PSCU Builds Alexa Sidekick For Credit Union Members

Troy wakes up, checks his calendar while brushing his teeth and pays his bills as he gets dressed. He checks account balances, transfers funds and sets up automatic payments and text notifications — all with his voice, without missing a beat of his morning routine.

When Troy leaves the house, his voice assistant goes with him. It’s on his smartwatch, in his car and in his office. It helps him buy an engagement ring from Amazon and even prompts him to apply rewards points to the purchase.

Before making any transfers or payments, the assistant asks him for his authorization code or the CVV code on the back of his card — introducing just enough friction to create security, as well as the consumer confidence that small doses of friction can engender.

The voice assistant isn’t Alexa, but it works with her to provide this anytime, anywhere experience. The assistant’s name is CURTIS (short for Credit Union Real-Time Information Skill), and it was developed by PSCU for the 2018 Voice Challenge with Amazon Alexa.

In a recent interview with Karen Webster, Priya Dozier, VP Digital Solutions and Innovation at PSCU, explained how the credit union developed the skill and how it plans to take CURTIS from concept to fully functional product in the coming months.

Charting the Course

Alexa is hardly new, yet there are still so many places developers can go with her ever-expanding voice capabilities — indeed, the harder part can sometimes be deciding what not to do with Alexa.

However, Webster noted, trying to do too much with a voice assistant can defeat the purpose by making it difficult for users to learn and manage processes. CURTIS can do a lot, Webster said, but not too much — instead, the assistant has room to flex and grow as PSCU adds functionality down the road.

Dozier said that’s why PSCU started the process with a conversation instead of immediately developing new skills. She said the credit union worked closely with its member experience design team to determine what members need and want from a product like this.

Once PSCU completed the upfront work of designing how the experience would look, Dozier said the rest of the process was fairly straightforward — even if the tech being explored was not. She said the lead developer on the skill volunteered for the role so he could expand his skill set and learn about new tech.

Characterizing CURTIS

Dozier said it was important to PSCU that its assistant have its own name and personality separate from Alexa’s, even though it’s using her voice. This creates a human element and a more customized experience by providing an identity for the virtual assistant.

In the same way that users can ask Alexa to call their mom or call their brother, Alexa can essentially “call up” CURTIS to engage with credit union members and help them complete their financial tasks more quickly and with less friction.

In that sense, said Dozier, CURTIS really acts as a plugin skill or sidekick to Alexa, with the potential to develop a presence on other channels. For instance, CURTIS could find a secondary home as a chatbot — that potential is currently being explored, Dozier said, as PSCU considers how CURTIS fits into its products in web, mobile and call center environments.


Maturing CURTIS

Dozier said there’s lots of interest among credit unions in understanding how technology works and how they can leverage it to meet their members’ needs. For that reason, she thinks CURTIS will be positively received in the credit union space.

The next step will be socializing CURTIS at PSCU’s member forum conference in late April. Dozier said the company is making specific efforts around gaining perspectives and insights into this technology to ensure CURTIS truly delivers what credit unions and their members are looking for.

Beyond that, she said, the biggest challenge in getting CURTIS up and running for consumers will be obtaining enough context for the artificial intelligence to serve them well.

Understanding where the customer is and what he or she is trying to accomplish via the voice interface will be critical to providing service that is useful rather than frustrating, Dozier said — and if the technology isn’t ready to provide the former, there will be no second chance to make a positive first impression.