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UBS asks Amazon’s Alexa for personalized service

UBS Wealth Management is experimenting with voice recognition, but security remains a concern.



Richard Chow, UBS

UBS Wealth Management is pushing personalization to the limits of technology in order to give wealthy customers a great user experience.

For private banks, traditional client service has fluctuated between relationship manager calls and visits – inefficient for merely transmitting portfolio updates or generic house views – and mailing out dull reports stuffed with legalese and dry tables of data.

So UBS is trying to liven things up by making routine information available in more exciting ways. The firm showed off some of its latest work during a recent tour of its Kowloon digital hub, where the wealth manager organizes its client-facing initiatives.

Video statements
Among these were video statements, which is ready for production, and projects still under development – notably a voice-triggered service using Alexa, Amazon’s personal intelligent assistant.

Consumer banks in the U.S. have begun using video to provide regular statements to customers. UBS Wealth Management needed to ensure the concept would serve its high-net-worth clients, says Richard Chow, executive director of the wealth management’s Asia-Pacific digital office.

It has assembled statements into 90-second videos that provide portfolio balances, identify areas of over- and under-performance, provides house views on major asset classes, and suggests rebalancing options.

The reports are integrated into the firm’s ‘health check’, an online service it has offered for two years, which monitors portfolios daily to alert clients of deviations from their prescribed investment strategies.

The video statements were developed with a third-party fintech that Chow declined to name.

Hello, Alexa
That service is ready for production. More cutting edge is the firm’s developing a personalized service by voice over Amazon’s Alexa (part of its Echo series of personalized-assistant devices).

A client with Alexa on a desk or a coffee table can not only ask it to book a restaurant or check the weather, but also ask it what UBS thinks of Bitcoin or whether U.S. equities are overvalued. Clients can also request a suite of UBS research and house views.

Right now the information is what UBS can produce generically, but the experiments point in a direction of customization. At some point a client could ask UBS (via Alexa) very detailed and specific questions, have an in-depth discussion about the markets or their portfolio, and transact, without having to log onto an app or open a laptop.

That’s the goal, and Chow says the firm will be able to produce similar services for other tech companies’ personal assistants, such as Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana or Alibaba’s Tmall Genie.

Security and privacy
But there are challenges. Some are minor irritants: Amazon doesn’t currently ship Alexa to Hong Kong, so the company had to transport devices from the U.S. in order to provide it to clients in Greater China who are serving as beta customers.

But there is one difficult hurdle: security. Internet-of-Thing devices could be hacked. Voices can be digitally mimicked.

Even if external threats are neutralized, these personal assistants are always on, listening passively. The bank is addressing the security concerns around that. Being ‘always on’ can also lead to the machine responding to dialogue when humans don’t meant to address Alexa, so there is a risk of giving it unintended instructions – not to mention the more prosaic annoyance of having Alexa butt into DigFin’s conversation with Chow.

The bank seems determined to overcome these hurdles, though, because it views personalization as critical to its efforts to generate the kind of user experience its wealthy customers are coming to expect. The Alexa service is being tested in Hong Kong and Singapore, and when it’s ready, the Hong Kong office will be responsible for its commercialization.

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