From online banking to mobile apps, the way people manage their finances has changed dramatically in recent years. Only now there’s a new step in banking’s digital evolution: voice assistants.
One fan of the new vocal revolution is Depika Koria, the Product Owner for Voice Assistants in HSBC’s Global Innovation and Partnerships team. She is responsible for leading on voice discovery and ideation, piloting concepts and shaping the voice roadmap for retail banking. Depika has worked across the Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri platforms primarily in the UK and US.
Prior to HSBC, she developed Mobile Product strategy at Visa Europe and has previously held Product and Innovation roles at Barclays and Barclaycard International. Passionate about human-centric technology, here Depika explains why she is striving to make banking more human in this age of machines.
Voice assistants are usually standalone smart speakers, home devices, or voice capability built into smart phones, allowing users to speak to a computer to perform a task, rather than touching, typing or swiping on a keyboard or screen. Banks are able to build voice applications on these platforms.
As of 2019, there were an estimated 3.25 billion digital voice assistants being used in devices across the world. These are brought to consumers by the global ‘big tech’ brands and there are already a wide range of uses. You can ask them to make a call for you, play music, or check train times.
Using them is simple, intuitive and about three times quicker than typing a request. As the technology advances, many people are becoming comfortable with the idea of using them for shopping and, increasingly, banking. Around 44% of voice assistant users in fact say they are interested in using them for this purpose, according to analysis by Capgemini.
Over the next few years it will become common for people to use digital assistants to make payments, organise their finances, and even seek advice on how to save money, as HSBC predicted in its recent Banking of the Future report.
Apart from being a more natural way to interact, voice assistants could make it easier for users to multi-task and bank hands-free.
Imagine you’re at home after a busy day at work, preparing dinner and knowing, in the back of your mind, that you need to make a payment which will soon be overdue. Rather than having to wait for a quiet moment, you could simply ask the voice assistant to complete the task for you there and then.
To those who are working from home and fed up with staring at a screen all day – as many are during the coronavirus pandemic – voice banking may seem an attractive option.
As well as providing greater convenience, voice assistants can also help broaden access to banking services. People with visual impairments or with arthritis, for example, sometimes find it difficult to use screen-based devices. Voice interactions are therefore a simple and more inclusive alternative way for them to manage their money.
It’s important to acknowledge that some will have concerns about the security of voice technology. The onus is therefore on banks to demonstrate clearly that they have strong controls in place when building voice banking apps. Regulators, as well as consumers, will want reassurance that people’s money will be safe and their personal data kept private.
Different people will also approach voice banking in different ways. Some customers may take time to get comfortable and only want basic, read-only functionality – like checking their balance. Later, as they build confidence, they may be interested in more transactional functionality such as making payments.
Other customers may want to jump straight into advanced features – like asking their bank, through a voice assistant, to proactively provide recommendations on saving money.
To draw a parallel, it wasn’t long ago that consumers had concerns about the idea of banking on their smartphone. It was the same with contactless payments – but most of us today couldn’t imagine a world without these services.
It is therefore vital for banks to put customers in control. This means allowing them to opt-in or out of voice banking – so they can tailor it to their particular needs, or choose not to use it at all.
Above all, explaining and demonstrating the benefits is key. As with any new technology, users will want to understand what is in it for them. If they see that voice banking could make their life easier, and help them to save money, they are likely to give it a go.
Some analysts believe that we could see a large-scale switch to voice sooner than later. Forecasts suggest that by 2023 the number of digital voice assistants will reach around eight billion units – a number higher than the world’s population.
In each market, the catalyst for this growth is the adoption of smart speakers. The United States originally had the lead, with the UK following closely, however adoption is now picking up in the Asia Pacific region. In the last year, it was China’s big tech players that saw the most growth. China’s adoption rate currently tops all countries.
Whatever the rate of take-up, voice technology has the potential to make customers’ lives easier. I’m confident that in the future many of us will be using it for banking: whether at home, using headphones on a run, or even – who knows – riding in a driverless car.