A Case for the Human Element

The world is changing at an accelerated pace, with automation leading the charge. Yet, human resourcefulness and critical thought still have incredible value, in almost every industry.

The Mechanic

In this case I’m not referring to the outstanding 1972 action film starring Charles Bronson and Jan-Michael Vincent, but rather my local mechanic, Siegfried.

My car, like many, is a fairly sophisticated vehicle, and I enjoy all the comforts that it provides. I spend a lot of time in my car – it is my workhorse. So recently, when the air conditioning stopped blowing cold, I took a deep breath and went to see Siegfried, hoping that it would be something minor (I’ve found that when it comes to car repairs, hoping almost never works).

Initially, they couldn’t figure out what the problem was, so they kept it overnight, hooked up to their computer. This allowed them to download all the files from the car to a tech support team in London, England.

The next day, the mechanics at Siegfried’s returned to find a report from the tech support team: a sensor within the complex climate control system wasn’t working, and would need to be replaced. Since the part is not particularly common, they would need to order it for a few hundred dollars, and then install it. I approved and expected this to take another day or so, but they called me back within an hour or two, advising that the car was repaired and ready to go - a nice surprise!

When I got there, the owner of the shop (Mike, not Siegfried, also a surprise), came out to talk to me because they’d found something interesting. When the mechanic went to install the new sensor, he noticed a frayed wire that had not been detected. He decided to repair that wire before trying to install the expensive sensor, and lo and behold: the air conditioning worked perfectly (and in this case, hope prevailed).

Taking care of business

I recently listened to an interview with Randy Bachman, a Canadian musician, who is best known as the lead guitarist for rock bands The Guess Who, and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. During the interview Mr. Bachman described a visit to Apple Studio during which he was given special access to the original masters of various Beatles recordings. He was particularly interested in the secret behind the distinctive opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night” (I had never given the chord much thought, but it is indeed distinctive and worth checking out).

Bachman learned that not only was the chord that George Harrison played unique in its own way, several other instruments rounded out that mysterious sound. Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and producer George Martin each provided a note of their own, and these were custom blended together in the studio to create one of the most mysterious, signature sounds in rock ‘n’ roll.

Innovation, Creativity, and Judgement

What do these stories share? The human touch. Whether it’s a frayed wire that had to be spotted with the eyes and hands, or a mysterious signature sound, human beings are needed to repair, to judge, and to create in ways that technology cannot replicate.

I love the convenience of Amazon home delivery, or ordering groceries with my phone as much as anyone else. Technology and automation continue to change the world rapidly, and many of those changes are efficient, innovative, and useful. But they don’t replace the value of the human mind (which also creates technology and automation).

As the world of financial advice shifts and changes with the implementation of new technologies and automations, it’s important to remember that high quality advice involves listening skills that go beyond the ears, to include the eyes, the heart, and the mind. Critical thought - the intellectual discipline required to effectively analyze and use information to generate guidance and action - cannot be automated.

A great advisor must design their services using not only their own knowledge, but also the knowledge that a client has - the wants, needs, and desires a client has - which may take time and effort to capture and articulate. This element of high quality financial advice is one of our most valuable assets.

We must grasp the leaps forward that technology and automation continue to bring us, while also applying our human skills of listening, observing and critical thinking, to create the sophisticated investment and financial advice that clients need, and want, and hope for.

- Dan Darchuck, CEO