Traditional professions are facing an existential challenge, which will require professionals of the future to re-tune their mindset and target the work machines still can’t do, a world-leading scholar in technology and artificial intelligence has said.

The co-author of The Future of the Professions, Dr Daniel Susskind, shared with the 2017 FPA Professionals Congress the five trends he expects to pervade professional life over the next few years. Broadly, they are:

  1. Professional firms will be asked to deliver more with fewer resources.
  2. New and different competition will emerge.
  3. Professionals will start to recognise that what constitutes professional work will not necessarily be a bespoke approach.
  4. Professional work will be deconstructed into tasks and activities, rather than remaining an all-encompassing role.
  5. Once traditional professional work is decomposed, it will be revealed that a great deal of it is actually process-based and can be made routine.

Susskind – who appeared as a hologram with a pre-recorded message – had two pieces of advice for advisers. The first was: decide whether you want to compete with the machines by doing the work they cannot do or build the machines yourself. The second piece of advice was that age of AI requires a shift in mindset.

“If you’re of the view that the only way to be a professional, the only way to be a financial planner, is to do it the way your parents and even your grandparents might have done it, then the future I’ve described is a threatening one,” he said. “But if, instead, you’re agnostic about how you solve the particular problems you face and focus ruthlessly on the problem itself, then the future, I think, is an exciting one, a world where we can use new technologies to solve problems in more affordable and more accessible ways, even though it may not look a lot like the traditional approach.”

Futurist Mike Walsh said clients of tomorrow would demand “algorithmic advisers”, people who are faster and smarter, and can deliver rich, data-driven experiences. The challenge will be identifying what sort of work people are good at versus what machines can do better.

“I believe the algorithmic adviser will have two essential skills…They’ll have that human empathy, the ability to understand and have an insight into the complexity of the everyday human context, but they’ll also need a flair for computational thinking. What I mean by that is not the ability to program, but the ability to approach problem-solving and work in a way that allows computers and algorithms to measure everyday capabilities.”

Walsh said one of the most critical things financial planning firms can do to prepare for the algorithmic age is having the right people in their teams.

“I believe the people you need are people of a certain mindset,” he said. That means performance-driven people, rather than process-driven people (those who love rules, workflows and order).

The staff firms hire should be “energised by ambiguity”, he said.

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