Artificial intelligence and wealth management – are they compatible?

There is nary an industry where artificial intelligence (AI) is not a matter of conversation recently, wealth management included.


“It’s a topic that’s everywhere and is affecting every industry,” said Dana Vosburgh, a certified financial planner and managing director of advisory services at Fairport-based Manning & Napier, Inc. “It’s so new and it’s happening so fast.”

Vosburgh has been fielding many questions from clients about AI recently — some clients are concerned and some are curious. That act in itself — reaching out to one’s financial planner for answers or reassurance — says a lot about AI itself.

“There’s a lot on the line when you’re an investor,” Vosburgh said. “There’s importance in the human relationship. Trust is really, really important in this industry.”

Morgan Stanley Wealth Management’s quarterly individual investor pulse survey released in May 2023 underscores what Vosburgh is seeing first-hand: 82% of investors believe AI will never replace human guidance and 88% agree that the human-to-human financial advisor relationship is extremely important.

However, the same survey found that 74% of investors believe AI will help their financial advisors better serve them and 63% would be interested in working with a financial advisor that uses AI as opposed to one that does not.

Vosburgh agrees that there are ways in which AI can be useful for financial advisors, such as increasing and improving day-to-day operational efficiencies and gathering information for a historical perspective on financial events and trends (such as interest rates).

The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) has identified the three major areas where advisors are evaluating or using AI in the securities industry as:

–    Communications with customers (virtual assistants, outreach targeting, emails, etc.)

–    Investment processes (portfolio management and trading, customized research, holistic customer profiles, etc.)

–    Operational functions (credit risk management, cybersecurity, automation of paper-based processing, etc.).

FINRA cautions that while these areas of use may offer several potential benefits, they involve potential challenges, costs, and regulatory implications as well. Additionally, they do not relieve firms using them of compliance with all applicable securities laws, rules, and regulations.

At Courier Capital, LLC, an affiliate of Five Star Bank with locations in Rochester, Buffalo, Jamestown, and Pittsburgh, leaders are taking their time looking into the investment and research side of AI.

Courier Capital is not currently using AI internally in any meaningful way, though they see the potential for AI to provide operational assistance in the future, like automating some back-office tasks, according to Thomas Hanlon, a certified financial planner, chartered financial analyst, and president of Courier Capital, which recently merged with HNP Capital, LLC.

Courier Capital is now one of the largest registered investment advisory firms in Western New York with assets under management of some $2.7 billion.


“One area AI might help in is the research area and the gathering and processing of large amounts of data,” said Hanlon, who likens AI to a tool, but cautions against it ever being the only tool in the box when it comes to wealth management.

Rebecca Westervelt is an accredited investment fiduciary and the senior managing director and head of retirement services for Courier Capital. She also serves as the head of the firm’s Rochester office.

Westervelt also sees some potential value for AI in wealth management from an operational standpoint, but there are also major deficits in terms of the relationship component that, in the opinion of all professionals interviewed for this piece, is vital in wealth management.

Westervelt –

“We are with a client through everything,” Westervelt said. “It’s a relationship. AI can’t replace the face-to-face interaction with clients and being there for them in good times and bad.”

Westervelt also noted that while the onus of asking questions is on the user in AI, when it comes to a typical wealth management relationship, it’s as much the advisor’s role to ask questions as the clients.

“We know how to ask the right questions to provide highly personalized services,” she said.

In terms of how AI may be able to benefit investors, John Howe-Wemett, a certified financial planner and vice president – wealth management advisor for Pittsford-based Generation Capital Management, points to accessibility.

“AI can potentially lower the barriers to financial planning information,” Howe-Wemett said. “People who need our help as Certified Financial Planners the most are often the people who least afford it. To the extent AI can provide a free or lower cost option for people, it can be useful.”

Howe-Wemett warned, though, that caveats abound.

“With the early state AI is in right now you need to know what questions to ask and that can be difficult for people without a financial vocabulary,” said Howe-Wemett, who notes the answers from chatbots like ChatGPT are not always appropriate or accurate. “The level of information still isn’t where it needs to be.”


Howe-Wemett saw this first-hand recently while helping one of his students at St. John Fisher University’s School of Business, where he is an adjunct professor. His student chose the topic of

AI in wealth management for his honors project and developed questions related to the subject to ask ChatGPT. The student then presented ChatGPT’s answers to a panel of financial planners and asked them to rate the quality of the answers.

Most of the answers were average in terms of information provided, but one – related to the difference between a Roth and a traditional IRA – was factually incorrect.

“If someone had taken the advice it could have caused real financial harm,” said Howe-Wemett who says this example begs the question: “Who is watching AI? There’s no FINRA watching ChatGPT to see what they recommend.”

Howe-Wemett believes that if the information AI provides is accurate it can also be useful for a small number of investors who, for personal reasons, shy away from human interaction. For most investors, though, AI is not an appropriate substitute for a personal relationship with one’s financial planner.

“With AI there is very little to provide the human connection in financial planning,” Howe-Wemett said. “I’ve gone to funerals for clients — AI is never going to go to a funeral.”

Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

LightSpeed Photonics’ optoelectronics integrated processors solve pressing bandwidth problems across industries

LightSpeed logo

LightSpeed Photonics (LSP) is one of 10 startups from around the world working with the Luminate NY accelerator at NextCorps in downtown Rochester. These companies are helping to write the next chapter in Rochester’s history as the world’s center for optics, photonics, and imaging (OPI).

Each company in Luminate’s cohort 5 received an initial investment of $100,000 and is participating in the six-month program, which helps the selected companies speed the commercialization of their technologies and businesses. On October 19, at Finals 2022 at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, they will compete for up to $2 million in follow-on investment. Funding for the $25 million program is being provided through Empire State Development’s Finger Lakes Forward Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

“LightSpeed Photonics is working hard to create a higher performance, more reliable photonics semiconductor,” said Dr. Sujatha Ramanujan, managing director of Luminate. ”We’re confident that the team’s dedication and expertise will help to create computing chips that solve pressing bandwidth problems across industries.”

Photonics semiconductor made by LightSpeed Photonics as part of the Luminate NY program.
Photonics semiconductor made by LightSpeed Photonics as part of the Luminate NY program. (Photo provided)

We caught up with Rohin Yeluripati, LightSpeed Photonics’ Co-founder and CEO, to discuss how the company is developing optics embedded microprocessors to speed up the data input/output and enhance computing power, resulting in real-time processing of applications.

Tell us about your company.

Rohin Yeluripati lightspeed photonics

LightSpeed Photonics integrates high-performance processors with high data rate optics to create modular processors for data centers and edge cloudlets. Our processors are scalable and field programmable units so that customers can use them for multiple applications, simultaneously. By deploying novel assembly and packaging methods using semiconductor assembly machines, we increase the data input/output by ten times at much lower power.

This technology addresses the need for increased real-time processing of data bandwidth-intensive applications like video streaming, AI, cybersecurity, and smartNICs (Network Interface Cards).

Where is your company headquartered?

We are headquartered in Singapore and also have operations in India. Our plans include expanding our business into the U.S.

Who are the company founders?

The company is managed by two founders. Myself, Rohin Yeluripati, PhD, CEO, and Ramana Pamidighanam, CTO.

Ramana Pamidighanam

How did you and your team develop the concept for your product?

Ramana has been working on board level optical interconnects and electronics-photonic integrated circuits for more than 25 years. I spent my PhD solving high-performance algorithms using programmable hardware and encountered the difficulties related to data processing and data handling. Together, we brainstormed methods to improve computing and data handling in a frugal electronics setup. These discussions crystalized our concept and we began working to design, process, test and validate, and apply it to customers’ needs through various applications.

Why does the world need this product?

There are considerable applications and market demands pertinent to augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR), the Metaverse, content streaming, real-time video analytics, cybersecurity, Industry 4.0, etc.  LSP’s LightCompute™ will address the data bandwidth needs that are inherent in these applications by enabling real-time computing and multi-terabit data connectivity.

How long have you been working on this technology?

We’ve been leveraging our collective 50 years’ experience over the last three years to design our product and technology.

Who is the target audience for your product?

Integrated Device Manufacturers and System Integrators like AMD, Intel, NXP, Dell, and HPE are the target audience for our LightKonnect™ and LightSiP™ subsystems. It is also of great importance to have support from the edge computer and datacenter chip makers, including Intel-Altera and AMD-Xilinx to help us reach our end users with well-positioned product propositions.

What made you look to Rochester to further your product?

Mosaic Microsystems is a key partner for us for glass interposer development, which aids high data rate electronic photonic integration on a single substrate with high accuracy fabrication. Rochester has a good base of optical component fabrication that can be a good source for micro optics. In the future, we plan to work with the Rochester Institute of Technology and community colleges like Monroe Community College for optics support.

We were able to find partners and prototyping labs, including labs at the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology, that can help us with prototype development. We are hopeful that the Rochester optics community can also help us progress from prototyping to mass production volumes.

Tell us about your experience being in Luminate.

Luminate is a targeted program that provides startups with vision, direction, and opportunities for funding and market viability. The Luminate team’s support is targeted and they invest a sizable amount of time on each cohort member, introducing mentors and organizations that are particularly relevant to each participating company. The Luminate team also helped us in connecting with local companies and investors.

The founders’ round table and one-on-one sessions have helped us to better understand market potential, customers, and technical challenges. This has resulted in enhancing our product roadmap to more closely connect with customer needs. Being a Luminate cohort member, we are able to learn complementing technologies from other startups. An additional benefit is that we are working alongside other startups with world-class founders. The peer-learning has been tremendous.

What are you hoping to achieve during your time in Luminate?

We would like to be known as a photonics semiconductor company and Luminate has given us the platform to reach that goal. We had two main goals in joining the Luminate program — to get our glass substrate-based platform to maturity for our System-in-Package development from local R&D partners like Mosaic Microsystems and AIM Photonics, and to expand our network of decision makers within our potential customer and partner base in the U.S.

In the future, we would like to continue to work with Rochester partners like Corning Glass and GlobalFoundries in releasing the product to the market, in addition to the current partnerships.

If your company wins, what do you plan to do with the follow-on funding?

LSP’s plan is to build the LightSiP with Corning/Mosaic and GlobalFoundries. The primary focus will be to release products to the market with customer pilot engagement. In the process of product release, we would like to leverage the Rochester optics community expertise to expand the scope to the rest of North America.

Computing hardware is a high-volume business and development timelines are shrinking. If we win Finals 2022, we will be able to complete our fundraising target and start working on our plans for establishing product-market fit with customer pilot engagement. This will catapult our development towards scalability.

Considerations for cloud-based accounting platforms

Businesses of all sizes and across industries are increasingly moving to cloud-based solutions for a number of functions, including cloud-based accounting, which promises a bevy of efficiencies and other benefits to boost business productivity and cut costs.

Cloud computing has seen dramatic growth in recent years, and a July report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services indicated more than two-thirds of organizations accelerated cloud adoption over the past year but more than 60% reported difficulty keeping up with evolving technology. Finance departments are among the most likely to rely on cloud-based solutions, and the coronavirus pandemic pushed many businesses toward cloud-based accounting out of necessity as offices closed and remote work became the norm for many.


“The last couple of years there’s been an explosion of cloud accounting,” said Kimberly Gangi, a partner at Rochester-based Insero & Co., who runs the firm’s outsource accounting services group.

Despite the increase in cloud-accounting, many business leaders are still wondering if it is right for their firms and are not sure what questions to ask and what to look for when considering a move to the cloud.

Clients frequently express concern about data security, said Michael Doody, a partner in Rochester-based EFPR Group’s Tax and Business Services Department and the lead partner for the firm’s finance outsourcing branch EFPR Solutions. Doody, who has been in the accounting industry for more than 25 years, said the benefits of cloud accounting “far outweigh the risks” at this point.

“In our mind the security is more than adequate; you can see who has been in the files, when they’ve been in the files and what they’ve done in the files,” Doody said. “I’d say it’s just as, if not more, secure than someone housing their small business records in their office.”

Major firms developing cloud accounting software have security front of mind when designing the systems and install redundancy and backup as part of the systems, Doody said, noting there are risks with traditional systems as well.

Gangi and Doody described a myriad of benefits that can come from cloud computing, including increased speed and efficiency, the ability to work from anywhere and the ability to utilize add-on, or tie in, applications that feature artificial intelligence and automation.

One of the main advantages, and a major driver of adoption, is the ability to complete work from anywhere using cloud-based accounting software.

“If you have an internet connection and it’s secure, you can do accounting in the cloud,” Gangi said. “And in this environment that we all work in today, resources are scarce and people are even scarcer. Everybody is vying for the same talent and cloud accounting makes it possible to broaden your reach for talent.”

Cloud-based accounting platforms allow for the integration of add-on, or tie-in applications like bill pay services. Those services can collect invoices, scan them and automatically populate the information into the accounting software, something Doody said can eliminate formerly human tasks and allow bills to be paid as soon as the approval process is completed.


“It makes it go a little faster,” Doody said. “And you can scale faster with the same resources, or you can do more with less.”

AI and automation tools that interact with cloud-based accounting platforms can complete simple bookkeeping tasks and free up employees to work on higher level, more value-added tasks, according to Doody. He said that can lead to improved retention and make firms more attractive to prospective employees, especially younger accountants who learn about these capabilities in school and expect it when they enter the workforce.

“It’s a way for companies and firms like ours to say, ‘hey we value you, and we want you to use you at your highest and best use,’” Doody said. “We’d rather have you do higher level work and critical thinking.”

Asked about potential cons to cloud-based accounting, Gangi and Doody did not express any true drawbacks to the technology but pointed out the implementation of such programs and the transition from traditional accounting to cloud-based applications can be difficult for some organizations.

Organizations must be willing and able to invest the time and resources necessary to make the transition, Gangi said, adding it can be especially challenging for those who still rely heavily on paper. Some organizations simply aren’t ready to make the leap to cloud accounting, but Gangi said there are benefits for just about any organization ready and willing to make the move.

Ensuring the right staffing is in place to make a move to cloud-based accounting is critical, Gangi said, and organizations must have, or hire, qualified individuals who can implement a new system.

“And you have to be committed and make sure you have people who are embracing the change and ready to move forward,” Gangi said. “Buy-in from leadership and the finance team is very important.”

There are several steps and considerations firms should have in mind when deciding whether to move accounting functions to the cloud.

Doody recommends firms talk to someone who has made the transition, especially in the same industry. Having been through it, they may have insight into what to avoid or the benefits of certain products, Doody said, noting on the retail side one common issue is point of sales systems not properly communicating with the accounting software.

“You probably want to do a little homework beforehand and say, ‘here’s all the things that I have that I need to have talk to it,’” Doody said, adding anyone considering such a move should make a list of all the features they want connected to the accounting platform, and find out if what they’re currently using is compatible.

Doody also said it’s important for businesses who utilize small, local banks, to make sure their bank can work with the accounting platform to show transactions.

Planning the initial migration is an important task that can be significant, Doody said, especially if firms want to move over a lot of data. For clients switching from a desktop version of a program like Intuit’s QuickBooks to a cloud-based version like QuickBooks Online, a transition can be completed in as little as 48 hours, he said, but moving from more archaic systems to the cloud can be more time consuming, especially if firms have a desire to migrate historical data.

“Sometimes we’ll just say, ‘wait until year end,’ and when you have your year-end numbers finalized, we can start the new file up with those closed out, year-end numbers and you start with clean numbers,” Doody said.

In addition to the tall task of deciding whether a move to cloud-based accounting is right for your business, there are dozens of products claiming to be one-size-fits-all accounting solutions, and the sea of options can be overwhelming. Anyone considering a move to the cloud should take the time to engage help and make the right decision.

Gangi said choosing a reputable software firm with a successful track record is important, and she suggests finding a capable firm to help find the best product and complete the transition.

“You have to sit down with somebody who can help you vet what it is you need, what the most important features are for you, what you are using it for and what you are trying to get out of it,” Gangi said.

Matthew Reitz is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

Panera Bread using AI technology at two Rochester area locations  

Panera Bread has started testing AI technology in drive-thru lanes at two Rochester area locations with with the goal of maximizing efficiency and increasing speed of orders.   

Select Panera bakery-cafes in the greater Rochester area have implemented OpenCity’s proprietary voice AI ordering technology, called Tori.

Guests at Panera Bread cafes at 800 Greece Ridge Center Dr. in Greece and 935 Holt Road in Webster are the first Panera locations to use the technology. 

Tori is installed at these locations and will take orders as normal at the drive-thru speaker, with Panera associates on standby to assist if needed to troubleshoot any issues. Drive-thru guests can pull up to their Panera drive-thru, place their order as usual with assistance from Tori and pay the Panera associate for their menu items at the drive-thru window.  

The addition of the AI technology at the drive-thru will help to cut down wait times, improve order accuracy and allow associates to focus on freshly preparing guests’ orders, the company stated in a release.  

“At Panera, improving our guest experience is always our priority and we are using this innovative technology to help enable a faster, more accurate order for each of our drive-thru guests,” said Debbie Roberts, EVP and chief operating officer at Panera Bread, in a statement. “The potential of AI drive-thru technology is incredibly exciting for us – we are eager to evaluate the performance of these tests and the possibility of expanding this technology in additional bakery-cafes.” 

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