Maintaining human interaction in a robo-care world

At a recent BlackRock Retirement Roundtable in London, Matt Cullen, Head of Strategy for the Association of British Insurers, talked about the importance of human contact to maintain good health as we age.

BlackRock’s Retirement Roundtable series covers a wide range of retirement-related topics, and at the London roundtable, Matt Cullen explained why as we get older, human contact is crucial to good health. I recently caught up with Matt to revisit his ideas.

Chip: I don’t know if you keep up with American newspapers over in the UK, but recently the New York Times ran a story on the negative health effects of loneliness. It reminded me of your presentation at our London roundtable.

Cullen: Yes, it’s increasingly clear that isolation has effects beyond loneliness—which is bad enough in itself. Social isolation and loneliness have been linked to cognitive decline, potentially adding to the late-life care burden. Now we’re seeing that isolation may even affect our physical health as well. My particular concern is that technology, which is so beneficial in so many ways, could have some unfortunate side effects.

Chip: Such as?

Cullen: It’s widely expected that robotics will revolutionize retirement—particularly late-life care—by automating tasks that would otherwise be carried out, at greater cost, by human caregivers. As you know from your roundtable in Japan, this trend is most far along there. But it will spread to other advanced countries in short order. The problem and the solution go hand-in-hand: Take humans out the equation and you reduce costs. But you also increase isolation.

Chip: You’re in insurance. This is all very interesting, but what does it have to do with your business?

Cullen: More and more, the private retirement market is being encouraged to design retirement income solutions that incorporate an element of late-life care costs. In this context, supporting human interaction for the elderly in this world is not only an ethical issue—which of course it is, first and foremost—but a business issue for insurance, long-term savings and wealth management firms.

Chip: Like the one I work for. So what can be done?

Cullen: One of the great things about tech is that even as new innovations create new challenges, technology itself can often rise to solve those challenges. One thing we can do is to use data analytics to help bring together like-minded elderly people, both remotely and physically. Another big change with real potential is self-driving cars, which while we are not there yet, are clearly on the way. Many elderly people become unable to drive but are otherwise still quite active, so driverless cars would be a huge boon in preventing people from becoming stuck in their own homes. Even further down the road, virtual reality and hologram technology could facilitate genuine, albeit virtual, human interactions not only with family and friends, but other individuals and organizations as well.

Chip: Sounds like science fiction.

Cullen: I guess so, but many innovations that first appear in sci-fi end up becoming reality further down the road.

Chip: What’s the role for our industries?

Cullen: Well, one of your themes for the roundtable was “holistic”—the notion that we need to look at the retirement challenge from many different angles and see all its complexity and interactions. That’s true, of course, and especially so for financial services. Firms in our industry ought to be developing solutions that provide a holistic funding of retirement, including elderly care. In such a market, there would be an incentive for firms to facilitate actions that helped maintain human interaction and independence, potentially reducing extensive elderly care costs.

Chip: I agree. We have some work ahead of us! Thanks for taking the time.

Chip Castille, Managing Director, is head of the BlackRock Global Retirement Strategy Group and a regular contributor to The Blog.

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The opinions expressed are as of September 2016 and may change as subsequent conditions vary. The information and opinions contained in this post are those of the interviewee. They may be derived from proprietary and nonproprietary sources deemed to be reliable, but are not necessarily all-inclusive or guaranteed as to accuracy. The opinions do not reflect the views of BlackRock, Inc. and no warranty of accuracy or reliability is given to and no responsibility arising in any other way for errors and omissions (including responsibility to any person by reason of negligence) is accepted by BlackRock, Inc., its officers, employees or agents. This post may contain “forward-looking” information that is not purely historical in nature. Such information may include, among other things, projections and forecasts. There is no guarantee that any forecasts made will come to pass. Reliance upon information in this post is at the sole discretion of the reader.

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