Fidelity peers into the future of investing by building customers virtual cities

Fidelity Investments today announced a cutting edge way for customers to check on the health of their investments – by donning 3D goggles and peering around a personalized city where the size of each building relates the health of their various stock holdings, giving them a quick way to gauge change without poring over numbers.

Fidelity Investments today announced a cutting edge way for customers to check on the health of their investments by donning 3D goggles and peering around a personalized city where the size of each building relates to the health of their various stock holdings, giving them a quick way to gauge change without poring over numbers.

Sound like science fiction? It feels a bit like that when you don the Oculus Rift 3D goggles and experience StockCity firsthand, but that's OK, says Seth Brooks, director of product management for Fidelity Labs, which the company describes as its R&D think-tank. "This is an experiment. We can develop minimally viable products and get these early stage efforts in front of users to get feedback and see what is worth pursuing," (see a video at http://youtu.be/YQ2-8_2Vwpw).

The tool leverages virtual reality and data visualization technologies to give customers a simple way to digest complex information, Brooks says. The height of each building represents stock price, while the width represents shares outstanding divided by 90 day volume. Colored roof tops indicate general performance, red down, green up, and even the condition of the sky can impart information: bright and sunny meaning the market is looking up, while gray means the market is down a bit, and it rains when things are more gloomy.

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Holdings are also grouped into neighborhoods by industry sector, so the user can tell at a glance that his tech stocks are all doing well if that part of his city shows glowing green rooftops. "We could even introduce flocks of birds to show social media chatter around a given holding," Brooks says. Investors can build cities showing their actual stocks or cities that represent watch lists.

As launched, the tool is available for early users of the Oculus Rift 3D goggles, which are only available as a developer kit to date, but if you don't want to splurge on those just yet, you can experience a two dimensional cityscape viewed through a web browser.

"This is very greenfield to all of us," Brooks says. "Is it cute or helpful? That's what we play with." And the timing has to be right. "With the 3D tool, for example, you want to be in early so you can ride the wave as it develops," he says, "but if customers don't adopt things like the Oculus it might come to nothing. The idea is to skate where you think the puck will be."

Fidelity has a history of pushing innovation, with the existence of the Labs being testament to that, and this experiment in data visualization being yet another example. The investment giant also recently hosted a business development competition that it designed with the help of the Harvard Innovation Lab and IDEO, a design and innovation consulting company. The competition challenged teams of Harvard students to address four business needs, the results of which you can read about here "Innovative effort at Fidelity Investments results in Harvard students presenting new business ideas."

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