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Digital banking Updated: 12 Feb 2018

“Alexa, how much can I save this month?" The future of the voice in banking

The use of virtual assistants, mainly in the form of smart speakers, is rapidly gaining ground. In less than a year, devices such as Echo and Google Home have appeared in households across the globe and users are becoming increasingly comfortable carrying out searches, purchases and even bank transactions using this format, which looks set to become the transactional interface between customers and companies.

Teresa Alameda (BBVA Creative)

The easy way always holds sway. After doing away with cables, consumer technology finds itself immersed in a new paradigm: the replacement of keyboards and screens by the human voice as the preferred interface. A recent study by Capgemini’s Digital Transformation Institute analyzes the current use of voice assistants and concludes that the preference for the use of this format to communicate with companies will become widespread in the next three years. According to the report, by then voice assistants will be the predominant avenue for consumers, who are estimated to increase their spending using this channel by some 500%.

The study, which involved interviews with more than 5,000 users in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, showed that a quarter of the respondents prefer to use a voice assistant rather than a website, with the percentage expected to rise to 40% in three years. At that time, 31% of users will prefer this format over visiting a physical store or a bank branch, compared with 20% at present the report said.

The role this technology can play for banks should not be underestimated. According to Capgemini, 28% of users confirm having used a voice assistant on some occasion to make a payment or send money. In addition, some 44% expressed interest in using this system for bank transactions, to the extent that smart speaker offers functions such as voice credit card payments. This trend is backed up by other studies. According to Business Insider Intelligence, the use of voice payments will quadruple in the next four years to 31% of adults in the United States in 2022.

Voice assistants at home

This trend takes on more significance when set beside the speed at which households are making use of voice as an interface. Another recent study by Juniper Research states that by 2022, smart speakers will be present in about 70 million American households, about 55% of the total. A recent study by Accenture (‘Time to navigate super myway’), based on interviews with 21,000 users in 19 countries, shows that the smart voice experience generates higher levels of satisfaction and more frequent use than that provided by similar facilities in devices such as smartphones.

“If we flapped through the year we would see that voice systems not only are really becoming prevalent in almost everybody’s house, but there are multiple ones,” explains Jim Marous, editor of Financial Brand. In the American Banker’s podcast ‘Breaking Banks’, he analyzes the impact of this technology on the banking sector, along with other analysts and the expert Brett King. Marous believes that as users discover to the extent that these devices learn from experience and “make life easier,” their use will grow even more and their introduction to the world of banking will be the next logical step.

The pace of acceptance of voice systems is quicker than that of other technologies that have been taken on board by banks, such as payments by cellphone. Capgemini’s study provides some indication about the profile of the users of voice assistants: they are more popular among people aged 33-45, and one out of every five users (17%) has pretax household income of above $100,000 a year. According to Marous, this is a sign that the use of smart speakers has moved beyond ‘early adopters’ to "hit the mainstream". For this expert, the key question is whether banks can provide experiences over this channel that match the growing expectations of users.

Appetite for speakers

“Brands that are able to capitalize on the huge consumer appetite around voice assistants will not only build closer relationships with their customers, but create significant growth opportunities for themselves,” according to Mark Taylor, Chief Experience Officer at Capgemini. According to this consultant, so-called ‘conversational commerce’, which refers to the purchase of goods and services using voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri, will amount to a revolution comparable to that brought about by e-commerce.

“What’s interesting is that you realize that those capabilities are just getting stronger. And the distance between what a customer can do and what they want to do, even in the financial services industry, could get greater”, Marous says. On the basis of this, he believes that companies capable of bridging the gap between what users want and what these devices can do will benefit from the arrival of this technology.

Ultimately, speaking with Alexa, Google Assistant or, as of recently with Siri, through one of these devices amounts to much more than a new interface or another channel. It promises to be a curator of services and experiences that satisfy the needs of users in a personalized and intelligent fashion, anywhere, at any time.