ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – John Houston, managing director of Raymond James’ Financial Institutions Division, isn’t about to lose a “wink of sleep” over robo advisors, the new competitors in the wealth advisory industry that many view as “disruptors.”

“Until a computer can show empathy and read the expression on a client’s face when discussing critical life issues with them, I’m not too worried,” he said in an interview at the Raymond James Financial Institutions’ Division Symposium here on Wednesday.

The clients that Raymond James-affiliated banks and credit unions serve appreciate the advice they receive and are happy to pay reasonable prices for them, he said. They’re willing to pay more because they receive much more than “boilerplate” advice.

In fact, he said, the new automated advice providers are unlikely to live up to their reputation as being disruptors, at least at Raymond James.  That’s because the needs of Raymond James clients simply can’t be placed into a “little box” as robo advisors attempt to do.  “When the markets are volatile, what’s that little box going to tell them in some monotone voice?” he asks.

Scott Curtis, president of Raymond James Financial Services, agreed.  The vast majority of people with a significant amount of money to invest, protect and transfer—those with more than $100,000—prefer to work with a personal advisor, he said.

Even on pricing pressure that robo advisors will inevitably put on the industry, Houston and Curtis do not appear to be terribly concerned. General competition—not robos alone—puts pressure on margins, said Houston.  “Every industry has to gain efficiencies over time or they’re going to struggle,” he said.

Both Houston and Curtis welcomed the newcomers, saying increased competition is healthy for the industry. “It’s not a zero-sum game,” Houston said. “There’s plenty of business for everyone.”

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