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How Tech Is Bringing 'Wall Street to Main Street': TD Ameritrade

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headshot of Sunayna Tuteja of TD Ameritrade

The investments that TD Ameritrade has made in artificial intelligence and other technologies over the past few years have proven to be invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Sunayna Tuteja, head of digital assets and blockchain at the company.

AI, machine learning and how they are “being integrated within financial services has jumped leaps and bounds from just a few years ago,” while messaging and automation have “really proved [their] mettle during COVID,” she told the Finovate Fall Digital online conference Thursday.

“We had to migrate over 10,000 employees to be able to work from home, including the call centers and the back offices, and migrate millions and millions of clients to engage with us on digital-first channels” in March as much of the world went into a lockdown mode, she explained.

That all happened while the capital markets were “gyrating and nobody knew what was kind of happening  and that’s when your clients need you the most,” she pointed out.

During this period, “what really proved its mettle were the bets that we had been making over the years in terms of engaging with our clients via messaging powered by AI, machine learning and automation, so that we could still maintain our best-in-class experience even though we had to do it in this ‘new normal’ setting,” Tuteja said.

AI can also help personalize experiences for clients, she stressed, as did executives with Charles Schwab, Fidelity and Merrill Lynch during another Finovate session.

Other Tech Is Taking Off

Meanwhile, the trend of voice and audio serving as user interfaces is proliferating, as content is being distributed and consumed in new ways via AI-powered smart speakers and podcasts, she explained.

Short-form content that can be accessed easily and quickly is “gaining a lot of traction,” Tuteja noted, adding this is proving to be useful in making financial services “become part of people’s lifestyles.”

Turning to augmented reality and virtual reality, she noted these “last few months have really shown us the power of immersive content and immersive interaction” to create experiences that allow us to remain close to loved ones and others we know even if we can’t see them in person.

She predicted AR and VR experiences are “going to be the next big step change in terms of user expectation.”

More on this topic

There are also opportunities in AR and VR given that “financial education  and financial literacy is so big and there’s so much work to be done” in that area, according to Tuteja. These technologies “have the ability to take those concepts and make them immersive and make them real so investing is inviting versus intimidating,” she explained.

Meanwhile, blockchain is “starting to transform” the financial services sector  “in terms of bringing more automation [and] more transparency to processes, but also” through the “notion of tokenization, which is helping us create a new market and kind of expand access to asset classes that otherwise were only reserved to a few,” she said.

What this is doing is “bringing Wall Street to Main Street [to] bring down barriers,” Tuteja added.

Working With Advisors

Advisors are usually not requesting these technologies per se, she told ThinkAdvisor during the Q&A. Most of the time, an advisor will say “this is driving me crazy  why does it take me five steps to do this?” she said.

Or they ask: “Why should this take 10 minutes when I can do something similar with Instacart in two minutes?” So TD hears that and then tries to figure out what tech can solve those problems, Tuteja noted.

However, “on the advisor front, I would say there has been a growing interest from advisors in terms of optimizing their own practices using these technologies and we work very closely with them” to accomplish that, she said.

“We may build something for retail, but we do it in a way that we can then quickly plug and play and then our advisors kind of use it” also, the TD Ameritrade executive noted.

While RIAs have generally not been jumping at the opportunity to use AI, she cautioned: “At a time when the industry is going through a transformation where there’s trillions of dollars of transfer in generational wealth, advisors are going to have to use AI and all of these new technologies, because they’re inheriting a whole new set of clientele.”

The way advisors deal with millennials “is going to be different than maybe [how] they were dealing with their parents,” Tuteja said.

AI, machine learning and automation, in particular, “can help them grow and expand,” she added.