Nonetheless, the market is hardly closed to new entrants.
Omar Green, a former executive at Intuit, makers of the Quicken personal accounting software, has developed wallet.AI, a personal financial adviser app that he says offers more bang for your buck.
Technology today allows unprecedented understanding of both a customer's personal behaviors and his or her financial situation. For Green, the secret sauce is in what he calls "Contextual Awareness." "
Broadly defined, context represents the circumstances around which a user expresses behavior, captured digitally," Green said in a phone interview. "It can encompass geo-spatial, temporal, emotional, cognitive, and other domains."
Wallet.AI is developing sophisticated algorithms which will take the data the app on the customer's phone captures (with the user's permission) and churn through them to derive insights into a customer's financial situation. As the app, which will be launched later this year, learns increasingly more about the customer "on-the-go", the financial advice is expected to become increasingly relevant and accurate.
But do human beings listen seriously to advice from algorithms?
The human financial advisor has suffered a rapid decline in credibility thanks to the industry's shenanigans, brought to the fore unhappily in 2008. Add the increasing costs of employing a person for the job, and technology is a no-brainer.
Green points out that human brains have been taking orders from their robot overlords for some time now, especially in the complex world of financial trading.
"Some parts of that work are being highly automated and operated at scale-more calculations, done more often, with more data, but without the need for human intervention. In high-frequency or algorithmic trading, where it's math, done by computers that decides how often to trade, and which trades to make. It's also machines running software that execute the trades."
The reason personal financial management has finally caught up with its big brothers in Big Finance is that four major technological forces have converged simultaneously. Green lists them out, "First is worldwide Internet connectivity. Then there is ultra-cheap, especially powerful mobile computing platforms and the software that runs on them. Third is the social graph and the data within it, and finally cloud computing, which allow for massive, inexpensive compute capability that can be deployed on demand in minutes."
So that's humans out of the competition then. However aren't a number of websites and software already offering personalized financial advice? In other words, what's the big deal about wallet.AI?
wallet.AI's wants to figure out every cent going in and out of your wallet by tracking your personal spending habits and see if you could make better use of the money and achieve a better financial situation.
But what about sensitive personal information and glean ambient data?
The all-encompassing world of technology which trains the hawk's eye on every step in human life, may surely be seen as usurping of private space and interpretation of humans by robots. Where data is considered sensitive, people would argue they should be allowed to make an informed choice than having to be forcibly handheld.
In 2010, a personalized financial planner called Adaptu was released with great fanfare. Debuting on the iPhone it spread to Android and Kindle rapidly and was touted as a replacement for Intuit's Mint.
Adaptu's goal was very similar to what the folks at wallet.AI are trying to achieve-making users realize their long-term financial goals by better managing their day-to-day finances. Yet three years later, Adaptu was shut down because it wasn't able to achieve a critical mass of customers.