The financial industry should listen up and recognize voice technology and the opportunities that come with it. As with other innovations, the retail industry is paving the way. Market leaders are busy equipping consumers’ homes with smart speakers and educating them on how to use voice-operated services, ensuring that Siri, Alexa or one of their friends are there and ready to listen as soon as consumers drop their last reservations towards voice technology. Will you have an ear close by your clients, when they are ready to talk to their bank account?
Let’s take a look at the state of affairs in the US – the major market for voice-operated services – and what challenges voice technology still has to master. Then, we’ll dive into some practical use cases for voice technology in banking.
Voice technology will revolutionize how we search – and how we act
Google has taught us that search means typing something in to get an answer. Now, voice assistants do not only aim to replace typing with the spoken word, they also aspire to deliver actions instead of answers. As more precise input can be given via voice, an underlying AI can also detect the ultimate goal the consumer may be for with his or her command. Like this, the interaction can start with a simple question of, “what is the balance of my bank account”, but the AI will take the answer a step further - not only responding with the available balance, but also proposing solutions, such as, “transfer money from my savings”, if the checking account's balance was found to be in the red.
Shortening the step between getting information and knowing what to do with it will make all the difference in future customer journeys. Voice tech – or, more precisely, the digital assistant capturing our voice – is the interface of the future between consumers and the economy. “Be there or be square”, is the message to anybody who has something to offer. The presence on voice-based devices and digital assistants is the newest battle zone of the retail economy. Huge players have already gotten into position to such an extent that the European Union has opened a sector inquiry and suspects voice technology to become the next weak spot that allows tech giants to misuse their market power. 
Customer adoption to voice technology in the US
Customer adoption remains unimpressed by these concerns and is picking up speed, especially in the US. According to a report by Microsoft, 72% of consumers say that they already used voice search via a personal digital assistant, such as Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or the Google Assistant.  Over 35% interact with smart home speakers for search queries and this figure is sure to rise quickly, as already 45% reported to own such a device. A significant group of those surveyed uses voice commands to control TVs (36%), cars (31%) or various functions such as music or lighting at home with a smart home speaker (52%). This progressed state of adoption in the US is backed by a report of PwC from 2018, which states that only 10% of those surveyed were not familiar with voice-enabled products and devices and 72% claimed to have already used them in some form.  But where and why do people interact with voice assistants? According to the PwC report, three in four users use their voice assistants only at home, because using it in public feels weird to them. Well, if this is the case for simple search requests and shopping, it will apply even more for banking services. Or would you ask a banking app for your latest account balance in a crowded restaurant or train? Home will be the place where consumers adapt, in a safe and private environment, to the usage of voice commands – perhaps eventually finding their way to the public space with non-sensitive tasks and queries.
Are customers ready for voice banking?
And so, we arrive at the key challenge for new technologies: trust. Banking is never among the first things you entrust to a new technology, is it? And that’s what customers in the US think as well. And customers in other regions are sure to follow. Reading the list of tasks that they would ask a digital assistant for help with, you'll find accessing banking or personal financial information and credit card accounts at the very bottom - beating out only an unspecified "Other". A mere 10-11% of consumers would use a voice assistant for this sort of request.
Despite the broad adoption for simple use cases, many users share concerns that their personal data is not secure in general or that digital assistants are actively listening or recording when they shouldn’t. These mental hurdles need to be dismantled by real-life benefits and a good service, in order to win consumers’ trust. The first precious moments of success will probably be delivered by online shops and food delivery services, rather than by banks. This allows the financial industry a few good years (or months?) to make sure that they are ready for the era of voice.
With smartphones approaching their 15-year anniversary (the historically common life-cycle peak of new technologies) and having saturated the market, it is about time to consider new technologies coming up, which might not allow for a big touch interface.  With wearables such as smartwatches and other smart devices on the rise.  , banks should think about the future interfaces that will enable clients to talk to them. They should find out if they want (and can) own these client-facing devices and technologies. They should find out if they want to participate in a place that consumers have already adapted to. Perhaps the following use cases for voice technology in banking can inspire others to also start this journey.
We joined forces with our Fintech partner Spitch, to collate the following, non-exhaustive list of use cases for voice technology in banking. Spitch is a recognized leader in the delivery of precise Natural Language Processing (NLP) as a part of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to improve customer experience and reduce costs of service providers across industries. Their solutions are delivered on-premise and therefore integrated in the tech-stack of the financial institutions. For banks, which are usually not allowed to share personal and sensitive information like audio data of client conversations with providers abroad, the prospect to embed voice technology within their own platform is a promising perspective.
1. Voice automation in call centers
Voice solutions for customer service lines, are becoming increasingly smart. Even more complicated requests, such as blocking your credit card and asking for your last bookings at the same time, can be handled by the artificial service managers. Customer identification and even very specific dialects (Spitch manages calls in Swiss German in existing use cases) are no barriers for modern solutions. A digital voice assistant in your call center allows organizations to free up agents for more complex cases and improves overall service availability.
2. Video-based client onboarding process
Many financial authorities either paved the way for digital client onboarding or are working on such legislation. The gathering of a voice sample of new clients can be seamlessly integrated into this kind of client onboarding. Samples can also be checked against a blacklist of fraudsters (see biometric identification and fraud prevention) or against the database of existing clients.
3. Biometric identification and fraud prevention
Proper client identification on digital channels can be met with three different ways. You can ask the users for something only they know (a password or a PIN), for something they own (a code on a card or a smart phone) and, finally, for their biometric features (fingerprints, facial recognition). Voice identification is included in that last category and has some intrinsic advantages over other biometric procedures:
The technical precondition on a device is a microphone, which is much more common and standardized than scanners for fingerprints or faces
While delivering a voice sample for access, your hands are free for other tasks
During a phone call, the customer experience is improved, since, rather than being a separate step in the user interaction process, authentication is happening in the background, , saving time and hassle for both parties
In contrast to a fingerprint or a facial recognition, voice cannot be obstructed by gloves, sunglasses, hygiene masks or the like
If the transaction is done by voice commands, the voice can be used to validate the client repeatedly throughout the process, not just for login – without the type of extra effort for the user that, for example, password repeats for higher transactions poses
Voice is also a potential weapon against social engineering and similar attempts of fraud. Client calls can be checked against a voice sample in the background, to make sure the right person is on the phone. In a reverse procedure, voice samples of known fraudsters can be held on a blacklist, warning call agents when a caller tries to deceive them.
4. Social messaging – voice messaging
People like to use their preferred channel when engaging with their relationship managers. Innovative solutions, such as our Avaloq Engage App, allow end-clients to use their preferred social messaging app (such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Line) while the RM acts out of the safe, compliant and AI-supported environment of the Avaloq Engage App. Voice messages are an accepted and appreciated way of communication among younger clientele and the switch between live conversation in a call and engaging via a flow of voice messages will be a seamless one for many in the upcoming years.
5. Voice-guided mobile banking apps
Are you already on your end-clients phone with a mobile banking app? Given that mobiles phones already have all the features you need for a voice technology solution, use this favourable starting position and let your clients speak. For mobile banking, voice can be used as a safe and convenient way to identify the client. Both at the beginning of a transaction and – as a specific characteristic of voice – during a dictated instruction for a trade or payment. This has the potential to add a further layer of security to mobile banking.
Conclusion on voice banking use cases
We can see that the use cases for voice technology in banking are manifold. None of the above examples require you to enter the battlefield of smart home speakers, which is currently dominated by tech giants and retail – not to mention that you likely wouldn’t want a tech giant as your intermediate to the customer anyway. Nor are any of the use cases unattainable future visions. Instead, they allow banks to start educating their customers on voice-based services on known and trusted channels, such as the customer service line or the mobile banking app. Now is the time to ready your company for voice technology, as this client channel will come - and it will be here sooner than expected.
Written by Vincent Simlinger
Vincent is a Senior Product Manager and responsible for Avaloq’s Engage product line, which comprises our mobile & web banking products. He is an expert in conversational banking and mobile client advice and was at the forefront of the development for our Avaloq Engage App, enabling Relationship Managers to communicate via social messengers with their end clients. Before joining Avaloq, he worked as a consultant for BCG Platinion and KPMG. Vincent holds a master degree in business informatics from the Technical University Munich (TUM).
Learn more about:
The impact of social messaging on wealth management
How the convenience of social messaging raises the interaction with relationship managers (RM) to a new level
How to embed the RM's mobile endpoint on a social messaging app into a wealth management workplace in a secure and compliant manner
The seamless integration of natural language processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI) in mobile conversation