Alexa, what’s my retirement account balance?

Alexa, Amazon’s voice-control device, is popular among users for allowing them to play their favorite tunes, create a grocery list and search the Internet for a myriad of answers. Now, some users can use the technology for an even more important task: checking up on their financial wellness.

Prudential Retirement earlier this month partnered with Amazon to allow Prudential’s defined contribution, defined benefit cash balance and nonqualified plan participants to use Alexa to check their account balance, rate of return, any vested amounts and any outstanding loan balances.

Scott Gaul, head of sales and strategic relationships at Prudential Retirement, says that Prudential looked closely at how its clients were using their retirement plan websites to determine the most useful functionality for the Alexa skill. When employees log in to their accounts, 84% are doing so to check their account balance and 39% are using the website to check their rate of return.

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The new Amazon.com Inc. Echo and Echo button devices sit on display during the company's product reveal launch event in downtown Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. Amazon unveiled a smaller, cheaper version of its popular Alexa-powered Echo speaker that the e-commerce giant said has better sound. Photographer: Daniel Berman/Bloomberg

“We looked at the trends and figured we would create an Alexa skill to allow participants to access this information,” he says, adding that many plan participants told Prudential they wanted a convenient way to access their financial information.

Giving 401(k) users access to their financial information through digital voice assistants also has the potential to reach a huge number of people. According to research by NPR and Edison Research, about 39 million Americans own a voice-activated smart speaker, with the lion’s share owning an Amazon Alexa. It is estimated that 75% of households will use a smart speaker by the end of 2020, Gaul says.

“Our goal is to meet customers where they are at, not take technology and make them adopt it,” Gaul says. “We are looking at what people are using today and voice technology is something they are using.”

To access the skill, users must have an Amazon account and a Prudential retirement account. Because of security, users will be asked to give a personal identification number every time they request Alexa to give them their Prudential retirement account balance. The information will only be available for 16 seconds to make sure this information doesn’t fall into the hands of others who may be listening in.

This Amazon Alexa skill is only available through Amazon’s actual stand-alone Alexa devices, but it is set up through a phone or computer.

“It is too early to pull statistics, but early indications are that it has been received very well — not only by participants, but employers looking for unique and innovative ways to help participants secure their financial futures,” Gaul says.

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