Hey, Siri, what’s behind the remarkable rise of voice banking?


By Hilary Schmidtinternational banker

IIt’s fair to say that the pandemic has had a profound impact on our lives, especially on how we interact with the world. With lockdown restrictions forcing most of us to sacrifice physical touch for the use of our other senses and faculties, the likes of Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri have become crucial forms of technology enabled. by voice to meet many of our daily needs. The banking industry has apparently noted the significant utility offered by these virtual assistants in these unusual times, with several lenders now developing equally valuable voice assistant systems to help customers perform many of their financial tasks with ease.

Dutch bank ING was among the first lenders to offer voice assistance through its mobile banking app in 2014. Named Inge, the voice command feature offered an alternative to touchscreen banking, with customers initially able to check the balance of their account and approve payment transactions. using only their voice. “Inge is a new way to make mobile banking easier for our customers,” said Max Mouwen, managing director of internet and mobile at ING Netherlands, at the time. “This feature makes it possible, for example, to read the requested IBAN number aloud instead of typing it, which makes it easier to manage your banking business.

Two years later, Capital One partnered with Amazon to enable Alexa to perform voice-enabled banking activities such as sharing balances and paying credit card bills. “The Alexa Skills store is growing rapidly, and today we’re excited to add the Capital One skill, which is the first skill that will allow Alexa users to interact with their financial accounts,” said the manager. from Amazon Alexa, Rob Pulciani. “Now Alexa can quickly deliver your Capital One bank balance, latest transactions and more to Amazon Tap, Echo Dot, Amazon Echo or Fire TV devices, all conveniently with your voice.”

Then Barclays announced its voice banking initiative a year later, using Siri to allow UK bank customers to make payments using simple voice commands. “Barclays has a long history of introducing innovative new products and services to give our customers choice in how they bank,” said Raheel Ahmed, Head of Customer Experience and Channels at Barclays. “Bringing Siri payments to mobile banking customers is another step forward, providing flexibility and greater choice for all of our customers.”

Today, a growing number of financial companies are developing voice solutions for the banking industry. For example, fintech (financial technology) and digital banking software and services provider Aurora Digital Banking have developed their own voice banking application. “Aurora Voice Banking uses voice recognition to deliver an engaging, helpful, and natural calling experience that serves callers quickly and consistently,” the company said. “With the power of voice recognition, users can interact using any phone to get account information or transact simply by speaking naturally. Voice services are replacing cumbersome touch interfaces that confuse and frustrate callers, especially those using cell phones. If a customer prefers, keyboard operation is available anytime throughout the system. »

Indeed, given the popularity of voice banking in recent years – arguably even more so thanks to the pandemic – many other banks are exploring this technology to provide customers with accessibility to a wide range of trigger-enabled banking services. vocals. And while we’re clearly pedantic in our analysis, it can also be argued that voice banking adds a layer of convenience – i.e. the absence of any need to use our hands or position our face in front of our phones. wearables – that the such as fingerprints, facial recognition and other forms of biometric identification methods lack. One cannot underestimate the ability to perform banking tasks when our hands are busy. And, of course, simply speaking a command is a much faster and easier overall process than typing it. In the end, it’s all about convenience.

Voice commands, typically accessible through mobile banking apps, can now be used to perform a wide range of banking transactions, including sending payments, processing foreign exchange transactions, logging in and out of accounts, and confirming purchases. All of these tasks are made more efficient through the use of speech. But today’s voice banking solutions aren’t just designed to accomplish simple tasks. They can also provide answers to questions in the same vein as Siri or Alexa, and they are also looking to integrate other technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to more accurately gauge customer behavior. This opens up a myriad of additional, and often more complex, actionable options for the customer. The technology can even discern the tone of customers’ voices to determine whether they are calm or bored and tailor its responses accordingly.

Swiss banking software company Avaloq has identified five key use cases for voice technology in banking:

  1. Voice automation in call centers: Customer service lines can now process more complex requests, such as blocking their credit card and requesting the latest charges on the card simultaneously, allowing banks to redirect employees to higher value-added tasks and responsibilities .
  2. Video-based customer onboarding process: Customer voice samples can be integrated into the digital customer onboarding process and detect potential fraud.
  3. Biometric identification and fraud prevention: Alongside commonly used biometrics-based customer identification methods, such as fingerprints and facial recognition, voice identification provides an additional hands-free avenue for verification. Voices can also be matched against existing voice samples to prevent fraudsters from potentially gaining access to customer accounts.
  4. Social messaging: Some solutions, such as Avaloq’s own Engage app, allow customers to chat with banks on their favorite social media platforms, such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, and seamlessly switch between text and voice messages.
  5. Voice-guided mobile banking apps: These applications can use the voice of the customer to identify the customer securely and conveniently during the various stages of a transaction or a dictated instruction for a payment.

Of course, it should be recognized that voice solutions must be efficient in correctly recognizing voice commands and then administering the optimal responses. The technology’s initial development saw less than ideal, if not absurd, responses. And while these errors have been greatly reduced as voice banking has evolved over the years, it remains susceptible to miscommunications and incorrect responses. Technology does not provide the best solution for every customer every time.

These potential errors that could occur can even pose a serious security risk, especially if the voices can be imitated or reproduced without the customer’s knowledge. “Banks are particularly risk averse, so security is a major factor when considering the pros and cons of voice recognition,” according to US lender First Citizens Bank. “Financial institutions will need to do their due diligence to ensure they have the latest security protocols in place before integrating voice recognition.”

However, perhaps most encouraging for the future of voice banking is that customers themselves have shown clear signs of embracing the technology in recent years, which in turn is bodes well for the future of voice banking. A 2019 Microsoft study based on the results of two separate consumer-focused online surveys found that most respondents had used voice search through a digital assistant (72%), and more than half of respondents had used voice skills and actions with smart voice searches. via smart home speakers. Additionally, almost a third of respondents confirmed having used voice commands through IoT (Internet of Things) and connected devices, such as TVs (36%) and connected cars (31%).

A 2018 report from Capgemini, which surveyed more than 5,000 consumers, found that nearly a third (31%) of respondents said they would likely prefer to use a voice assistant instead of going to a store. or a bank branch within three years, compared to the 20 percent who did at that time. Additionally, the study showed that 28% had ever used a voice assistant to make a payment or send money, and 44% expressed an interest in using voice assistants for banking transactions. And Forrester’s “The State of Digital Banking, 2022” report found that 30% of American adults with bank accounts checked their account balances using a smart speaker like Amazon’s Alexa or Google. Home.

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