Voice assistants and digital banking
As the popularity of ‘voice assistants’ grows, more and more financial services providers are helping customers perform banking tasks via this nascent technology. Last week, American Express announced that it will be integrating with Amazon Echo, allowing customers to check their balance, make payments and view offers, amongst other things, with this in-home technology.
eMarketer data shows that 35.6 million Americans will use a ‘voice-activated assistant device’ (i.e. a standalone device whose core functionality is a voice-enabled digital assistant, like Google Home or Amazon Echo) at least once a month in 2017 – more than double last year’s number. It also found that the Amazon Echo has the biggest share of this market, at 70.6%, while Google Home had a 23.8% share. In terms of the software inside the device – virtual assistants like Alexa, Siri, Google and Cortana – the number of monthly users in the US will grow 23.1% this year to 60.5 million. That’s more than a quarter of smartphone users.
In the UK, the Google Home only arrived on 6 April, while the Amazon Echo appeared at the end of 2016, a year after hitting the shelves in the US. The Echo – powered by Alexa – now has 10,000 ‘skills’ or things you can ask it to do, and last week Amazon introduced its latest Echo product, the $230 Echo Show, which includes a screen for video calling. Microsoft is also bringing its Cortana digital assistant software to smart speakers, so competition is rising.
Banks and card providers getting involved
Capital One was the first banking brand to make inroads in terms of voice banking, integrating with Alexa to let customers to check their account balance and latest transactions and pay their credit card bill. We tried it out here at Mapa and, while the current functionality is still quite basic, it always performed the requisite task on the first attempt.
Indeed, Capital One and Amex are currently the only FS providers to integrate with Alexa, and none of the providers we monitor here at Mapa are currently integrated with Google Home – although Starling Bank demonstrated the possibility. Garanti Bank and Santander are two providers that do offer voice-activated banking, but you need to open the mobile banking app in order to complete any tasks.
PayPal, RBC in Canada and other providers have integrated with Siri, showing the continuing importance of mobile – still used more than these at-home devices, and offering the added benefit of enabling ‘banking on the go’. Over half of those using voice search are doing so in the car; 26.2% of respondents told Higher Visibility they used voice search because they were ‘unable to type or look at phone.’
Integrating with voice assistants means banks need to get smart with APIs. Finovate Europe and Finovate Spring in San Jose both saw fintechs (e.g. Ellie Mae and Moven Enterprise) demonstrating their clever APIs not just through snazzy app mock-ups but through (apparently very quickly developed) integrations with voice assistants. The open banking landscape of the future is built on APIs, and it is good APIs that will give brands the power to make the most of these new devices.
Accommodating real talk
More people using voice assistants and voice search means a greater need to accommodate natural language queries. This is the tricky part, and the element that – if not perfected – will make this tech less likely to be adopted widely. As with a lot of aspects of banking in the future, the success of implementing natural language technology relies heavily on machine learning. Amazon claims the more you use Echo, the more Alexa will learn and adapt to your speech patterns, vocabulary and personal preferences. Google Assistant taps into the power of Google’s search engine, which is continually being optimised for natural language requests. But we’re still a long way off the same platform being able to equally understand the dialects and quirks of a Geordie and a Bostonian.
Stephen Jones, Research Analyst at Mapa, comments: ‘One of the greatest hurdles banks must overcome is convincing customers that using voice assistants to performing bank tasks is a safe and secure process. The best way to deal with this is to give customers the choice to personally decide the level of security they want. Capital One has accomplished this by giving customers the option of adding an additional layer of security in the form of a passcode.’
Virtual assistants based around voice could also make use of burgeoning voice recognition technology to build in passive authentication, such as Barclays have done on their telephone banking channel for international banking customers.
Reminder of the telephone
While digital banking is more popular, 9% of customers still prefer to bank by phone (something CallVu and others noted at Finovate Spring). Clever voice tech could move telephone banking customers into digital channels, as long as the technology for voice recognition and natural language capabilities is perfected. This is still some way from happening but the market of potential customers is consistently growing. In terms of a particular generation, more than one-third of millennials will use a virtual assistant this year. As the world becomes more accustomed to such technology, the chances of them adopting it for their banking needs will increase.
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