My home has recently been invaded by personal assistants. Not the human variety, but instead small unassuming devices that sit quietly in my lounge room and kitchen waiting for the opportunity to…well…assist. Constantly listening – which is a tad creepy – these personal assistants are ready to reach out into the internet and gather all kinds of information for me…weather, news, rarely known facts, simple computations, recipes, music…all I have to do is ask.
If you don’t already have one of these devices, chances are, you will soon. Known as voice assistants, these wireless speakers are part of emerging range of smart-home devices. Primarily provided by a few of the big tech players – Google, Amazon and Apple – these devices are proving hugely popular with consumers, with their use now entering the mainstream.
Based on Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology, these devices use Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) or Web Services to retrieve information from third parties and provide verbal responses to verbal questions, almost instantaneously. The appeal of voice assistants is obvious –by aggregating diverse services through a single interface, they are affording consumers a level of simplicity, convenience and immediacy that is hard to resist.
In the wealth management sector, it is only a matter of time before customers come to expect their fund to interact with them using this new channel. What many might not realise, is that these hot new tech gadgets present significant opportunities, as well as substantial threats to your business.
In term of positives, voice assistants provide a splendid opportunity for wealth providers and super funds to better engage with their customers using a medium of their choice. When combined with the aggregation capability enabled by modern API’s, the possibilities are quite extraordinary. For example, funds or platforms that employ modern administration systems with mature API’s can allow a customer to log in, check an account balance, run a retirement savings calculation and even set up a regular voluntary contribution, all without a single mouse click. Even more compelling than the hands-free capability is the capacity to seamlessly transfer this interaction to a call centre or adviser to continue the conversation when the customer is ready for the next level of engagement.
That’s a small window into the opportunities that voice assistants present. So what about the threats? Well, these are not as immediately apparent. Let’s take a closer look at what happens to a super fund’s brand when the likes of Amazon or Google steps in between it and the member. In the example above, it is entirely possible that after the initial setup of the service, the fund’s brand may not play any further part in the customer’s interactions with the voice assistant. Simply asking the device to ‘open my super fund’ may be enough to biometrically authenticate the user and begin the interaction. As a result, the customer’s relationship is no longer with the underlying service provider – the super fund – but with the tech giant providing the voice assistant.
In this new environment, the brand identity and trust built up by a super fund over many years stands to be eroded. It’s possible that super funds of the future may be forced to evolve from retailers with direct relationships with their members into wholesalers hidden behind retail front-ends provided by the tech giants. It’s also possible that the tech giants may choose to capitalise on their own extraordinary brand loyalty, distribution capability and advanced technology to develop their own financial services offerings as WeChat did in China.
While no one knows for sure exactly how this new technology will play out, there is little doubt that the use of voice assistants will become pervasive. It’s a tech trend the wealth management industry cannot afford to ignore. So what do you need to do to survive and thrive in this fluid and evolving space? Ensuring your technology environment can support ‘voice’ as the initial gateway for interactions with your customers is the first step. To this end, having total control over your operating environment and your data is essential. Waiting in line for change from service providers is a sure way to be left behind.
Above all else, modern, open and agile systems that are capable of adapting and responding to ongoing changes in a volatile marketplace are base requirements. Your technology systems must be engineered to enable rapid experimentation, granular failure and grand success.