NEWARK, N.J. — The way clients are going to find advisors online is set to drastically change thanks to voice-enabled assistants such as Amazon's Alexa. But are advisors prepared for the shift?

Amazon is holding its first-ever Voice Summit, a conference dedicated to voice-enabled technology, at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, New Jersey. Financial services executives mingled with scrappy voice startups and Amazon Alexa VIPs, such as David Isbitski, Amazon’s Chief Evangelist for Alexa and a NJIT alumnus.

When Prudential Financial released its first skill for Amazon’s voice assistant Alexa in April, it was pretty basic. Solely designed for Prudential retirement account holders, the service could provide an account balance, loan balances, and rates of return.

But Prudential officials see this skill as baby steps to a more robust voice-powered future that may help customers and wealth managers alike.

“It has started the right dialogue. It is just the beginning and it’s very exciting,” says Shruti Rawoot, chief information officer and head of retirement information technology services at Prudential.


For the next voice assistant revolution, what can financial planners do now on a practical level?

First, they should clean up their online presence in order to attract new clients, says Shane Closser, head of industry and general manager for financial services at Yext, a tech company based in Manhattan that helps businesses control their online brand footprint.

With the advent of voice, Closser argues that the typical customer journey of people clicking on a homepage, whether on a desktop, or mobile, will be upended.

When people use voice assistants, they don’t visualize menus to navigate and buttons to push, he says. They will ask very specific questions instead, Closser says, such as: “Who is the best rated financial planner nearest to me?” Or, customers may try to find a financial planner that speaks another language other than English.

That means, financial planners will have to manage how their data appears across different websites, from their homepage, review sites, to listings on online directories. The data needs to be thorough too. Yext discovered through a study that 66% of customers want to discover “deep” attributes about the person they will hire.

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By 2020, 30% of web browsing sessions will be done without a screen.

“For the most successful voice strategy, you have to manage all that information on all these different platforms,” he says. “Give up on trying to control the customer journey. Manage the public facts online.”

Besides optimizing your brand online for voice-enabled searches, firms can also leverage this new technology by releasing a branded voice skill, much like Prudential or Charles Schwab, says Closser.

Rawoot discussed integrating financial wellness with voice assistance with Harry Dalessio, head of full-service solutions at Prudential Retirement. Financial wellness has been seen by some fintech experts as an ideal use case for voice assistants or chatbots. They can supplement the work of financial planners or even perhaps replace them entirely if bundled with existing robo advisor tech.

As for Prudential wealth managers, how can voice assistants help them? Rawoot was vague.

“There is a lot of debate and discussion going on, where that boundaries lie, and how we can leverage voice. There are a lot of interaction models we are looking at right now,” she says.

Like Prudential, the skill for Schwab is still developing. Schwab only allows a customer to ask for the current status of the financial markets, get quotes, and keep track of favorite securities. (Other financial services firms with an Alexa skill include TD Ameritrade, Capital One, and Fidelity Investments.)

There were more robust voice examples at the event, including a demo from Finastra, the financial tech company with multiple global offices, including New York City. Rachel Batish, co-founder of Conversation.one, a startup based in Sunnyvale, California, showcased their voice assistant built on Finastra’s open cloud platform for financial services firms.

In front of a packed conference room, Pierre Quemard, innovation principal at Finastra, opened a car loan in real time while interacting with the Conversation.one voice assistant. It was a tantalizing glimpse of what could be ubiquitous in the future. It’s estimated that 30% of web searches will be done via voice by 2020, according to a report from Gartner, a research and advisory company.

“Voice is set to be the next major disruption we are going to face. Conversational AI is going to start impacting the customer journey,” Closser says. “Millennials are doing more things online than traditional prospects. They are looking for public answers. They had Google in their hands when they came out of the womb.”

Sharon Adarlo

Sharon Adarlo is a Financial Planning contributing writer in Newark, New Jersey. She has also written for The Wall Street Journal and about science and engineering for Princeton University. Follow her on Twitter at @sharonadarlo1.