Personal finance brand-cum-TV commentator David Koch had some advice for today’s fintech leaders. They didn’t all agree with it.

Koch, who launched Money Magazine, moderated a panel of seven speakers at a fintech event on Tuesday in Sydney. There, he commented that a big problem the financial technology industry is facing right now is that the consumer does not see another human being they can trust.

“I’m not suggesting the Gerry Harvey or the John Symond model,” Koch continued, “but none of you put yourself up in the market [as if to say to clients that] there is a living human being looking after your interests in running the platform. And I’m intrigued by that. Why?”

The panel – assembled to mark the launch of a new register for robo-advice providers by Adviser Ratings, where Koch is a shareholder – bristled at the suggestion they weren’t doing enough personally to break down barriers and create trust for the new generation of advice technology companies.

“Did it work for AMP to do that?” replied Paul Feeney, founder of consumer website Map My Plan.

Koch argued that people’s disenchantment with the big five institutions – “you are just a logo, a brand” – will extend to fintech providers if their leaders don’t make themselves more publicly visible.

“You’re hiding yourself,” Koch told the panel. “With money and that connection… people want to trust you, trust a human being. Why don’t you put yourselves out there and say, ‘I’m responsible for this platform?’ ”

The panellists held firm. They were not trying to make themselves invisible, they said, but the old methods of presenting an image to a client base were not necessarily as effective today.

“Sorry, I’m not hiding myself,” said Trenna Probert, who is a co-founder and investor at aged-care comparison site Care360.

Probert argued that there were “other ways to address” linking with the masses.

“It’s not just about PR and being the face of the business, [it’s also] putting real human connection in the way we engage with the audience and deal with markets,” she explained. “It’s about how we actually integrate our solutions into a digital concierge-style service.”

Chris Brycki, founder and chief executive of investment advisory platform Stockspot, said that while he agreed it was important for fintech leaders to be the face of their businesses, that wasn’t the only method of reaching clients.

“I don’t think that means you need to be front-and-centre on the homepage,” Brycki noted.

Chris Brycki, founder and CEO of Stockspot

The interplay was part of a larger discussion around the need for fintech companies to break down the barriers stopping them from achieving more widespread adoption.

Fear and trust were the key elements, Koch suggested. He spoke of starting his own personal investment magazine in the early ’90s and basing the concept on “Cleo or Cosmopolitan, rather than Forbes or Business Week”, because they wanted to break down the barriers people associated with suits and numbers.

“We didn’t want people to feel intimidated,” he recalled, before relating the anecdote to the current environment. “Fintechs today are no different. It’s about breaking down fear for consumers so they can trust.”

The panel concurred that fear was a problem for fintech providers. There was also universal agreement that the term ‘robo-advice’ was part of the problem, as it created a false and inorganic impression for consumers.

“People haven’t got a clue what [robo-advice] means,” consumer affairs advocate Christopher Zinn said. “Those cute little Robbie Robot models… are a completely inaccurate and inadequate way to describe what we do.”

Care360’s Probert said the industry was selling itself short by continuing to use the label.

“The term ‘robo-advice’ focuses on what it is, not why it exists and what it’s going to achieve for people,” Probert said. “We’re only relevant if were serving the purposes of humans. Talking about robo-advice distracts from the why, because right now were only talking about the how.”

Tahn Sharpe is a Sydney-based financial services journalist with a background in financial planning. He writes on advice, superannuation, investment, banking and insurance issues, is a certified SMSF Adviser and holds an Advanced Diploma of Financial Planning.
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