professionals compete with not just each other, but with the machines?

Believe it or not, developing better financial skills is not the answer. While these skills will of course continue to be valuable to succeed in the business, we found that the need for soft skills, like creative intelligence and influencing skills, is increasing across the industry. The ability of investment leaders to articulate a compelling vision for the future, and to build relationships and instill a culture of ethical decision-making is crucial for the future. In order to find our place in the world of artificial intelligence, we need to invest in our emotional intelligence. We need to become better at leveraging our human capabilities.

Investment firms will need to reinvent themselves to meet the needs of new generations who may be more likely to seek or trust a product from the likes of Google or Apple, rather than an established financial institution.

Technology can do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of identifying what to invest in, how much to invest and help clients move their money around. However, new technological innovation does not preclude a need for personalized guidance on a portfolio or human understanding when discussing life goals. We often don’t know our own biases or what factors really drive the decisions we make. Inner awareness of what motivates us and how that motivation may not be the right motivation is imperative to long-term success. This was evident in the research we conducted with the State Street Center for Applied Research in Discovering Phi: Motivation as the Hidden Variable of Performance2.

Technology is needed to serve the human elements but it cannot replace them.

For some time the CFA Institute has been challenging the industry to see that current business models are not geared enough towards the needs of investors or their investment outcomes, and our recent survey of investment leaders show that they agree. Too often, firms are geared towards profit (a powerful motivation to be sure) and, in some cases, collecting commissions on products that people shouldn’t be selling in the first place. We must move beyond a basic industry and take on characteristics of a profession. An industry produces things that are of value to the consumer while a profession is more about developing an ongoing relationship; it combines value with trust.

In order to build that trust, I believe that we need to reconnect finance with its true purpose. Finance is a means to an end. As we say in the report,

The fundamental purpose of finance is to contribute to society through increases in societal wealth and well-being…Too often the business side is put ahead of the client side, and finance then becomes an end in its own right rather than a facilitator of economic activity.

With an increased focus on soft skills and emotional intelligence, we can begin to unpack why the industry falls short of its value proposition.

Soon we will need to communicate with a generation of clients that has lost trust in the financial system, cannot see the industry’s value proposition and associates ‘Wall Street’ with a system that has let them down.

How can we articulate our value?

The CFA Institute believes that the investment services industry will only thrive if principals and asset owners have trust in the system and obtain fair and sustainable results from the services and actions of agents. Simply being big and old doesn’t equate to trustworthy. Good stewardship and high ethical standards are necessary for trust and confidence to be secured and for society to be served as it should.

How do you get that across? Those often undervalued soft skills.

Technology will transform our industry, but it will not make humans obsolete in financial services.  As technological advances continue, along the way we will have more opportunities for humans to show the value we provide—so trade in the boring tasks that can be automated and spend more time building the relationships with clients to chart their financial futures. This is how we can change people’s lives and create a better future of finance.


2. Motivation as the Hidden Variable of Performance. (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2017, from

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Topics: Workforce of the future

Rebecca Fender | CFA Institute

Rebecca Fender, CFA, is head of the Future of Finance initiative at CFA Institute, a long-term global effort to shape a trustworthy, forward-thinking investment profession that better serves society.