Designing and Marketing Robo-Services

Warren Cormier

As the DC industry moves increasingly to a technology-centric advice and service solution, it becomes helpful to understand DC participants view of robo-advice services.

So in collaboration with EMI Communications of Boston, I conducted a survey of 762 DC participants on their attitudes toward robo services. Like so many studies, we learned that there are discrete psychographic segments that exist in the population — that is, not all participants are the same.

Specifically, several dimensions emerged that explain the results and are key to organizing marketing and communication efforts:

Investing Technology Orientation


  • Techies — “Tech is safe and I prefer to use it”
  • Tech-Security Skeptics — “Tech is unsafe and I prefer human assistance”
  • Tech Rejectors — “I dislike tech and prefer not to use it”

Personal Investing

  • Proactives — Engaged and confident
  • Passives — Disengaged and not confident

It will be critical to profile your participants along these lines to gauge adoption of robo solutions. To drive home this point, Techies’ likelihood of embracing technology-based advice and account management systems is twice as high (50%) as Tech Rejectors (25%). Furthermore, likelihood of adoption is higher among Proactives (40%) than Passives (27%).

In terms of positioning, it is important to note that the most important factor in picking an investment advisor is the advisor’s reputation for honesty, followed by their performance history or reputation for excellent investment results. But when it comes specifically to deciding to engage with robo-systems, the top four factors in order of importance are:

  1. Being safe and secure
  2. Easy to use
  3. Low cost
  4. Good customer support if something goes wrong or if an error is made

This last point strongly suggests that a system devoid of human contact is hard to sell, at least in the early stages of consumer education about the value of robo-based systems. Specifically, people are expecting they will need human assistance when it comes to answering a few key questions, such as: “Is/will it be hard to figure out?” and “How does it work and what does it cost?”

For that reason, the biggest potential improvement is being able to talk to a human being. Media richness theory tells us that a pop-up chat offering will be far inferior to the opportunity to speak with someone on the phone. In terms of whom they want to talk to, virtually all people said they would prefer to speak to a financial planner or advisor, as opposed to a telephone rep without professional financial knowledge.

With respect to being an expert in finance or technology, it is more important to be viewed as having financial acumen than technology expertise, but not by much — 70% rated financial acumen as important, versus 61% for technology expertise. Through this, the respondents are expressing a need to be assured that both skills must be present in order to be considered a viable solution.


Click here to read more commentary by Warren Cormier. 


To look beyond the data and get into the mind of the participant, I spoke with Katharine Norwood, a Strategy Director at Odopod in San Francisco and User Experience Advisor to the National Association of Retirement Plan Participants. Katharine is an expert in the interface between consumer behavior, design and technology. In our interview, Katharine made five key points for product designers and marketers to consider when designing a robo-advisor solution, or any consumer/technology interface.

Insight No. 1: From Transactions to Experiences

Our technology has fueled a hunger for rich, meaningful experiences that have greater emotional impact and lasting value than traditional consumerism. Empowered by mobile connectivity, people are not only spending more money on experiences, they are also demanding more experiential relationships with products, services and brands that transcend the fleeting moment of transaction to add ongoing value to their lives. We have to ask ourselves how we might make retirement savings more experiential (and tangible) for participants beyond the transactional moment of enrollment into the DC plan.

Insight No. 2: Put Users First

This is the Age of the Customer. We have come to expect that everything works like Uber does (get what you want, when you want it, often at the price you want). With this has come an expectation that our interactions with products and services are customizable or personalized with simple, beautifully designed interfaces that place the highest value on the customer’s needs.

When we design experiences, how might we redesign the enrollment and onboarding experiences into the DC plan with the user’s needs at the center, rather than the brand or product needs?

Insight No. 3: Designing Trust

We now get into strangers’ cars just as easily as we book a stranger’s bedroom for a weekend getaway. This is the “sharing economy” — and the bedrock of these new transactions is trust. Trust is being explicitly designed for, to facilitate a vast new range of user-first interactions, both online and off. Because without trust, we disengage.

This is a critically important insight. How might we design for trust at every key touchpoint throughout workers’ retirement savings journeys — from before they start saving for retirement all the way through to their retirement years?

Insight No. 4: Design Everything

Design was once thought to be a creative process applied exclusively to the development of products, packaging and marketing. But increasingly design is being applied to every point in a customer’s journey — from discovery to purchase, use and service, and every stop in between. The goal is to create a cohesive experience, from moment to moment, that surprises and delights at every turn.

When it comes to retirement savings, how might we reimagine and design every moment in a worker’s savings journey to instill optimism and confidence rather than fear and anxiety?

Insight No. 5: Data Stories

Technology has unlocked torrents of information. And this flood isn’t slowing down. We are increasingly accustomed to generating and harnessing our own data to learn new things about ourselves and the world we live in. But raw data alone isn’t impactful. Data has to be made sense of and when patterns emerge, data can be visualized to tell stories that make the intangible tangible, the invisible visible.

Finally, consider this: How might we use data to tell the story of retirement savings for workers in a way that makes preparing for the future less scary, more knowable and more tangible?

Warren Cormier is the president and CEO of Boston Research Technologies and author of the DCP suite of satisfaction and loyalty studies. This column originally appeared in the spring issue of NAPA Net the Magazine.

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