Anyone using virtual assistants on a daily basis knows they are still firmly in the emerging technology category. The technology’s immaturity is evident in the lack of sophisticated commands they can accurately follow and the still-limited engagement of third-party apps. One sign of development in the FinTech space, however, is the recent update of the TD Ameritrade Alexa Skill. The firm’s Skill now gives clients increased access to investment research, news and education, and also allows them to place trades with a simple voice command—a feature the firm touts as an industry-first in a recent press release.
In the press release, TD Ameritrade’s CIO, Vijay Sankaran, believes that investing in emerging technologies is an investment in the future: “Voice is the future and allowing our clients to access and transact in their accounts through voice-driven devices is part of the natural progression of options for investors.”
TD Ameritrade + Amazon Echo Dot
While investment in these emerging technologies may eventually prove a key differentiator in an increasingly crowded financial services market, virtual assistants still have a long way to go. According to Corporate Insight’s most recent Mobile Monitor report, the demand for this innovation is still fairly low today; only 31% of respondents to our 2018 Consumer Banking Survey rated the availability of a virtual assistant as “very important” or “extremely important.” Likely due in part to this lack of demand, only 16 of the 25 firms in the Mobile Monitor coverage set offer a virtual or voice-based assistant of some kind. Of those firms, most have yet to invest heavily in building out virtual assistant capabilities, instead offering basic functionality for accessing account details quickly and conveniently.
TD Ameritrade Alexa Skill
In an interview with Barron’s, even TD Ameritrade CEO Tim Hockey acknowledges that virtual assistants “don’t really move the needle in and of themselves.” Instead, they bring some of the firm’s capabilities “out to where the clients are” and “broaden the base of the pyramid, so to speak.”
The question is: Are TD Ameritrade’s new Alexa-based trading capabilities anticipating a future market demand that our research shows is not yet there? Or will the innovation amount to little more than an unused feature that goes the way of Betamax? We believe the answer to that question will come not from third-party firms like TD Ameritrade but rather from the platforms themselves.
As we discuss in our report, it is the platforms’ responsibility to deliver a truly sophisticated product capable of alleviating justified user fears of security vulnerabilities and the like. For instance, verification methods currently rely on a verbal passcode or PIN that anyone nearby could hear. In addition, fears of command miscommunications—such as accidentally selling all shares of Facebook instead of just one—are far greater than fears that Alexa may simply misunderstand the stock a user wants a quote for.
Still, TD Ameritrade’s bold industry-first launch could very well position the firm as a technological leader in a field where innovative competitors crop up daily. But for now, only time will tell.