Mr Watson said Australia was a “laggard” in the uptake of robo-advice, but in other markets, the product had quickly gone from being on the fringes to the mainstream, and the same could happen here.
He predicted the royal commission would “undoubtedly” accelerate the process, by hitting consumers’ trust in advisers and adding to firms’ costs, which would ultimately be passed on to clients.
“We’ve seen a diminution of the trust, I think that’s a statement of the obvious. But also, it’s pretty clear that big organisations are going to need to step up their compliance and regulation … and that means more cost,” said Mr Watson, who was also a former chairman of JP Morgan in Australia.
Robo advice refers to automated investment advice, typically using portfolios of exchange traded funds (ETF), which vary according to a customer’s risk appetite. Mr Watson stressed that robo-advice was not suited to complex personal advice matters, such as tax or estate planning, but it was well suited to simple investment goals.
“The reality is that an awful lot of the money that’s invested around the world does not require that sort of complexity,” Mr Watson said.
Mr Watson said Six Park, which is not yet profitable, is in discussions with a range of financial businesses about potential partnerships.
Meanwhile, the chief executive of rival firm Stockspot, Chris Brycki, said the first four months of 2019 had seen its strongest client inflows on record, which could be due to rising markets, alongside growing customer awareness.
“We are seeing a lot more SMSFs and older clients,” Mr Brycki said. “I feel like it’s partly the royal commission, but also partly that we’ve got a five-year track record.”
Mr Brycki said he thought the biggest opportunity for robo-advice was the roughly $600 billion held in self-managed super funds, followed by the hundreds of billions in savings outside super.
Following the royal commission, accountancy firm EY said there was a “real possibility” that face-to-face advice would only be affordable to high-net worth individuals.
Clancy Yeates is a business reporter.