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Fidelity Debuts Oculus Rift-Based Virtual Investment App

Fidelity Labs, Fidelity Investments' 75-person R&D think-tank, has launched StockCity, a virtual-reality view of an investor's portfolio. StockCity uses Oculus Rift to simulate the investment cityscape.

Continuing a tradition developing innovative investment tools and testing new technology before it goes mainstream, Fidelity Labs has launched StockCity, a data visualization app that leverages the virtual reality technology from Oculus Rift

Fidelity Labs, the 75-person R&D think-tank inside Fidelity Investments, developed StockCity to provide its customers with another way to explore their investments. “Typically, individual investors look at two-dimensional information for their investments,” such as on a monthly statement, a chart, or a spreadsheet, said Sean Belka, senior vice president and director of Fidelity Labs, during an interview. StockCity turns financial data into a three-dimensional cityscape where the height of the buildings indicates stock price, and company stocks are placed in different areas of the map, or market sectors. 

“For many, stock research can be overwhelming and confusing. We found it was more engaging, intuitive, and even fun for investors to view their portfolio as a living, breathing ecosystem,” said Belka, in a statement. “For example, the size and footprint of the buildings tell you details about each stock, and the weather reflects what’s happening in the market. This information could help investors plan for and achieve their investing goals.”

Fidelity Labs is testing Oculus Rift to see what it can do -- and to determine whether investors even want or need a virtual 3D environment for investing, Belka concedes. “Some people might love it, but others might say, ‘It’s nice but I really don’t need it.’ Is it useful, or is it gratuitous? We don’t know at this point, and we are OK with that.” Fidelity Labs is naturally targeting active traders, who normally jump on any tool or feature that will help them improve trading performance, and millennials with StockCity. “Millennial users have grown up using data visualization. But, truthfully, we don’t know at this point which demographic is going to use StockCity in the future.” 

First to market
This isn't the first time Fidelity Labs has been ahead of the market with new technology. For instance, it was the first mutual fund company to launch a mobile app in 1998, offered one of the first investing apps for the iPhone in 2010, and in 2013 was the first to offer investing apps for Google Glass and the Pebble Smartwatch.

Oculus Rift, which was acquired by Facebook for close to $2 billion in cash, Facebook shares, and incentives, isn’t available to the public at this time and won’t be until sometime in 2015. “We are OK with being ahead of the market,” Belka says. “That is our role at Fidelity Labs. If we are two years ahead, we are comfortable with it, since we will be ready to offer useful tools when the technology is adopted.”

However, what happens if Oculus Rift never goes mainstream? “A year or two from now, if Oculus Rift doesn’t take off, we are OK with that too, because we will have learned something. Wearable computing is something we want to learn about” because there are so many different potential uses in the future.

Fidelity Labs only started to develop the current version of StockCity in June, “so this was a relatively quick burn, even for [Fidelity Labs],” says Belka. Fidelity Labs will be gathering immediate feedback from investors over the coming months, starting with a series of “pop-up labs” at various locations. “These pop-up labs are like a public hackathon.” Fidelity will gather feedback from users and use it to work on enhancements. The first pop-up lab is this week in Silicon Valley. Fidelity Labs is also demoing StockCity this week at The International Traders Expo.

Currently, StockCity only allows users to view a “watch list” portfolio, and it does not yet allow Fidelity clients to view their actual portfolios. Belka says this is for security, which Fidelity will likely work through in later versions.

In later versions, Belka says, Fidelity might offer the ability to compare portfolios with peers, include social media data visually, integrate with video for live interactions with a Fidelity representative, and more. “We don’t know what future versions will have. We want to hear from our customers and make a product that is useful for them.”

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio

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