Technology replaces schmoozing: the future of private banking

28 May, 2015 3:35 pm

ZURICH – No longer is schmoozing over long lunches and fine wines enough; Swiss private bankers are turning to video games and virtual reality to attract a new generation of skeptical clients and see off digital rivals.

Technology is likely to appeal to multi-tasking millionaires with little time to spare. However, wealth managers must also win the trust of younger investors who have experienced two downturns during their formative years plus a furor over Swiss banks’ involvement in tax evasion.

In a fifth floor office just off Zurich’s main shopping street, researchers at UBS (UBSG.VX) are testing dozens of technologies to see what could make the world’s biggest wealth manager more appealing as fortunes pass to the next generation.

“How do you get under the skin of clients today, because they often work on their mobiles and they manage their wealth in their spare time,” said Dave Bruno, head of UBS’s innovation lab. “It might be in the bathroom, it might be waiting for a flight.”

Bruno and his team are designing video games, including a prototype puzzle for iPads and smartphones, and looking at virtual reality simulations to help people visualize what are often complex investment portfolios.

They are also working on technologies that allow clients to log into their accounts using their voice patterns and facial features, doing away with the time consuming and frustrating need to answer security questions.

UBS has opened a second research lab in London and plans another for Singapore later this year. It is also exchanging ideas with financial technology start-ups as well as Google (GOOGL.O) and Amazon (AMZN.O).

FACEBOOK, NOT FERRARI

UBS Chief Operating Officer for wealth management Dirk Klee said clients need investment advice and performance. “It’s not just being a ‘concierge service’,” he said.


Many millionaire and billionaire customers, whose ages average more than 65, still welcome the concierge service – such as sorting out the paperwork on their new Ferrari.

But in the next few years private banks must deal increasingly with clients who are perhaps 30 years younger as what is often family wealth passes down to the next generation. These people grew up with the tech bubble bursting around the turn of the century, followed by the 2008 financial crisis.

This is shaking things up at Switzerland’s private banks, which are already reeling from a U.S.-led campaign against tax cheats. This has effectively ended the industry’s secrecy rules and encouraged publicity-shy customers to withdraw hundreds of billions of francs from Swiss accounts.

Meetings are increasingly held over video links instead of in banks’ wood-panelled rooms overlooking Lake Geneva, while clients will look to social networks for investment advice and to compare portfolio performance.

Some of the technology being investigated is less familiar than simple video conferencing. It includes Facebook-owned (FB.O) virtual reality goggles Oculus Rift, which can present clients’ portfolios as a city.

“Which pieces of your city are missing? You don’t have a water system in place, which might be your investments into a certain area in the alternates market,” UBS’s Bruno said.

“Your skyscrapers are too tall, you’re invested too high here. There are ways to use the new technology to do things in finance that are quite cool and interesting for our business model.” – Reuters




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