Alexa Voice Challenge

How Alexa Will Power The Future’s Excellent Commerce Adventures

The artificial intelligence (AI)-powered virtual assistant has been floating around the payments and commerce ecosystem for a few years. But until fairly recently, the term “assistant” was used too generously.

Alexa — via the earliest skill built for the platform — could do all kinds of things to assist customers, but those skills were largely one-offs. In its early days, the virtual assistant wasn’t quite ready to be anyone’s technological co-pilot just yet.

A lot can change over a couple of years — something Doug Brown, SVP and Group Executive at FIS Mobile was recently reflecting on with Karen Webster as they were discussing FIS’ latest entrant into the PYMNTS 2018 Voice Challenge with Amazon Alexa. This year’s competition isn’t FIS’ first rodeo; they were part of the skill build rush two years ago, when Amazon and PYMNTS ran the original iteration of this competition.

“The last submission, we did a single interaction with the voice unit itself. It didn’t have the concept of cloud, and it was really focused on a single, timed interaction in the user’s day. What we built then really informed our decisions now; it really pushed us to think broader and really go beyond,” Brown said.

This time around, he told Webster, the focus in building the skill wasn’t centered around voice at all. In the last two years, FIS has realized that when it comes to banking services, voice “isn’t a platform that needs to stand as an island,” but instead needs to function as a fully integrated part of the consumer’s banking journey — one that is cloud-based and is as fluid as the movements of the consumer herself.

Almost as if the consumer had her very own personal banker.

Consumers, Brown told Webster, aren’t looking for voice AI to provide them with a series of one-off solutions. Instead, they’re looking for a host of solutions they can pull up, when necessary, in context.

In the case of “Kim” and “Jeff” — the delightful couple in the video above — the FIS Alexa-powered MyBanker skill, in combination with the Echo Show and Amazon’s mobile app, was able to help them search new home listings, find one, connect directly to the bank, prequalify for a loan, receive an alert that their card was compromised while on the way to check out their dream house on the lake and have a new card issued and provisioned to their digital wallet to buy gas on the way there.

All without any interruption to the commerce flow.

Toward the end of the journey, Alexa was even able to help Kim and Jeff increase their preapproval amount when it was time to move forward on the transaction.

“Some of that,” Brown noted, “does take place offscreen. There’s an authentication that takes place via a mobile device so that the consumer is fully logged in to use MyBanker via Alexa.”

The power behind the skill is its efficiency: a goal that would have required a range of different actions by the consumers — a lot of phone calls, a lot of downloads and a lot of high-touch interactions — now becomes a single, streamlined process through which Alexa can guide them.

“[Kim and Jeff] leave the voice channel — you can see in the video when Alexa prompts the users to a video chat — but that’s okay, and, in fact, we want the ability to move in and out of the voice channel as it makes sense for the users,” Brown explained.

The Challenge Moving Forward

Some of these new capabilities will require consumer training. Since many of these interactions are unfamiliar, the exchange can come across as unsettling.

“When Amazon first added that glowing yellow light to signal it had information to give you, I didn’t know what it was, and neither did my wife. It didn’t bother me, but it took her some time to get used to … people need to understand and be prepared for all of the ins and outs of something new,” Brown said — which is one of the advantages FIS has working with banks: Consumers trust Amazon based on years of successful interactions. Statistically speaking, however, people trust their banks above all else, particularly when it comes to things like managing and moving their money.

“And that trust equity … bankers have with their customers, [FIS] really [has] a chance to leverage it” beyond what the company is creating for this specific challenge toward what they’re building to accompany the expansion of the financial services and commerce ecosystems into the cloud.

That means that “Kim” and “Jeff” will be able to use Alexa to send all the documents necessary to buy their dream home — and even be able to authorize the transfer of funds for the down payments.

“We look forward to the days [when] we can get rid of signatures and really use cross-channel authentication to its fullest by bio-authenticating and then using that biometric signature to replace the paper or eSignature,” Brown said.

In just two years, the Alexa ecosystem has gone from a place where one could test out interesting one-off interactions with customers to one that might just become one of the foundational pieces of a whole new world of transactions and commerce for consumers.

“We’re still only getting started with all the ways our banking partners can use this to develop an even richer relationship with their customers by, essentially, giving them access to their very own personal banker who’s available to help them with whatever they need,” he concluded.

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