Mesmerise and Morningstar

The future of conference technology enhancements

Looking down at your wrinkled hands and not quite remembering what you have to do is not a nice feeling. Your vision is slightly blurred and you think: 'Where did I leave my wallet?'

Removing your virtual reality (VR) headset, you may realise this scenario is still quite far away in the future for you, but trying to understand how people feel is at the other end of many working practices, including financial advising.

Technology is evolving at a fast rate, and some companies more than others are embracing new ways of telling stories in innovative ways.

This is the case of the latest collaboration between Mesmerise, a story-telling company built around the idea of technological innovation and Morningstar, a technology and data-oriented independent investment research firm.

"The Morningstar Investment Conference is our flagship event," says Leslie Marshall, head of experiential marketing at Morningstar. “The technology available to advisors has come a long way over the past 30 years and we wanted to bring an experience to the conference that would help advisors better understand their clients using the latest and greatest virtual reality technology.

Marshall said that, when looking at trends in the event industry, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are becoming more frequent, but has yet to impact the investing industry.

Using these two technologies, Mesmerise created a technological experience that stands out for its innovative clarity. This is the first time a financial services conference has used AR and VR technology to showcase financial scenarios and feature the investor experience.

The VR Experience: The HENRY, the Retiree and the Wife

The first of the two products Mesmerise developed for the Morningstar Investment Conference is a VR experience.

"The experience allows the user to be in the shoes [quite literally, at the beginning of the VR experience you have to select the pair of shoes] of three characters that link to three very specific life-changing opportunities and challenges", says Andrew Hawken, CEO at Mesmerise.

“The three scenes are called the HENRY (High Earner, Not Rich Yet); a millennial who is relatively wealthy but not quite there yet; the retiree, an elderly man starting to experience cognitive decline; and the wife, a widow who recently lost her husband and must now manage the finances.”

Morningstar and Mesmerise developed the virtual scenarios based on the idea that oftentimes, financial advice will go unheeded when advisors don't communicate with clients during crucial times. Advisors can miss the mark when they don’t put themselves in their clients’ shoes,” says Hawken. “For instance, they may have a client for 20 years and never build trust with this client’s wife. A sudden accident and the client passes away, leaving his wife to the finances, who discontinues work with you because she has not had the opportunity to build the same trust.”

“Ultimately, the VR experience is meant to help the user empathize with the client and in this case, help advisors see the other side of their advice,” says Hawken. In terms of its development, “there were four people involved in various stages of [it],” says Scott Colebourn, Chief Technology Officer at Mesmerise. “And another five contributors in terms of actors and voice talents as well as script-writing and photography and filmmaking. So it has been a true team effort.”

Scott says the project was fundamentally developed in two parts: “The first one was the computer-generated imagery (CGI) that resembles a videogame’s graphics and that allows the user to interact with lots of objects she can touch and control, for a more immersive experience.” You can grab objects, turn them, throw them and interact with them.

“And the second part was the live action stream. We employed actors for both live action and voice recording. So, we really blended two different mediums, computer generated and live action. The result was a really immersive experience.”

In terms of why they chose these narratives in particular, Marshall says the VR stories they developed with Mesmerise reflect investor types that the financial advisors, who will be the core attendees at the conference, could recognise as familiar clients.

“The idea is about showcasing the value of advice. The role that the advisors can play is very important, and better understanding investor behaviour can have a significant impact on an investors’ financial outcomes.”

The Morningstar VR experience will be delivered at the annual investment conference through a kiosk experience, where attendees will be assisted by Morningstar staff in using the Oculus Rift headset and can learn afterwards about products and services that are tied into the experience.

The AR experience: 3D maps and a token-reward system

Morningstar worked with Mesmerise to develop an AR mobile application to enhance the Morningstar Investment Conference experience. The app has several features, allowing attendees to augment the map of the conference with interactive, live data or place a 3D floor plan of the venue anywhere they want.

"Once you launch the app and click on the related icon," says Antoine Fougea, Lead Developer of the app at Mesmerise, “it will scan your environment and will detect the horizontal flat surfaces around you.

“At this point, you can pin a 3D floor plan like a model of the venue to this specific plane. So, you scan it, you see the plane and you pin the 3D floor plan on it and once it’s pinned, you can walk away, come back, you can turn around it, it’ll stay on that horizontal surface.”

To facilitate and promote attendees’ interaction, the app also features a token-collection function. “There are QR codes all around the conference venue,” says Antoine, “and the user will have to seek for people holding these specific QR codes or for locations marked with a specific sign with the QR code.

“When you collect a QR code, you obtain a little token, some sort of coin with an icon that you can see through the app. You can take a picture of that and share that online, for example”.

The more tokens you collect, the higher the rewards will be. “It’s a real discovery game,” says Marshall. “You can level up at ten, twenty and thirty tokens. At ten tokens, an attendee will be able to choose from a variety of Morningstar branded items from the registration desk. At twenty tokens, they can enter a drawing to win one of five $50 Amazon gift cards and then, at the thirty token level, they’ll be entered to win either a $400 Amazon gift card or an Oculus Rift headset, their choice.”

Marshall said that the AR app was designed specifically to have attendees connect with key people from the conference, from Morningstar product team members to salespeople, analysts and so on.

“It’s also an innovative way of sharing our data,” she says, “When attendees scan our QR codes at exhibit hall booths, they’ll receive Morningstar data on that particular company.” The data was integrated by Mesmerise within the app, to allow attendees to get more information.

“One of the core pieces of our business is our data and our research about investments. So, being able to show our intellectual property in a way that’s engaging and interesting is one of the reasons why we’ve chosen to use it this way.”

"It's great that we're telling stories and we’re taking people on journeys, whether it’s a context of the enterprise or in the context of a video game."

Scott Colebourn, CTO at Mesmerise

Morningstar has always been a leader in the fin-tech industry, and Mesmerise products continue to support that narrative. "Using VR and AR, we hope to highlight how technology can and will play a key role in helping advisors better understand their clients and drive a greater impact with advice."

Telling stories successfully is also at the centre of Mesmerise works. “For us,” Scott says, “It's great that we’re telling stories and we’re taking people on journeys, whether it’s a context of the enterprise or in the context of a video game.”

The Morningstar Investment Conference featuring Mesmerise VR and AR technology will take place June 11-13 in Chicago. If you’re attending the conference, you can check out the AR app for Android on the Play Store and for iOS on the App Store, and try the VR experiences at the conference. For all the other Mesmerise projects, you can head to their website here.