Digital investing services bring humans back into the mix

June 12, 2019 | GET MORE : Future of Banking

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A Q&A with U.S. Bank Wealth Management Chief Operating Officer Gailyn Johnson about balancing high tech with high touch.

Gailyn Johnson has seen the machines rise. Now, she says, they’re lifting up the humans.

The chief operating officer at U.S. Bank Wealth Management has been working in customer experience roles within the banking industry since the onset of online banking in the mid-1990s. She recalls sitting with her webmaster (yes, webmaster) mocking up a website for viewing account balances and transactions.

“In the early days, online banking went down the path of self-service,” said Johnson. “The technology grew rapidly in that regard but, over time and especially lately, consumers have said that they want a trusted advisor to be paired with their digital experience.”

To that point, a recent survey by U.S. Bank found that American consumers use their phones to seek advice about money management more often than they do about cooking, dating and more. By combining innovation and expertise, Johnson says that financial institutions are uniquely qualified to help. 

In her current role, Johnson has been focused on providing customers with investing, planning and wealth management tools for the digital age. For example she helped launch Automated Investor (exclusively offered by U.S. Bancorp Investments, an affiliate of U.S. Bank), which couples digital investing with human advice. 

We sat down with Johnson for a Q&A.

What is the role of investing within a broader financial plan? 

Investing is a core part of any financial plan. It’s a vehicle for a person or a family to work toward their financial goals, whether saving for retirement, sending kids to college, moving to a new home, or planning that next big vacation. 

In what ways has digital innovation impacted investing?

For many years, investors only had access to self-directed brokerage accounts online, meaning that they would have to manually select and monitor their investment portfolios. This type of investing is really only best for a person who has real expertise in understanding the financial markets and time to monitor market changes. We’ve found that many self-directed clients leave their funding in money market funds or in one or two positions – certainly not diversified. Digital innovation has the potential to help the mainstream investor, the person who wants to invest toward future goals but prefers a less hands-on approach to doing so and wants professional help in making investment decisions.

Can Automated Investor be a good fit for that kind of mainstream investor?

U.S. Bancorp Investments created Automated Investor to be an easy-to-use tool for investors of any level. The key in doing so was designing portfolios based on life stages and events. Right now it includes options to invest toward: retirement; specific goals such as major purchases or expenses; and general investing. For customers who are just getting started with investing, the minimum initial investment was recently lowered to $5,000, rather than the tens or hundreds of thousands often needed to work with wealth managers. Pricing was also cut in half, to a 0.24 percent annual advisory fee on all assets under management (which comes out to $0.20 per month for every $1,000 invested), billed quarterly. Enhancements will continue to be made to Automated Investor based on feedback from customers.

What role do humans play when it comes to Automated Investor? 

There are two main areas. The first is the U.S. Bancorp Investments Wealth Management Advisory Center, where wealth management professionals are available 24/7 to answer questions and help educate investors. This kind of access to licensed experts is a differentiator especially compared to fintech apps that, in some cases, don’t offer phone support. The second area is on the back end, in that each investment portfolio is designed by the professionals at U.S. Bank Wealth Management Asset Management. Once a customer selects a goal and their risk level, they are placed into up to 12 positions of ETFs. Automated Investor constantly monitors and adjusts the models based on market changes and projections to maintain a balanced mix of investments and keep the portfolio on track toward achieving its specific goal. Combining 24/7 human expertise with innovative technology at an accessible price makes investing a reality for customers at nearly all wealth levels.

Where can people learn more about Automated Investor? 

You can learn more online, on the mobile app or, of course, talk to a living, breathing human at 866.758.8655.

Written by Pat Swanson of U.S. Bank.