Coupled with our own biases and emotions, technology can be a friend or foe when it comes to financial management.
While technology has given us more control over our financial lives—online shopping, online banking, mobile payments, automatic deposits—it may also be changing how we view and value money.
Growing evidence suggests technology is affecting financial decision-making, and when coupled with deep-rooted financial attitudes and behavioral biases, there can be some real negative consequences.
These biases—combined with emotion—can drive investors to make bad financial decisions, says Angie O’Leary, head of Wealth Planning for RBC Wealth Management–U.S. People’s social media networks, for example, may influence irrational behaviors, their need for instant gratification and an over-reliance on inaccurate information, she says.
On the other hand, technology can be a friend. Mobile apps help people better track their finances and help them overcome behavioral biases, such as overconfidence on limited information or an aversion to losses, O’Leary says.
Psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky pioneered research in behavioral finance in the 1970s, and found investors tend to shy away from uncertainty and make decisions based on incomplete information or irrational thought.
People’s financial attitudes and resulting financial behaviors, such as budgeting or impulse shopping, tend to start in childhood. Lessons over time from other influences, such as school and social media, further shape attitudes towards money.
O’Leary says taking the emotion out of your finances should be the top goal in making better decisions. The best way to do that is to create a wealth plan, which helps set budgeting, saving and spending goals, taking into consideration financial risks and future life events, to help investors stay on track toward their short- and long-term financial goals.
While technology may help us make more informed financial decisions, “having a trusted advisor is still an important part of helping clients be aware of their biases and understand when their emotions kick in,” says O’Leary, who leads a team focused on goals-based planning, which identifies, tracks the probability of success, and figures out how to fund investors’ goals.
Here are some ways that technology may impact how we view money in our daily lives.
Today’s digital world often means people have a broader network of potential social influences than ever before. But some of those influences can negatively affect financial decisions, according to O’Leary.
Examples could include:
The increased amount of electronic payments carries positive and negative influences. For example, O’Leary thinks this shift is changing how people value money. The more removed people become from their money, the less they may think about how much they’re spending and saving.
O’Leary compares it to how casinos exchange money for chips: “The reason you gamble with plastic chips at a casino—and not cash—is, it becomes less real,” encouraging people to spend more, she says. “The more tech we go, the less people value currency.”
This could have negative impacts on how people are able to save money, O’Leary thinks.
“If transactions are just a flash on your smart phone, and we’re not handing over cash in exchange, the risk is: how will we be able to measure the value of a latte?” she says. “It’s already becoming an issue.”
More than half of Americans (57 percent) have less than $1,000 in a savings account and more than a third have nothing saved, according to a GoBankingRates survey.
“Generally, people are not getting better at saving through technology; they’re getting better at spending,” O’Leary says.
On the positive side, electronic payment apps have made transactions easier and faster.
Here are some other ways technology has simplified investors’ financial lives:
In general, technology may make it “easier to see where you stand financially,” O’Leary says. “Your bank or budgeting app shows you right away; you don’t have to wait for a paper statement.”
RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.
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