Efficient vs. Effective

I have recently been dealing with a noise incoming from the front end of my Ford Explorer. I am frustrated because the vehicle is now back for third time to correct the issue, with two separate service centers. I am frustrated because if the tech had simply taken time to drive the vehicle after the attempted repair, they would have known the problem was not fixed.   

Why? I would suspect it’s because most auto repair is done today based on metrics and technology. Engine codes and the like quickly identify the problem and the exact part to replace to correct the problem. The days of diagnosing auto repairs has pretty much disappeared.  And when an engine code is not available, like with my repair, statistics are used to narrow the needed repair based on certain facts. Facts such as make, model, mileage and description of problem.  So for example, a 2016 Ford Explorer with 50K miles and a front-end noise, in 85% of these situations replacing part ‘X’ will solve the problem.  The dealer jumps in and replaces part X, before thoroughly and properly diagnosing the actual problem. (In my case, shop number 2 went ahead and replaced the exact same part as shop number 1, even though the part was just replaced!) They ran with the numbers and probabilities. And I understand the approach.  Most times they get it right. The process is efficient and ultimately saves costs in labor and parts, when techs are not misdiagnosing problems and throwing parts at the repair. It works well, until, like in my current case, it doesn’t. It may be efficient, but not always effective. Eventually it requires the knowledge and wisdom of an experienced tech to go deeper than the technology or probabilities and truly diagnose the issue to make the correct repair.

Our industry faces a similar dilemma with the recent popularity of “Robo Advisors”. “Robo Advisor” is the industry name given to online, or tech only, driven solutions to investing and planning. Customers (not clients, but customers) can subscribe to an online service that offers strategic portfolios, asset allocation and portfolio rebalancing, for example, or receive some level of financial direction. These solutions lie somewhere between Do-It Yourself and working with a financial professional.  These are technology driven solutions that are meant to replicate the work of a more expensive human solution such as a broker or financial advisor. As a result, they are very inexpensive.  However, much like how metrics are used in auto repair, these solutions play the numbers. They provide direction based on what is most likely going to work for a customer of a certain age, with a specific time frame or risk tolerance. And in many cases, they probably get close. But the nuanced advice, understanding and wisdom of the financial professional most times is missing. And in many cases, that missing advice causes the robo advisor to miss the mark.

Auto repair and financial services are not the only industries being impacted by the technology fix. Ever heard of WebMD? TurboTax? LegalZoom? Stitchfix? These are all tech-based services meant to eliminate the human factor and save money for the user.

Technology has drastically changed all aspects of our lives and certainly so in the investing and financial worlds. And those changes are for the better, no doubt. Financial advisors, doctors and service techs are all better at what we do thanks to technology. However, it has its limits.  Only when technology is coupled with the direction and guidance of a trusted professional will the best possible outcomes be realized.  They may be efficient, but not always effective. And while it may be tolerable (yet frustrating) when it comes to auto repair, not so for my health, retirement or children’s education.

Securities and advisory services offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor, Member FINRA / SIPC. Material discussed herewith is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only, please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon when coordinated with individual professional advice. Investors should be aware that there are risks inherent in all investments, such as fluctuations in investment principle. With any investment vehicle, past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Diversification and asset allocation strategies do not assure profit or protect against loss.