By Eugene Rudenko
Augmented reality is already entering everyday life. Based on the ubiquitous smartphone, it’s appearing in consumer oriented applications including games, finance and entertainment. In business, cloud access sets AR users free from hardware, and allows businesses to link the data-crunching power of the computer with human judgement and expertise.
Nowhere is this more pronounced than in financial technology. The sector is booming and AR is the next logical step in the process of making finance run on new technology. AR will transfigure both business and consumer finance tech, though in different ways. Let’s start with the business side.
Data visualization and decision making
Data visualization is a major challenge for financial institutions. As the need to rapidly grasp complex trends increases, and the amount of data available becomes greater, AR steps in to bridge the gap between machine data analysis and human understanding.
AR-enabled data visualization can help analysts understand complex data streams and make decisions quickly, for example.
Salesforce is building on its dominant position in sales to do that, creating a data analysis tool based on the relatively low-cost Oculus Rift headset. Like Salesforce’s primary offering the computation takes place in the cloud; business users need only the headset and their data. The result is an immersive 3D augmented environment that lets users interact with data streams intuitively — it’s technically VR more than AR, but the mixed reality future will likely lean AR for apps like this, especially when the smartglasses problem is resolved.
We can think of this as ARaaS; Augmented Reality as a Service. Salesforce might have stepped in early but they won’t be alone, and many other finance tech data visualization tools are on the horizon. For instance, CitiBank’s holographic workstation requires a little more buy-in from businesses than Salesforce’s offering: it runs on the Microsoft HoloLens platform.
Building on the company’s history of technological disruption — CitiBank is the company that brought the world the ATM — it’s aimed at traders working within financial institutions, not consumer traders. Having a third dimension to play with makes it possible to model data in more easily comprehensible ways, or to model more complex data sets.
What about the consumer? Is AR altering how the average person experiences the financial technology revolution?
Communication and connection
Wells Fargo has built an AR system that allows consumers to interact with bank tellers in a virtualized space laid over reality. It’s prompted some observers to wonder if AR will replace the physical bank branch. At the same time, Wells Fargo’s offering also includes gamification, featuring full AR games and puzzles. “It allows us to show we are part of the community,” says Jennifer Copeland, vice president and experiential marketing manager at Wells Fargo. “There’s more to us than financial products. We are able to show you a good time.”
The question is whether the convenience of being able to carry out interactions with bank tellers from anywhere is enough to overcome users’ reluctance to embrace new technology; again, Wells Fargo’s offering relies on the Oculus Rift headset.
Using a mixture of smart wearables and the Oculus headset, Polish finance tech company Comarch has created an AR ecosystem for small investors and business owners. Communication takes place via smart watches and smartphones, and data can be presented in virtualized meetings via the headset.
What about pure consumer AR — targeted not at startup founders or finance pros, but at Jane Public? On technology they already own, consumers are far more likely to adopt new habits. The ubiquity of the smartphone means it’s far more likely that consumers will take up a rewarding AR-driven experience if the platform is already in their pocket. Just look at how Pokemon Go spread across countries where it hadn’t even been officially released yet!
The effect is strongest in millennials and younger people, who often say they look to Google, PayPal and Apple for new financial products rather than to banks. In fact 33 percent of this age group expect to handle their finances without a traditional bank at all.
If financial institutions expect to compete with the tech world, embracing consumer-friendly AR is a must. That means the future is probably brighter for AR payment systems and marketing tools than for more experimental approaches. Visa Europe has teamed up with AR app Blippar to allow users to buy clothing instantly off a rack — or a person. “Users simply hold up their mobile device at the item, tap the screen, and the app will identify the item and offer the user the chance to purchase it through their pre-registered prepaid, debit or credit card,” explains Visa Europe’s Hendriks Kleinsmiede.
The tools — smartphone, credit card — are in users’ pockets already, so the jump to AR is easier to negotiate. And it’s probably in payment systems that consumer-facing AR will find its first finance tech application.
Augmented reality is uniquely suited to finance tech’s needs. More, it’s come along at the right time to be baked into the industry’s source code. It’s already finding applications including data analysis, client meetings, consumer services and banking.
Consumers will step into it without noticing the transition if it uses the smartphone as a platform. Meanwhile, business finance tech users will leverage low-cost interfaces and cloud computing power to grasp and comprehend the data provided by big data and AI.
Eugene Rudenko is a senior online marketing manager for Oxagile, a custom software development company with a focus on OTT and Online Video, Real-time Communication, Big Data, BI, and more. You can follow him on Twitter @evgenktulu.