UBS and Julius Baer trial offering wealth advice in the metaverse

Two of the world’s biggest wealth managers are experimenting with moving client meetings from oak-paneled boardrooms to the metaverse, but have struggled to overcome data security and motion sickness.

UBS and Julius Baer, ​​Swiss banks that specialize in providing white-glove financial advice to billionaires, have each trialled the use of clunky headsets and pixelated avatars to interact with clients, according to people involved in the research.

But no bank is close to launching virtual reality offerings to ultra-wealthy customers after the experiment drew attention to the technology’s ease of use and ability to securely share documents.

“The technology is not there yet – frankly it looks like Atari graphics at the moment and people who have tried it have experienced motion sickness,” said a bank executive involved in the experiment.

“We also have many concerns with the security of confidential and sensitive data.”

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Metaverse is an immersive virtual world where people wearing headsets interact with each other as three-dimensional avatars.

It has been championed by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, which was changed to Meta last year and has provoked the ire of investors for spending heavily on virtual reality.

Wealth management is one of the last professional services to be disrupted by digitalization as the very rich have personal interactions with their advisors when discussing their investments.

But some wealth managers have started investing heavily in technology in recent years to ensure they are ready for changing demand.

Since becoming chief executive of UBS, the world’s largest wealth manager, two years ago, Ralph Hamers has prioritized investing in digital technology to cut costs and differentiate the group’s offerings from competitors.

“We will use digitization and all the opportunities it provides to provide personalized advice, and use digital technology to tailor that advice to the client’s needs,” Hamers told shareholders at the bank’s annual general meeting this year. “It’s not an either/or question: the client decides what they want, and our job is to deliver what they want.”

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Hamers had been working on the use of artificial intelligence in wealth management through the $1.4bn acquisition of US advisory business Wealthfront, but UBS called off the takeover in September.

People involved in UBS’s virtual reality trial said the bank was trying to find ways to enhance existing digital meetings with clients.

“We have gone through several trials,” they said. “We’ve set up a virtual office in the metaverse, we’ve tested how to engage with clients, different ways to play it, what it looks like, how your avatar looks, whether it really helps us.

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“We’re not there – it’s still a lot of experimentation.”

UBS previously tested using augmented reality technology to enable staff to create a trading floor environment while working from home during the pandemic.

Fellow Swiss bank Julius Baer has also committed to investing in technology over the next few years and has experimented with virtual reality.

The bank ran a 12-week pilot for a group of staff to hold internal meetings in a virtual space, while 200 executives recently participated in a “metaverse experience” at a senior global management conference.

“There is no external use of this kind of technology at this stage, and it is really intended to build knowledge and understanding of the space in order to be ready when the technology is in the right place and, importantly, once the outstanding regulatory issues are answered,” he said. those who know the trials.

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