Searching for Answers

John Yeigh

MY DAYS WRITING for HumbleDollar may be numbered. I recently started playing with Google’s Bard, OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Microsoft’s version of the ChatGPT artificial intelligence (AI) platform, and was curious to see how they might perform in providing basic financial guidance. Their answers were generally sensible and aligned with HumbleDollar’s approach—though also occasionally flawed.

You might think that AI can’t possibly replace articles penned by contributors, since the charm of HumbleDollar is the contributors’ personal stories. Yet, if asked for a 500- or 700-word story, AI platforms can readily deliver original pieces of writing on any topic. While these stories are fiction, they can seem surprisingly realistic.

So far, I’ve found the most useful feature of these AI platforms is their editing ability. I’ve asked the platforms to edit a few of my finance and sports articles and, in every case, the platforms have improved my prose. They tend to make the writing more concise, choose more descriptive words and, in some cases, even suggest relevant content or context.

These platforms are built using large language models, so editing to deliver fluid prose is one of their strengths. You can use them to help you with almost any writing task. They can edit resumes, craft a job query, prepare interview questions, create training materials, complete homework (unfortunately), write poems and compose a love letter.

I’ve also tried other topics. The platforms were especially helpful with planning vacations and hiking trips. They do a good job of finding routes and offering travel alternatives. As with a regular search engine, the more specific the query, the more useful the output. Here are some AI responses to a handful of basic financial queries:

  • When asked to provide the optimal Social Security claiming age, the pros and cons of different ages were well summarized. An example: “If you are in good health and don’t need the money right away, you may want to consider delaying claiming benefits until age 70.”
  • What portfolio allocation should I use? Bard suggested 60% stocks and 40% bonds for a conservative approach, and 80% stocks and 20% bonds for an aggressive approach. Risk and volatility were discussed, despite not being part of my query, but adjusting the allocations as a function of age was not included. Meanwhile, ChatGPT required several more specific queries to provide percentages. It suggested 30% stocks-70% bonds for a conservative approach and 80% stocks-20% bonds for an aggressive approach.
  • When I asked how large an emergency fund I should hold, both programs recommended “to have enough money saved to cover 3 to 6 months of living expenses.”
  • When does a Roth conversion make economic sense? The two main responses were “you are in a low tax bracket now” and “your income is expected to be higher in retirement than it is now.” The output also discussed the need for sufficient time for the Roth to grow and the ability to pay the conversion’s tax bill, but these nuances weren’t of the level of clarity found on HumbleDollar.
  • When asked about the safe withdrawal rate (SWR) for a retirement portfolio, both programs responded with the standard 4% rule, but cautioned that it “will depend on a number of factors, including your age, health, risk tolerance, and investment mix.” I followed up with a query on alternative SWRs and was provided with options covering “variable withdrawal rate,” “dynamic withdrawal rate” and “guaranteed (annuity) income stream.”
  • What’s the marginal percentage cost of Medicare’s income-driven premium surcharges? That’s a topic I wrote about in a recent HumbleDollar article. Both programs got the answer completely wrong. By contrast, the regular Bing and Google search engines each identified the article I’d written, and Google also offered a Bogleheads piece on the topic.

When answering these financial queries, both platforms almost always included a caveat to consult with a financial advisor. Likewise, when signing up, the platforms highlight that these AI systems are in the early development stages and that the responses may contain incorrect information. So far, I prefer Bard’s content delivery and ChatGPT’s editing capabilities.

Despite the occasional flaws, I would still recommend Bard or ChatGPT as useful tools, including for questions about personal finance and retirement basics. While they certainly won’t replace our humble editor any time soon, they can help with writing, editing and planning.

Interested in trying Google’s Bard, OpenAI’s ChatGPT or Microsoft’s ChatGPT? Using them isn’t as simple as typing in an internet address. Instead, you’ll have to request access. From my computer, I used the Google Chrome browser for Bard and the Microsoft Edge browser for the two versions of ChatGPT. Bard is also available using Apple’s IOS software.

Author note: This article has used AI editing assistance, and no egos were hurt in its implementation.

John Yeigh is an author, speaker, coach, youth sports advocate and businessman with more than 30 years of publishing experience in the sports, finance and scientific fields. His book “Win the Youth Sports Game” was published in 2021. John retired in 2017 from the oil industry, where he negotiated financial details for multi-billion-dollar international projects. Check out his earlier articles.

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