Friends in the portfolio management space keep forwarding me the story on how IBM's Jeopardy-winning supercomputer Watson is coming to Wall Street to perform certain types of service.
As yet, Watson seems to be rolling out purely on the analytics front. The computer will crunch account information in order to "help analyze customer needs and process financial, economic, and client data to advance and personalize digital banking."
In other words, banks like Citi are going to use Watson as a souped-up underwriting engine to augment their existing quantitative systems, along with a bit of CRM to automatically recommend products and services.
Looming adaptations of Watson technology will dabble in risk management and due diligence, streamlining the research that portfolio managers do.
There aren't any immediate plans for the computers to pick stocks or interact directly with retail customers to provide advice. However, that type of soft automation seems like an obvious application.
Automated "chat robots" already answer basic customer questions for massive vendors like phone companies and airlines, routing whatever problems they can't solve to a human being.
Watson could do that. Watson can probably create a template financial plan, build and manage a retirement portfolio, prepare a tax return, generate client paperwork.
What it can't do is intuit how your clients feel beyond what their statistical behavior may indicate. And while it could passively attract prospects, I haven't seen anything that indicates that it can close a hard sale.
Managing relationships is still what humans do better than any computer. That will likely continue for awhile, and that's where human advisors -- everyone reading this, presumably -- can still outperform any competitor.