In drawing together multiple systems and tools, says Mark Loosmore, Amazon's latest bit of technology demonstrates the potential of a connected advisory world
Amazon Echo is a hands-free speaker you control with your voice. In case you missed the news, having been available in the US for two years, its long anticipated UK launch took place at the end of last month to much fanfare and excitement.
The launch managed to ‘out-Apple' Apple, with sleek and stylish packaging and a marketing campaign that included more than 100 ten-second videos to help audiences become more comfortable with the product features.
So what does a speaker have to do with financial advice? Well, Echo is not just a speaker. It does link to multiple music platforms including Spotify and Amazon Prime but it does a whole lot more than stream music. It tells me about the traffic on my commute, the weather forecast, what's in my calendar - all I have to do is ask ‘Alexa' a question.
It - or should that be she? - even tells me jokes, albeit bad ones (What clothes do clouds wear? Thunderwear. Boom, boom.)
New features are being added all the time. Recently Jamie Oliver announced a partnership with Echo to recommend recipes based on the ingredients you have in your fridge or cupboard. There are also plans for voice-activated Amazon shopping - with the launch planned just in time for Christmas. Naturally.
Like Siri from Apple and Cortana from Microsoft, Alexa aims to be your virtual personal assistant and everything ‘she' does is through a single interface - and a really simple one - voice. The difference with Alexa is that Echo has seven microphones and ‘beam-forming technology' (which means data is sent and received using multiple antennas to increase the range) so it can hear you from across the room - even while music is playing.
It is also always on (as long as it is connected to power and Wi-Fi or Bluetooth), so you can call out questions - preceded by the word Alexa to wake the Echo device up - without having to get out your phone or open your laptop.
Yes - but what does all this have to do with financial advice?
Well, Alexa and Echo are connected to some financial apps like a share-price checker, mortgage calculator and some Bitcoin-related tools, although these are currently all still on a US base. But the really interesting thing about Echo for our industry is not what it currently offers - it is what it shows us about how technology can completely connect your world. For advisers, that could be a real game-changer.
Today, an adviser business may need to enter the same data 21 times into 21 different systems. This sounds mad but, worryingly, it is not that unusual. Apart from the danger of input error, misalignment of information across systems and the genuine compliance risk posed, this is a phenomenal waste of an adviser's most precious asset - time. It damages the service and experience we, as an industry, can offer clients.
In drawing together multiple systems and tools, Echo demonstrates the potential of a connected advisory world. A single system, for example, that links to multiple investment platforms, keeps you informed about tasks and diary events, provides client information, manages business finances - and all though a single interface.
Can we expect a financial adviser version of Echo any time soon? The concept of integrated technology is available in the adviser world already. Solutions are here that pull together multiple systems - both internal advice systems and product provider extranets and platforms - within a single interface.
We are now moving towards full two-way sharing of data, with deep integrations enabling the entire advice process to take place within one core user system to streamline the advice process and help advisers make the best use of their time.
We are not quite at the point of that solution being fully voice-activated - yet - but the potential of a connected adviser world is already here. And who knows, one day we might have our very own Alexa.
Mark Loosmore is executive general manager wealth at IRESS
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