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'Hey Google, check my balances:' More voice tech coming to RIAs

Most wealthy clients use voice assitants in their cars 9/5/19
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As brokerages and fintechs develop voice assistant tools, clients may have easier access to their investments than ever. But what does that mean for financial advisors?

TD Ameritrade introduced a new enhancement this week through Google Assistant. Retail customers can check their investment performance and balances and ask for status updates on market sectors via specified voice commands such as: “Hey Google, ask TD Ameritrade for my balances.”

While the feature is currently only available for clients in the company’s retail division, it should be ready for RIAs before the end of this year, according to company spokesman Joe Giannone.

Clients will be able to check up on their portfolios while driving to work, getting dressed or making dinner. But that might lead to clients checking too often, says Kaleb Paddock, founder of Ten Talents Financial Planning, an RIA custodied at TD Ameritrade.

“I think for people investing for retirement, it is poor behavior to be checking [your portfolio] every day, every week, every month. That’s just going to cause more anxiety in investors’ minds,” he says.

Still, it was already easy for clients to check their returns before, Paddock notes, since clients can access their accounts through phones and mobile apps.

While there may be risk of increased client anxiety in that respect, the benefits of voice assistants can be significant. Advisors at wealth management firm Financial Strategies Group found that TD Ameritrade’s Alexa enhancement helped them better serve some of their clients — particularly those who are blind.

Advisors can use the voice assistants themselves, too. TD Ameritrade's custodial division has a flash briefing for advisors through Alexa, which can give them daily practice management insights and relevant news in under two minutes — an enhancement that may become available through Google’s voice assistant in the future as well, according to an email from Danielle Fava, director of innovation at TD Ameritrade Institutional.

Envestnet|Yodlee and eMoney Advisor have their own voice recognition technology that can help advisors retrieve information about client accounts or assist them with navigating CRM portals.

Still, not all advisors are interested in this kind of a tool — and some are hesitant about security.

“Everyone says they’re concerned about privacy until there’s a huge breach, so I just feel you just have to exercise caution — especially for financial accounts,” Paddock says. He notes he will encourage clients to be cautious and read all the fine print if they are interested in using the technology to check balances or investments. “I just feel like so many of these things become available and we don’t research them. We don’t really know who we’re interacting with when we download them.”

TD Ameritrade authentication information is not made visible to Google, said Giannone. To access their accounts, clients have to authenticate their account first by logging into the TD Ameritrade framework.

“Security and privacy remain, as ever, top priorities at TD Ameritrade,” he said. He noted that Google’s optional voice authentication technology for shared devices is not owned or controlled by TD Ameritrade.

Greg O’Gara, senior research analyst for Aite Group’s wealth management practice, tested the tool on his cell phone yesterday, and noted that his user ID for his TD Ameritrade account was spoken out loud.

“I’d personally feel more comfortable if my user ID wasn’t read out loud,” says O’Gara, but added that he doesn’t think there is any large security risk.

When clients use a Google Home product, the assistant reads aloud percentage changes in a portfolio, not monetary values, according to Giannone, while dollar amounts are read when using a mobile device.

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