Virtual Reality Wealth Management

By Grzegorz Prosowicz and Maciej Wolański

Many consumers find financial data dry and unappealing. Allowing them to visualize it could break new ground for wealth management by making it easier to grasp and much more engaging. Virtual reality (VR) plays the first fiddle here.

Imagine you’re the customer.

It all starts with your smartwatch notifying you through an iPhone app about a change in the investment markets. The sender is your financial advisor, who’s always alert when something of note pops up on the market.

You grab your phone, put it into a VR headset, connect the advisor, and ask her to show you how the market change—and possible responses—may affect your portfolio.

A tiny screen on your wrist then turns into a huge one in your goggles—what you see in 3D is a kind of command center where you have the full overview of the situation.

And here’s where you start assessing the whole master plan. Could you put some of the eggs into different baskets? Visually stunning charts and graphs help you figure out your next best move every step of the way.

In the world of finance, the power of data visualization can transform the headachy task of analyzing columns and numbers into an experience that’s not only painless, but enjoyable—and more productive. It can demystify financial decisions and products, allowing clients to explore them at leisure, anytime, anywhere. Finally, it can bring “private” back to “private banking,” creating a completely separate, secluded sphere to plunge into.

All of this is what virtual reality brings to the table.
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VR is on a hot streak.

Analysts are working on estimates of how many billions of dollars the virtual market will amount to in the next several years. According to Piper Jaffray, an investment bank and asset management firm, the number will exceed $60 billion in a decade, making VR headsets and content “the next mega tech theme.”

To go into VR mode, a user must wear a special helmet with a built-in display, powered by a computer, game console or a smartphone. Specialized software and sensors make the virtual experience complete: you are transported into another location, a replicated environment—real or imagined—and feel as if you were part of it.

Piper Jaffray believes that VR is today where mobile phones were 15 years ago. That may be, but it’s also moving forward considerably faster. When you look at the technology adoption curve, VR is spreading at a swift pace: last year it was a distant gadget to which no one could attach a reasonable purpose; today it is entering into the mainstream.

And it’s all over the news:

  • Taking online shopping to the next level, eBay is partnering with Australia’s Myer to create “the world’s first virtual reality department store”—available as an app that works via a smartphone placed inside a VR headset.
  • In cooperation with HTC, Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk plans to make a virtual reality version of her “Vulnicura” album.
  • Thanks to the new Android N platform from Google (coming soon) users will be able to experience Netflix or YouTube in a 3D mode. “Ever wish you could swim with sharks, ride in an Indy Car, or go on a world tour?”—asks the official YouTube blog announcing the functionality.

It doesn’t stop there. Facebook has just announced that in five years it will “probably” be “all video” while Oculus, a VR outfit owned by Mr. Zuckerberg’s company, could rise to become a basis for a next generation social network where you are able to meet people “face-to-face” even if they’re thousands of miles apart.

According to the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, VR should be ready for mass adoption over the next five to ten years. We believe its full potential is still undiscovered though, particularly in the context of data analysis. This would allow users to interact with the data, replacing the traditional browsing of charts and tables. Financial institutions, including Wells Fargo and Silicon Valley Bank are already beginning to experiment with VR. Others, like Goldman Sachs or Santander watch this space closely. The big question is how it can be incorporated into banking the right way.

A strategy of immersion.

For the purpose of wealth management, a VR headset could be used as a co-browsing device that allows clients to accompany their advisors into a virtual space, where financial moves are planned and potential scenarios clearly depicted.

The picture below shows an exemplary portfolio overview. Top left corner: best performers as of today. Below: companies the client has invested in the most. Top right corner: how much money they have in different regions of the world. Then there are sectors, like telco or healthcare—and gains within these. Finally, currency allocation.

Prosowicz picture 1

It’s important to note that under this model of remote advisory, the possible outcomes from a range of investment decisions can also be visualized. This may ultimately help clients make better decisions in the real world.

In this vein, the main prompt for using VR in private banking would be to display a hybrid of easily digestible financial information to enable clients to better extract patterns and interconnections within complex investment realities.

In theory, it is also possible to turn the VR space all into a self-service channel—think regular client app, only enriched with another dimension and an additional device.

Further development could include the use of gesture controllers that read muscle and tendon activity of the user, as well as algorithms that recognize human speech. The latter would enable a voice interface that allows commands like “show me my last transactions.” Commands given by eye movement are also possible—for example, fixing your eyes on a button for three seconds would have the effect of tapping it.

It’s a matter of when, not if.

Earlier this year, the long-awaited Oculus and HTC headsets hit the market, which for many was the symbolic beginning of the VR expansion.

Of course, few people are likely to invest considerable sums of money in fancy, oversized spectacles solely for the purposes of financial services. But when VR becomes a more natural mode of content consumption—on Facebook or YouTube, for example—consumers will also want to perform banking operations in the manner they have become accustomed to. And that day seems to be rapidly approaching. As of this moment, the goggles are bulky and brick-like. Then again, so were mobile phones at first. Look at them now.

“If VR technology becomes as lightweight as a set of glasses, we see the potential for the evolution… where multiple devices are combined into one, potentially replacing phones and PC environments,” Goldman Sachs recently reported on the topic. A VR study from Sophic Capital, a capital markets advisory firm, said, “Why scroll a mouse when your eyes could tell your computer where to navigate? Why type when subtle head movements could point to letters or words?”

If this seems far-fetched to you, think about it this way: did anyone, in the early days of the Internet, imagine it would ever be used for banking? Back then, the web largely served as a giant bulletin board. Today it’s the most popular banking channel.

No, the private banking sphere has not been quick to embrace technical novelties. And no, it can never replace ordinary human interactions with clients. “A bank cannot be a soft drink vending machine that just gives out cans,” one private banker told us the other day.

True. But the these relationships can—and should—be enhanced by innovation, especially as private bankers need to increasingly cater to a new, emerging generation of clients. Many of these clients will be full digital natives.

At Finovate 2016 last month, Comarch gave a demo of its virtual reality financial services capabilities. See it for yourself in this 6-minute video.

Grzegorz Prosowicz is the head of product management for capital markets at Comarch, one of Europe’s leading software houses serving telecommunications, finance and banking, services & trade. LinkedIn.

Maciej Wolański is the head of R&D at Comarch’s Financial Services division. An expert in Fintech and innovation, Maciej is responsible for developing and testing new ideas, technologies and business models. LinkedIn.

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