Free Alexa: How Voice Challenge Winners Go Beyond The Echo Cylinder

Voice skills: They’re the user interface that everyone’s talking about (and to). Amazon’s Alexa has tens of thousands of them, some more useful than others.

Many of these are being built by FinTechs or other players in the financial space who are looking to make transacting and financial management easier and more natural for consumers, as well as unlock new capabilities for the brands and businesses that serve them.

There are so many opportunities and possibilities with voice that it can be hard to know where to begin. Indeed, one of the biggest mistakes developers make is trying to do it all with a single skill. However, we at PYMNTS have selected a few players who we believe are doing it right.

The 2018 Voice Challenge with Amazon Alexa kicked off in January, inviting companies to create a new skill built on the foundation of Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem across devices such as the Echo, Echo Show, wearables, cars, and everyday smartphones.

Throughout the event, many innovative teams pitched their prototypes with the intent of solving problems, removing friction, and adding value to the payments and commerce ecosystem, all while freeing Alexa from the isolated cylinder on the kitchen countertop.

After careful review, we are pleased to share the winners of the 2018 PYMNTS Voice Challenge with Amazon Alexa.

Best Of Challenge: FIS

Getting a loan to buy a home can be stressful, especially for first-time buyers like Kim and Jeff, the young couple in the demo video above. However, Kim and Jeff soon discover it doesn’t have to be that way.

The couple demonstrates how the FIS MyBank Alexa skill uses clear and friendly conversational capabilities to help users navigate not only the home-buying process, but other real-world challenges, such as credit card fraud.

As Kim and Jeff begin the mortgage loan approval process, Alexa gets a live banker on the line to help. As they’re driving to see the house, Alexa notifies Jeff of a potentially fraudulent charge on his credit card and instantly issues a new card to his digital wallet.

Doug Brown, SVP and Group Executive at FIS Mobile, told Karen Webster that the voice platform cannot be an island; rather, the banking journey must be cloud-based so that customers can access solutions when they need them, in context.

This is what the FIS MyBank Alexa skill does, leveraging a conversation agent in a cloud-based ecosystem so it can serve users across platforms, locations and situations, from the kitchen to the car.

Most Disruptive: Semafone

Phone Concierge, the Alexa skill by Semafone, fulfills two key security functions during potentially sensitive phone conversations: first, identification and verification, and second, secure voice payments.

In both cases, when users ask Alexa to authenticate the interaction, she will generate Three Little Words (3LW): a random one-time, three-word security key, which the user shares back with the company representative on the line.

Thus, both parties have verified that they are who they claim to be. This reverse authentication makes the trust exchange reciprocal rather than having the customer prove his identity to the company and getting no assurance in return.

In the demo video above, Semafone’s head of global solutions, Ben Rafferty, and senior software developer James Kirrage demonstrate how the skill could be used through a series of simulated calls with the electrical company.

On the first call, Rafferty (the customer) asks Alexa to authenticate the caller’s identity before proceeding with the call. On the second, he asks Kirrage to send a payment request to him through Alexa and squares up the balance on his account using only his voice, while Kirrage remains on the line.

Most Creative Application of Voice Technology: Fiserv

It may sound like science fiction, but it’s true: Consumers trust Alexa, even with matters as sensitive as their finances. They see her as a reliable, efficient assistant – and Fiserv saw this as an opportunity to help consumers become more connected to their financial lives through conversational interface.

Today, it’s not enough for financial institutions to live in bank branches and mobile apps; they must be everywhere their customers are, rising to the demand for hands-free, always-on access to account balances, bill payments, and other financial needs – all while they’re engaged in other activities.

In the demo video above, Fiserv shows how Alexa could be used to achieve it all – though not all of the capabilities represented have necessarily come to market yet. The skills take voice a step further than simple command-and-response interactions by adding an interactive visual dimension on the screen of the Echo Show.

Fiserv said it used Amazon’s LEX platform to develop skills with the intent of connecting consumers to their banking account information anytime, anywhere, on any device that Amazon creates.

Easiest To Explain To Mom: PSCU

Could CURTIS become the financial friend that replaces frantic calls from moms to children, asking how to do their banking online? That’s PSCU’s vision. CURTIS, the Credit Union Real Time Information Skill, is on call via Alexa 24/7 so the kids don’t have to be.

Priya Dozier, VP Digital Solutions and Innovation at PSCU, told PYMNTS that CURTIS isn’t just a skill – he’s more of a plugin or sidekick to Alexa, using her interface and voice to convey information and complete services between credit unions and their members.

In the demo video above, Troy is seen waking up and starting his day, checking balances and paying bills by voice without interrupting his morning routine. Just like Alexa, CURTIS goes with Troy when he leaves the house, with a presence on his watch, in his car, and at his office. She helps him make purchases and transfers, asking for authorizations as needed and even applying rewards points when appropriate.

CURTIS is just a concept for now, but Dozier told PYMNTS that PSCU will be socializing the assistant and gathering expert insights at its conference in April before diving into further development later this year.

Most Commercially Viable: USAA

Most consumers aren’t worried about a sea monster eating their car, but that’s exactly what happened to the unfortunate woman in USAA’s demo video above. Luckily, Alexa and USAA were there to help her sort out the insurance payout, as well as assist her in hunting for a new car.

Alright, maybe it’s far-fetched – but cars do get totaled, claims must be filed, payouts must be received, and customers must have all the resources they need to shop and price out new cars to buy with that payout. Car owners also have less dramatic daily needs like paying their insurance or adding a driver.

Lonnie Roberts, Alexa’s voice product manager for USAA, told PYMNTS that today, these tasks require customers to hop between phone calls, desktop experiences, and payments coordination (both push and pull).

Roberts believes Alexa has the power to bring these multi-channel experiences into a single hub. While certain steps may be best completed on one device or channel over another, the central mediation point would enable the customer to proceed more seamlessly.

A skill like this could bring a whole new meaning to the phrase, “hands-free driving experience.”

Congratulations, Winners!

Once again, we at PYMNTS extend our congratulations to the winners – and to all of those who took the time to explore how Alexa can solve critical payments problems for consumers and the FIs serving them. We were inspired by the creativity and the passion – and grateful for all of the effort that went into these submissions.