Why Mercer is betting on an AI-powered voice interface

Financial services giant sees voice-based interaction as key to improving customer experiences for younger audiences

Mercer is taking a big step into the world of artificial intelligence-powered robots with a prototype that allows consumers to access customer services, transact and glean personal financial advice using their voice.

Mercer Pacific head of consumer marketing, Nidia Stoik, told CMO the financial services giant is making significant bets in the voice interface arena and positioned it as the next frontier in customer experience, marketing and creating better customer value.

The prototype interface allows a user to interact with their financial account and financial provider via a Google Home speaker. Specifically, the user can check their superannuation balance, access estimates on their total projected superannuation funds at the time they retire, roll other super funds into the one account, and better understand and adapt how their super funds are invested in order to maximise their return.

Stoik said the intention behind the new voice assistant is threefold: To improve customer experiences; allow consumers to transact; and provide access to personal financial advice.

“The ability to blend the physical and digital worlds through voice technologies creates a very seamless experience and takes friction away from consumers in everyday life,” she said. “We believe many Australians can benefit from financial advice, whether that be in its more traditional and complex forms, or in these new digital forms.

“This prototype has an ability to deliver financial advice in what is an incredibly regulated industry in a way that meets consumer needs and delivers real benefit. We’re talking to a number of clients already about this prototype and they acknowledge the need for it from a consumer perspective and are prepared to invest in it.”

Mercer’s expected audience for voice-based interaction includes both younger and tech-savvy consumers.

Mercer’s customer team started work on the prototype application six months ago, partnering with a “garage” developer in order to help the team understand the capabilities and nuances of voice and its application in the financial sphere, Stoik said. She declined to disclose names.

Key to producing the prototype is Mercer’s existing ‘super genome’ project, which has seen the group invest in back-end customer intelligence and a technology ecosystem over recent years to open up and operationalise its wealth of data for customer interactions and apps across any digital or physical channel. Around this, the company has been working to transform its business model in order to put the emphasis on consumer engagement.

As an example, Stoik said the prototype plugs directly into Mercer’s Retirement Investment Simulator, a financial advice engine that uses data and algorithmic insight and actuarial expertise to provide users with scenarios of what their retirement could look like based on current and project superannuation contributions and investment yields. It also utilises the brand’s existing income simulator and back-end processes.

“This is another interface that plugs into our super genome capability, which taps both into our customer capabilities as well as core superannuation systems,” Stoik explained. “It’s another component of that technology ecosystem that allows us to reach out to customers and deliver experiences to them that matter.

“The capability we have developed around customer and being able to deliver personalised journeys to customers – this is a nice complement to that. Certainly in our client conversations, voice-activated devices and user interfaces has been where a lot of focus is.

“We see it as another way to tap into existing experiences that we know consumers already want. And we have seen a huge rise in these devices. Satisfaction ratings for people who have used these devices is up around 90 per cent. Client demand and younger demographic will see us meeting a real need.”  

Read more: Mercer CMO: Why people marketing and employees are your brand’s biggest untapped asset

Launching such a prototype required cross-functional collaboration between marketing, customer, digital and development teams, Stoik said.

“It’s not just to develop a prototype but about understanding the best transactions and customer services to deliver, and how it hooks back into our customer-level data,” she said. “A brains trust needed to come together, not to mention the significant investment going behind this to think through the roadmap of how we bring this to market.”

The prototype itself has gone a long way to helping people across the business and client base understand the importance of voice in future consumer interactions, Stoik continued.  

“You can really see, touch and understand the value conceptually,” she said. “As soon as the prototyped was developed, we saw a huge amount of support from across the business, which is fabulous.”

Mercer hopes to have the voice assistant live in 12 months’ time.

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