5 big tech trends coming your way

Previewing game-changing technology that will rock the advisory world

Mar 9, 2014 @ 12:01 am

By Joyce Hanson

Ed O'Brien, senior vice president of Fidelity Institutional's platform technology.
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Ed O'Brien, senior vice president of Fidelity Institutional's platform technology. (Kathy Tarantola)

Forget cloud computing and mobile applications — they're so 2010.

So what are the next “wow factor” tech trends, ideas and products that will rock the world of financial advisers and their clients in the not-so-distant future?

Chances are, they will en-compass the wizardry of “big data” algorithms, wearable tech for go-anywhere advisers, video-game-inspired business applications, deep content analysis by supercomputers such as IBM's Watson, and software that has an uncanny ability to read facial expressions and emotions.

In financial services, which was once a leader in technological change, the wow factor is now more likely to come from the consumer market, according to Neesha Hathi, senior vice president of Advisor Technology Solutions at The Charles Schwab Corp.

“Technology used to come through defense and the government to business, and then make its way down to consumers as the cost became more effective,” Ms. Hathi said. “But since the early 2000s, more often the new innovation is coming from the consumer side of the world. As soon as someone marketed the iPad to consumers, they said to themselves, "Wait, I can use this in my business.'”

In an effort to identify emerging technology that will likely have a profound affect on the delivery of financial advice in not-so-distinct future, InvestmentNews talked to some of the best and brightest minds in adviser technology. We compiled a list of five important technological trends that financial advisers cannot afford to ignore.

Ram Nagappan, chief information officer at Pershing, looked at our list and concluded that many of the technologies presented here will change advisers' lives sooner rather than later.

“We feel that the future is already here,” he said.

“We're looking at all these technologies to apply to advisers so we [can] deliver the best experience to them and the end investor.”

BIG DATA

Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon.com Inc., has made no secret of his ambition to collect as much data as possible on affluent consumers so that he can sell them not just books and other media but electronics, household appliances and even groceries.

Amazon's success serves as inspiration to tech teams in the financial services industry, which are studying how to use big-data analytics and statistical probability to better know their customers, including advisers and their clients.

Big data is so big that even the smartest of technophiles have a hard time managing it. This is because it encompasses a huge flow of information about customers, products and services that companies have been gathering for years.

Much of this information, whether collected from traditional or digital databases, has moved into the cloud and continues to grow exponentially.

“With the explosion of big data and analytics, how do you digest all that information?” said Victor Fetter, chief information officer at LPL Financial.

“We believe it's a gold mine — the challenge is that it's moving fast. You have to adapt and create new models,” Mr. Fetter said.

Patrick Yip, director of Advisory Technology Strategy at Pershing, said that one of the first times he truly appreciated how big data works was when he received a Google Now alert on his Android smartphone telling him that commuter traffic was getting heavy where he lived, so if he wanted to beat the rush, he should leave home right away.

“Context is something that knows you and your preferences and location, and then responds to it,” he said.

Pointing to Amazon, which uses big-data algorithms to recommend products based on something that a consumer has previously purchased, Mr. Yip said that Pershing is looking for similar apps that it can recommend to advisers.

SMART OFFICE

The integrated smart office may be more of a designer's dream than a reality.

But in just a few years, advisers can expect to work with wearable devices, office products and even furniture that use cloud technology and integrated software platforms to help facilitate conversations with clients, said Ed O'Brien, senior vice president of Fidelity Institutional's platform technology.

Technology will be less visible as computers disappear into user-friendly hardware, he said, noting that Fidelity has designed an “office of the future” prototype on its Smithfield, R.I., campus that shows registered investment advisers how they will use all that new technology to better engage with their clients.

“You won't see a lot of physical servers and technology infrastructure,” Mr. O'Brien said. “You'll instead see more-collaborative workspaces with lots of mobile technology and integrated technologies.”

Fidelity's office of the future includes a smart coffee table that lets clients sit in a casual office setting with advisers while browsing the web, sharing reports and benchmarking themselves against investment goals.

Tablet presentation-sharing technology, meanwhile, allows for collaborative review of quarterly reports and can be accessed remotely. And a cloud-based virtual desktop for RIAs lets advisers work from anywhere they have access to a web browser.

Improved video conferencing and better gadget management also will catch on in the smart office. For example, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January offered a glimpse of where video is headed, with a Sony projector that can turn an entire wall into a TV screen, and an Intel smart bowl that someday will charge gadgets simply thrown into it.

Wearable technology, too, is headed advisers' way, Ms. Hathi said.

She pointed to Google Glass, the Pebble smartwatch and the Fitbit activity tracker, saying that what seems like a fun gadget will become a valuable business tool.

“We are just now exploring how wearables will be used in wealth management,” Ms. Hathi said.

Fidelity was the first major brokerage firm to make a public foray into wearable technology six months ago when the Fidelity Labs research and development unit was granted early access to Google Glass and created a Glassware app that lets wearers focus their vision on a logo of a publicly traded company to generate a real-time market quote, according to analysts at online and mobile research firm Corporate Insight.

'GAMIFICATION'

Advisers take their work seriously, so the idea of bringing game dynamics into their practices to encourage desired client behavior can make them nervous. But consumer websites and online communities have been using game mechanics to motivate participation and loyalty for years.

Gail Graham, chief marketing officer at advisory firm United Capital Private Wealth Counseling, has used its Money Mind Analyzer to work with 45,000 clients and prospects since 2010.

Money Mind's web app is played as a question-and-answer game by couples to determine whether each partner is most driven by fear, happiness or a need to commit.

The game leads couples to United Capital's Honest Conversation advice program, which comprises about 10,000 retail households, Ms. Graham said.

More participants in the financial services industry are starting to venture into the new frontier of “gamification.”

Investing platform Kapitall Generation, for example, lures investors onto its platform by letting them play with a “fun and easy” $100,000 practice portfolio before trading for real.

In addition, game mechanics are being used by banks to draw in new digitally connected customers, according to Forrester Research Inc.

For example, PNC Bank's “Punch the Pig” game prompts customers to transfer money from their spending accounts to growth accounts.

Closer to the advisory world, custodians are leading the charge into gamification. For example, Pershing, at its annual Insite conference in June, used online game design to educate conference-goers about its NetX360 platform for advisers.

Also, Fidelity Labs has introduced a “Beat the Benchmark” experiment with online gaming in its office of the future's smart coffee table.

SUPERCOMPUTING

International Business Machines Corp.'s supercomputer, Watson, won “Jeopardy” in 2011 because it could sort and analyze vast amounts of data faster than its human competitors.

IBM is actively seeking to use Watson for industrial applications, and the supercomputer is moving into the realm of financial planning.

On a “Watson in finance” web page on its website, IBM states that Watson is being designed as “the ultimate financial services assistant,” capable of performing deep content analysis and evidence-based reasoning to help advisers make informed decisions about investments, trading patterns and risk management.

Jon Patullo, TD Ameritrade Institutional's managing director for technology product management, is positive about this development, saying that he can see the value in supercomputers sifting through massive amounts of data, such as prospectuses, to help drive efficiencies in advisers' practices.

As a further sign of the supercomputer's growth, IBM said Feb. 26 that its Watson Group had launched a global competition to encourage developers to create mobile consumer and business apps powered by Watson.

MIND READING

Mind reading used to be an illusion invented by magicians and tricksters, but in the future, advisers will be able to do some conjuring of their own with voice, mood and facial analytics.

Although mood and facial analytics haven't yet entered the financial services arena, Pershing is using voice analysis, a technology that is catching on at call centers. Customer calls to Pershing are analyzed for empathy expressed by company representatives, silent time on calls and behavioral cues when customers use phrases such as “I'm so frustrated” and “I can't believe this takes so long.”

Beyond voice, cloud-based emotion capture technology now under development uses computer vision to recognize viewers' emotional responses to products and services.

Is the client happy, sad or confused? The software reads pixellated facial features, assessing shapes to infer how a person is feeling.

Already, products such as Affectiva Inc.'s Affdex, Emotient.com, Face.com, Noldus Information Technology's FaceReader and Sightcorp, have arrived on the market to provide companies with consumer analytics based on age, gender, eye tracking, facial expressions, mood and attention level. For example, Sightcorp's webcam eye-tracking software lets companies detect where product users' attention is focused in a controlled lab setting.

Expect to see mood and facial analytics enter the advisory industry in the next five to 10 years, said Oleg Tishkevich, chief executive of financial planning platform Finance Logix.

He predicts that advisers will be able to scan emotional feedback and metrics on how clients are responding to investment proposals or opportunities.

“As the adviser speaks to clients either in real time or on video, the software will read facial expression as they talk about their financial plan, and see if they're happy or sad, and recognize what is and isn't interesting,” Mr. Tishkevich said. “Anything that has a camera, including Google Glass, can be used to read emotion.”

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