Front-End Web & Mobile

How FINRA Built Xpand Reality, an Augmented Reality Simulation App for Investor Education

This is a guest blog by Sumalatha Bachu [Director, Technology] and Kumar Siddhartha [Lead Developer], Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). FINRA is dedicated to protecting investors and safeguarding market integrity in a manner that facilitates vibrant capital markets.

2021 marked FINRA’s sixth annual internal hackathon, entitled the Createathon. The three-day event is an important part of FINRA’s innovation pipeline, which is used to harvest and prototype the best ideas for business impact and allows employees to step away from their day jobs to think differently. The theme of the 2021 Createathon was Powered by People and it was focused on brainstorming and developing impactful and novel ideas for keeping the markets safe and pioneering new ways to look at risks in the industry.

The challenge

The challenge was to find a creative and effective way to engage traditionally underrepresented investors and provide them with information on the benefits and potential risks when participating in the stock market. Our solution focused on financial literacy – helping new investors understand the various investment options available to them and their associated risks.

Xpand Reality is an augmented reality (AR) financial markets simulation app that provides an interactive way to engage new/potential investors on investing principles and potential risks. Research shows that AR can be a handy tool for immersing audiences in their learning – it increases engagement and improves retention of information. A working, deployable prototype was built during Createathon, using AWS services like AWS Amplify and AWS AppSync.

Figure 1. Xpand Reality – Augmented Reality Mobile and Web Application

Xpand Reality – Logical Wrokflow Diagram.

Key features of the Xpand Reality mobile and web app

  • Novel and captivating augmented reality gaming experience that teaches investment principles, benefits, and associated risks.
  • Assistance from a virtual assistant every step of the way, which speaks English and Spanish to cater to diverse communities.
  • A unique and personalized investment journey that factors in level of expertise, learning mode and life goals.
  • Immersive experience targeted towards young, diverse populations that traditionally have been underrepresented in investing.
  • In-stream education throughout the simulated investment journey with tutorials and a gameplay mode.
  • Customizable portfolios and simulated returns.
  • Near real-time knowledge base with stock market and social-media integrations.
Figure 2 - Xpand Reality - Logical Wrokflow Diagram.

Xpand Reality – Logical Wrokflow Diagram.

Logical workflow

Users have access to both a mobile app and a web app. The mobile app features a Tutorial mode that focuses on teaching trading concepts and risks in investments. It also has content tailored to address and educate users on market risks due to gamification and misinformation.

The Gameplay mode landing screen offers a choice of a diverse set of avatars; it then asks players to select their investment goals and collects some basic information about the user, such as age range and income. It then prompts users to build their investment portfolio and continues with the simulation based on their choices. In-stream education is available on-demand and users have opportunities to learn about several different complex trading concepts, which are presented in an engaging way. A custom simulation algorithm with a risk/reward meter provides options to users along their journey, where they learn how to manage their portfolio of investments.

Technical architecture

Figure 3. Technical Architecture Diagram

“Xpand Reality – Architecture Diagram”

Xpand Reality’s web app was built using Angular with Tailwind and the Unity game engine for Android/iOS app development (Google AR Core and AR Kit for the Augmented Reality portion, respectively). We chose GraphQL through AppSync, as opposed to traditional REST APIs, to have a single backend feed both a mobile app and a web app, and avoid issues with over/under-fetching. Amplify also offers SDKs and CLI tools which speed up app development and integration with the backend. It also provides client APIs that include declarative methods for performing authentication actions, and “drop-in” UI elements for things like social login.

The team created a natural language engine using Amazon Polly, Amazon Lex and Amazon Translate and integrated it with our Virtual Assistant: “Aj” (ported over from Adobe Mixamo into Unity). To simulate a life-like assistant, Polly’s Text-to-Speech was used. The team also used advanced deep learning technologies to synthesize natural sounding human speech, and we marveled at the extremely life-like neural speech delivery. Additionally, Polly supports several languages, which fit the use-case perfectly and delivered the content also in Spanish to cover a wider audience. Integrating Amazon Lex is set as a future goal for the team as that would provide a truly conversational experience.

The team chose DynamoDB as the primary database, given its easy integration with AWS Amplify. Amazon Kinesis coupled with Lambda were also easy to work with to pull market and social media data, which fed into the analytics pipeline, and in the future will help train the stock market simulation model. Finally, the prototype web application was hosted using Amazon S3 and Amazon CloudFront distribution. Thanks to the detailed documentation and tutorials on the AWS services – we were able to build the entire infrastructure during the Createathon week.

Bring on the growth

The new challenges tackled at FINRA’s Createathon each year increase our teams’ confidence that they can build innovative solutions to protect investors by leveraging new AWS services.

The team: Sumalatha Bachu (Director Technology) Gary Mottola (Director of Research); Christine Kieffer (Senior Director of Investor Education); Kumar Siddhartha (Lead Developer); Allan Bond (Principal Developer); Anju Koshy (Lead Developer); Tetyana Demydenko (Senior UX Designer); Ravishankar Madduri (Lead Product Manager); Vinod Kunchakuri  (Senior Developer); Nanda Thineti (Developer).


Daniel Tatarkin

Daniel Tatarkin is a Solutions Architect at Amazon Web Services (AWS) supporting Federal Financial organizations. He is passionate about big data analytics and serverless technologies. Outside of work, he enjoys learning about personal finance, coffee, and trying out new programming languages for fun.