Originally published in BISA Portfolio


All technology — particularly consumer technology — moves through a familiar evolution from innovation to early adopters then wider acceptance. Typically, the early adopters’ enthusiasm outpaces actual capabilities while the majority of people wait patiently for any new tech to reach critical mass before expressing much interest. The transition between early adopter and mass adoption often has a lengthy build up and then flips suddenly, appearing as an “overnight success.” While that’s fine for consumers, history has shown that financial firms do not have consumers’ luxury of waiting for mass adoption — miss the transition, and they are forever playing catch up as illustrated perfectly by the robo-advisor phenomenon of recent years.

One of the next major tech innovations to break out for financial firms is staring them in the face: the integration of voice recognition software, such as Amazon’s Alexa.

To date, Alexa has already been a hit for Amazon. But by 2020, Amazon could have 500 million active customers globally according to RBC Capital Markets. Also by 2020, Kleiner Perkins’ renowned internet expert Mary Meekers estimates that voice- and image-based search will make up 50 percent of all web searches, and Gartner, Inc. predicts 30 percent of all web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.

That widespread adoption of voice technology creates an enormous opportunity for financial services companies, and the good news for brokerage firms is that Alexa has achieved adoption in areas that are essential to establish a foundation for growth. Already, numerous banks have begun testing voice technology and Alexa skills for consumers. This is crucial because retail banks are establishing infrastructure and user experiences that create a natural transition to accessing more complex financial information. Consumers are already gaining a comfort level with using various Alexa skills such as the ability to check balances, pay a bill or even query how the financial markets are performing.

Soon however, voice-recognition systems will be gaining brokerage skills and further fill the gap between robo-advisors and human advisors. Done correctly, having a financial digital assistant will enable brokerages to operate more efficiently while creating stickier relationships with clients. The ease of use and convenience of voice technology will make these systems indispensable to clients and therefore keep the financial institution at the center of the client’s experience.

What Will Voice Technology in the Brokerage World Look Like?

End-clients who enable the skill will be able to ask systems that use voice technology a number of questions about their portfolio holdings, activity, market information and their relationship with the financial institution. Depending on the device being used, the system will respond with both voice and visual responses, including charts and images. The robust skill set will allow end-clients to perform most of the functions they now access via mobile devices or online through their voice technology device, giving the client the convenience to choose how they interact with their financial institution.
We’re already seeing this transition among our clients at Scivantage. Recently, we developed a “skill” for Amazon’s Alexa that provides financial institutions with an innovative solution to enhance client satisfaction, improve client retention and increase client acquisition. This new technology is helping firms realize their digital transformation strategies by delivering new digital servicing capabilities, providing the convenience the client is looking for and enhancing the relationship between the financial institution, the advisor and their clients.

What’s Next for Voice Technology and Financial Services?

Digital voice response engagement will continue to evolve beyond traditional investment portfolio servicing and research to more personalized, intuitive-based interactions with users. As an extended client-outreach capability for human advisors and digital advisor solutions, firms will be able to intelligently automate the delivery of meaningful voice-based guidance notifications on financial planning, progress to investment goals, liquidity management optimization, portfolio-rebalancing events, investment opportunities, client-action options and more.

This innovation presents unlimited potential to create personalized investment experiences and client choice on how they want to engage with their investment firms and advisors. Voice-based response and client engagement will serve as an impactful capability for firms to further expand the delivery of a multi-channel and multi-device digital experience. Several major brokerage firms have already announced that they are testing Alexa and other devices based on voice technology. If the historical pattern holds true for voice technology, the industry will have a quiet build up, a brief arms race and then a small number of firms will capture all of the mindshare on voice technology.

Scott Freeland, SVP, Digital Wealth, Head of Product, brings to Scivantage more than 20 years of extensive experience in the wealth management marketplace, launching and managing new investing businesses, bank/brokerage offerings, digital banking and investing platforms and innovative financial products and investing solutions. In support of the Merrill Lynch merger with Bank of America, Scott led the build-out and launch of the Merrill Edge self-directed investing business.

Prior to Merrill Edge, Scott held key roles with Bank of America and Fleet Bank, focusing on brokerage delivery and online banking platform integration.

Scott holds a B.S. in Business Administration from Norwich University.