facial-expression-software

Technology has reshaped almost every aspect of insurance and financial sales. From the advent of the personal computer and spreadsheet software to the rise of the Web and mobile technology, it has become easier and more efficient to run a financial-services business today than at any time in the past.

However, sometimes the development of new technology raises more questions than it answers. That’s the case with facial expression software, which financial firms are using to uncover people’s emotions about money. Does this new application make traditional fact-finding more revealing and productive? Or does it undermine the financial advisor/client relationship . . . perhaps jeopardizing advisors’ standing in the industry of tomorrow?

One cause for concern: facial recognition software is entering a finance domain that until now has been old school—needs assessments. Until recently, this process has been human-directed. Flesh-and-blood advisors typically sit down in actual rooms and ask real customers questions to identify their financial needs and concerns. The best advisors are skilled at detecting client worries, both through their words and body language. They’re also adept at asking probing questions to clarify when words and and posture conflict.

In fact, the entire industry depends on thousands of financial advisors sitting across from prospects and clients, asking questions and encouraging clients to reveal their concerns. Problem is, the field of behavioral economics has poked holes in this methodology. In repeated studies, it has shown that clients have trouble making rational money decisions. More often, emotional and cognitive errors cloud their thoughts, leading them to make sub-optimal decisions. And the traditional fact-finding interview may not help advisors much, since emotional and cognitive errors may not be visible to the naked eye.

Making matters worse, sometimes clients hide their emotions when meeting with their advisors, either deliberately or unconsciously. This leads advisors to make off-the-mark recommendations that end up poorly serving their clients.

What if there were a way to better assess client emotions prior to making recommendations? If software could deliver that, would you use it? The financial professionals at independent advisory firm Cetera Financial Group are answering that question now. Their firm has introduced a new software program designed to analyze a client’s facial expressions during fact-finding meetings. The goal: to shine a light on people’s money emotions in order to build a deeper relationship between them and their advisors.

How does it work? Cetera’s Decipher application runs on any device that has a web camera. The financial advisor simply asks clients to watch a series of videos about financial scenarios. The software then maps minute changes in their facial expressions to reveal their underlying emotions toward money.

“Decipher is transformative for the advice industry,” says Robert Moore, CEO, Cetera Financial Group. “It takes the relationship with the advisor to the next level. A lot of information is conveyed non-verbally. This is a tool for relationship building that will help the advisor really know what is in the best interests of the client.” A side benefit is that it will make the entire investment recommendation process more transparent and compliant with the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule.

Moore adds that the program will be available to any advisor and client who’d like to use it. Plus, it will not be used to create financial plans. Instead, its function will be to increase an advisor’s understanding of a client’s perceived problems. And he says the company may eventually integrate Decipher into its online risk profiling application, giving a future automated investment platform greater ability to retain client assets during times of market volatility.

Although Moore says Decipher will not replace advisors, it’s not hard to envision a scenario in which the software might decrease the advisor’s role during fact-finding. It’s possible Decipher may prove to be more efficient than a human advisor at detecting emotions. And how will advisors react to partnering with a computer? Will they assume the software is smarter than they and defer to it? Or will they stubbornly rely on their own instincts even when the computer says otherwise?

Another implication: how will clients react to interacting with a computer instead of a human advisor? Will they be comfortable with a machine “reading” their deepest emotions? Will they buy it when the computer says they’re feeling something they don’t believe they’re feeling? Or will they make an issue out of it, thereby derailing the sales process?

Finally, how will all concerned react to automating what used to be the living, beating heart of financial planning—the advisor/client needs discussion? Will people view the transference of part of this process to a computer as a good or bad thing? And ultimately, if the technology catches on at other firms, will it actually help clients and advisors build stronger relationships or will it undermine them? Only time will

To read on ethical business practices, visit the Ethics Center at the National Ethics Association, sponsor of EOforLess.