The technological revolution is changing the financial industry in many ways, from how wealth is managed and documentation is processed to how clients can interface with advisors and their money. UBS and Amazon.com Inc. are continuing this trend with a new partnership that will allow UBS clients to use Amazon’s Alexa program to access their accounts and ask financial and economic questions.

The move comes in the wake of other similar programs that have been recently launched, such as Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s introduction of “Erica,” which is a virtual financial assistant that will be incorporated into their mobile app next year. This artificial intelligence (AI) program will be able to analyze a client’s account, answer questions and at some point may even be able to anticipate their financial needs. (For more, see: How Humans and Robots Will Improve Financial Advice.)

The Technology

Amazon’s Alexa technology is the AI that powers its Echo and Echo Dot devices, which are voice-controlled speakers. Users can simply ask the device questions such as “Alexa, what’s the weather today?” Users only need to start their question with the name Alexa and it will answer them.

UBS has also partnered with technology developer SigFig to provide a digital advice platform for use by its approximately 7,100 advisors. Lex Sokolin, Autonomous Research's global director of fintech research, told Financial Planning that these partnerships are part of a larger trend in the industry to incorporate digital advice and planning and other cutting-edge technologies into the business. "The holy grail of a chatbot or virtual assistant is to help you adjust your behavior, telling you when to save more or spend in order to reach certain goals," Sokolin says. "I think if you look out a few years from today, it's not that far from budgeting and personal financial management to full financial planning."

UBS is about to conduct a pilot program using its Wealth Management Innovation Lab, which is based in Zurich and the U.K. It will employ a test group consisting of both clients and non-clients in order to find out and rank which services best fit the program. The clients in the program are not able to access their accounts at this point, as the company says that it is refraining from this for security and confidentiality reasons. (For more, see: Advisors: Why Staying Ahead of Technology is More Vital than Ever.)

Sokolin also said that the new AI programs are a quantum leap past the ones used back in the 1990s that required the user to say exactly the right thing before it would answer. He feels that clients will benefit the most when these programs actually become able to help them achieve specific financial goals. Dirk Klee, COO of UBS Wealth Management, said in a statement that the new service could help the company become more attractive to potential clients. "Our pilot with Amazon Alexa is an exciting start into the journey towards virtual assistants and improved client interaction. We don’t disclose sales numbers, but there are millions of Alexa-enabled devices out there."

UBS is not the only financial services firm that is experimenting with Amazon’s Alexa technology. Lloyds Banking Group is also looking into using this service for some of their consumer banking services. Amazon began marketing Alexa and its related devices in the U.K. last month and they will become available in Germany next month. They have been available in the U.S. since June of 2015.

The Bottom Line

Voice interface programs like Alexa represent the future of the financial planning industry. This new technology will be used to automate many tasks and procedures that now have to be done manually. Advisors who want to grow their practices will need to stay abreast of these new developments in order to remain competitive. (For more, see: Technology Trends Financial Advisors Must Stay Ahead Of.)

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