Before long, we’ll be able to instruct Siri, Alexa or Cortana to transfer money or pay our bills. We explore the new frontier in banking and payments. 


Voice-activated technology is becoming a bigger part of our daily lives and soon it could change the way we pay. Australians already use voice-activated devices when driving to make navigation easier and to answer curly questions at home (“Siri, will I need an umbrella today?”). And in the next wave of technology, voice-controlled systems are set to become the most efficient way to make payments and transfer money.

A new way to pay

Advances in artificial intelligence have allowed systems to understand voices and speech patterns to such a degree that these systems can follow voice commands and interactions flow. It has bolstered confidence in voice-activated devices to such a degree that almost 600 million people around the world use voice technology of some kind every week.

Voice technology also offers convenience to consumers as a hands-free way to pay. Currently, most of us transfer money or make payments through a sequence of steps including logging into an account online. Yet the speed of voice technology means the time spent on such tasks could almost be eradicated by simple commands such as “pay the gas bill from my savings account” or “transfer $50 to mum’s account”.

Take-up rate

Although much anticipated, the use of voice technology in the payments sector is not high. Just 2 per cent of respondents to a Business Insider Intelligence survey said they had used their voice to pay a bill and only 1 per cent had used the same technology to transfer money to a friend.

But there are strong predictions uptake will soon skyrocket. The Business Insider Intelligence report forecasts numbers will quadruple in the United States over the next five years to reach 31 per cent of adult consumers. 

This uptake of voice-activated payments will hinge on platforms integrating security measures, says Robert Schwarz, Managing Director of enterprise at Nuance Communications, which specialises in speech applications. 

“I think it comes down to how quickly financial services institutions adopt the sort of secure mechanisms behind it,” Schwarz says. “So, for example, a bank won't let you transfer money from an unsecured device if you just speak into it. If it can't verify who you are, then there’s a level of risk there.”

Hurdles ahead

Security and privacy form the main grey area for voice-controlled payments. They are the key to consumer confidence for financial institutions building their own apps in this sector, as well as tech giants Google and Amazon.

To address security and privacy concerns, Schwarz says the technologies behind voice recognition and voice biometrics must align. “Speech recognition transcribes speech to text, then that text is used to understand what I’m saying, while voice biometrics isn’t about what I’m saying, but how I speak,” he explains.

“Voice biometrics can actually verify an individual by their voice. So I think we’ll see growth in what I call conversational commerce when financial institutions cover off that security aspect, and I think the most prevalent technology to do that is voice biometrics.

 

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