Alexa’s Ecosystem Power — Beyond The Echo

“Alexa, show me some cool FI, payments and commerce innovations.”

Twelve teams and 14 companies are ready to do just that. The 2016 PYMNTS/Alexa Challenge that launched five weeks ago is now complete – and now it is up to you to tell us which team you believe has used Alexa and her voice-activated tech to reimagine how consumers interact with their payments and financial services solutions providers.

Those 14 companies — Best Innovation Group (BIG), DaVincian Healthcare, Discover, Exa, Feasty powered by Zipscene, FIS, Fiserv, ONvocal powered by People Power, USAA, Vantiv, Visa and Western Union — dug deep into their innovation bag to solve everything from the $60 billion annual prescription abandonment problem to making checkout abandonment a thing of the past. Some were focused on giving chatbots a run for their money in the customer service arena, while others are using the technology to make financial services more accessible to a variety of customer segments.

And they all had their own unique take on how the power of Alexa's voice-activated services could innovate financial services, payments and commerce.

The outcome of the innovations of these 12 teams was documented in videos, which were revealed on Monday, June 6, and are now available for everyone to view and vote on on Voters can choose from the following categories: Most Creative, Most Disruptive, Best Use Of The Technology, Easiest To Explain To Mom, Most Likely To Get Traction and the penultimate reward, The 2016 PYMNTS Alexa Challenge Champ.


"This was about solving a real problem or re-imagining a future for a consumer and the ecosystem that surrounds consumers as they look at new ways to conduct commerce, buy things, solve problems and even manage the health care environment," Karen Webster said at the unveiling of the solutions.

"The 2016 PYMNTS/Alexa Challenge pushed the boundaries of what everyone thought Alexa was able to do, as we all learned how powerful she really is," she added.

So what did the groups create during the 10-day-challenge?

Best Innovation Group (BIG)

BIG's innovation stems from one common problem in financial services: There are too many passwords, too many user IDs and too many applications to sort thorough, making simple tasks complicated. Simple tasks like checking a checking account balance or transferring money into a kid's bank account.

BIG's Alexa skill enables a user to tell their bank or credit union what type of skill they want to do and Alexa will make it happen, even while making dinner.

DaVincian Healthcare

Prescription abandonment is a major problem in the health care field and that's why DaVincian made its Alexa skill about helping consumers stay on track of their medical needs — whether it be taking a pill, getting a refill, getting a prescription delivered or making a payment.

"Many of the barriers related to people staying on track with their prescription plan can easily be removed by bringing in simple payment methods from the financial field and novel delivery options," said Meredith Porter, Chief Medical Officer for DaVincian Healthcare. "By using a voice command tech, we can guide patients to be better aware and have more control over their own treatment."


With the ever-competitive banking industry, Discover is looking for innovative ways to connect its customers to its own ecosystem of services, whether that be paying a bill, transferring money or checking an account balance.

Enter Alexa.

"The Alexa challenge provided us with an excellent opportunity to showcase our innovative thinking, especially in ways to potentially enhance our award-winning customer service in the future," said Soumya Chakrabarty, Director of Payments Innovation at Discover. "We wanted to demonstrate how the consumer can interact with Discover."


Alexa's capabilities aren't just limited to the financial services industry, of course, which is what Exa showed when it demonstrated how Alexa's skills could be used to innovate the hospitality space. It did so by using Alexa's technology in a voice automation software to offer services needed within offices, hotels, hospitals and various common spaces.

For example, this could be used for booking a conference room, finding out about an event or gathering information for a service — like the Wi-Fi password or the ability to order something from the front desk of a hotel without having to pick up a phone.

"We think Amazon is a great way to make [the hospitality] space smarter — providing a better experience for customers, while helping venues reduce costs and increase engagement," said Exa CTO Dan McArdle. "We think in a few years it would be strange if Alexa is not available for customer services in places like this.”


This particular Alexa skill is also aimed at transforming one common problem in the food industry: figuring out what to eat.

That's where the combo of Zipscene’s consumer dining data merges with Feasty to provide a consumer with dining deals based on their own individual preferences. So instead of Googling that option, Feasty wants to use the Echo for another task.

Once a consumer says something like "Alexa, tell Feasty I'm hungry," she would provide the consumer with options tailored to her own preferences, which are based on past behaviors. It also takes into account the time of day, weather, etc.

"We partnered to create an Alexa skill set that provides consumers with an easy-to-use intelligent support system that each of us makes every day," said Jeff Bickel, Chief Product Officer for Zipscene.


Back on the financial services side, FIS used Alexa to provide consumers with relevant and timely guidance to better inform their financial decisions. Their skill was demonstrated with a "day in the life" theme to show how Alexa can use FIS Fay to step in to help a consumer during their financial journey.

"Our skill helps act as an always-available coach for all of life's needs, not just for the present, but on a go-forward basis. So we really focused our application on how to guide millennials through major financial life events," explained Doug Brown, FIS' head of mobile.

"We were excited to push the limits of how Fay, the skill for Alexa, could really engage people in a whole, new meaningful way," he said.


Fiserv's take on the Alexa Challenge was to use Alexa to advance money management and movement at the point of thought. This particular service, however, is already a service, but the Alexa Challenge helped propel its potential.

"Our live cloud-based system running our current production digital banking system connected into our Fiserv payments system and developed an Alexa skill that connected the Echo into the system to do the most common and valuable and engaging user stories," explained Scott Hess, VP Innovations Team at Fiserv.

Whether that was using the skill to review a checking account balance, to ask when a payment was due, or to make a payment, Hess said the goal was to focus on making things simpler for their customers.

OnVocal/People Power

This team brought together two companies for one innovation solution by enabling Alexa services on-the-go.

That meant taking the control of appliances, security, senior care services, music and calls, and applying voice print authentication to secure commands and transactions — regardless of where the person was while conducting the task.

"You're no longer bound by the confines of the skills on the go — but everywhere," said Will Graylin, Global Co-GM of Samsung Pay, speaking as a board member on behalf of OnVocal/People Power. "It really brings together all the skills people are writing for Alexa to take it to a whole new level. It's keeping people safe while on the go."


USAA used the challenge to take its skills to where its customers often need it most: to a savings booster skill.

"Often we find that our customers are really struggling to make their finances work. So what better time to help them in that decision process of what money to spend, how much money to spend and when to save then when they are shopping," said Darrius Jones, AVP Enterprise Innovation at USAA.

This can be done by doing something as simple as asking: "How can I save $30, Alexa?"

"Alexa will respond with how much money savings booster will determine at anytime," Jones said. "It really brought together the power of the Amazon ecosystem, both Echo and the shopping platform and the power of USSA’s advice."


Vantiv's solution was to take something old (auctions), something new (Alexa) and combine it with a little innovative flair to get what they called the Vauction recipe.

In this case, what that meant was using Alex to make the auctioning process much more automatic in terms of placing bids, searching for items and searching for lot numbers.

"It's a modern-day auction," said Tyler Blanton, a software engineer intern on the project. "It's virtually limitless."


Visa tapped into its digital ecosystem to showcase the seamlessness of using its tokenized digital payment solution, Visa Checkout, to order an item via the Echo.

That's why Visa used the challenge to take voice commerce to the next level using Checkout and Visa Offers. But it wasn't Visa's first dance with Alexa.

In this particular demonstration case in the challenge it was ordering chocolates for a friend's birthday that the person forgot, solving multiple issues at once.

"We've been playing with Alexa since last November and we have built out a basic bank transaction and money transfer skill for our showcase for Super Bowls," said Jagdeep Singh Sahota, Sr. Director of Innovation and Strategic Partnerships at Visa.

"We looked at taking Alexa into highlighting the future of voice commerce where a consumer will be able to use Alexa to discover, browse and seamlessly conduct a commerce transaction using their voice," he added.

Western Union

Western Union also used the challenge to enable its customers to do the tasks they already do, but faster and without having to do anything other than talk to Alexa to make the transactions happen.

This included checking an exchange rate, sending money or tracking a transaction, and showing how Alexa could be a personal assistant to moving money via Western Union. This also included re-sending or sending money using Alexa and only Alexa to make the transaction possible.




Banks, corporates and even regulators now recognize the imperative to modernize — not just digitize —the infrastructures and workflows that move money and data between businesses domestically and cross-border.

Together with Visa, PYMNTS invites you to a month-long series of livestreamed programs on these issues as they reshape B2B payments. Masters of modernization share insights and answer questions during a mix of intimate fireside chats and vibrant virtual roundtables.

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