Talking about personal finance is never easy.
Talking about personal finance with voice-activated assistants might not be easy, either, unless access to and management of data – oh, and interaction between user and device, of course – are seamless.
As anyone who has used an Alexa skill might know, the movement toward conversational finance, or financial conversations, is a tricky one, as specific instructions or questions (okay, they are commands, really) have traditionally been needed to spur the assistant to retrieve information.
This past summer, USAA debuted a virtual assistant that integrates with Amazon’s Alexa. Through USAA’s chatbot, members have been able to ask about their USAA account balances and spending details.
In an interview with PYMNTS, Darrius Jones, assistant vice president of USAA Labs, said the goal had been, and is, to mimic – and even go beyond – the basic financial conversations a member might have with a USAA rep on the phone.
By answering finance questions with a device, this might help free up that agent to tackle more complex member needs. Through the skill, and after opening the account, members can ask questions such as, “Alexa, how much money do I have?” or “Alexa, can I spend $200 on dinner?” The answers will detail balances in accounts or average expenditures tied to, in this case, meals.
Security features include options for voice PINs, the company has said.
Jones told PYMNTS that “one of the things that differentiates us from other organizations doing similar things is that we do not look at this as a voice play, but as a conversation across a multitude of platforms. If you think of Alexa and Google Home being voice-based, both of them offer some type of text-based input to the same services – whether you have a mobile app or with several Google substantiations, like Hello. That is one of the things that we truly took our time to think through: Is this really about voice, or is it about something bigger?
“What we really focused on is the whole topic of conversational commerce, with voice just one of those ways to have a conversation.”
Jones told PYMNTS that though the pilot had focused on traditional banking products, they are also focusing on other verticals to support their customer base, such as life insurance and investments. Additional initiatives may branch out into wearables.
“The strategy has been to get on as many platforms as possible, with a multitude of services covering the entire business … we want consistency, and to make it extremely easy to use.”
Ease of use as a guiding principle means that interacting with USAA’s skill should be intuitive, said Jones, “so that if you had never used another financial services skill, you would still know what to expect. Whether it would be the account linking process, starting on an Amazon platform and cross-linking over to USAA’s platforms or just some of the nomenclature we use throughout the skill – it all creates a familiar experience if you use our mobile app, which a majority of our users have.”
Mobile first has also been a guiding factor, as Jones continued, “we took a lot of those design principles into that speech experience that we deliver on Amazon, and used relevant language that our members are used to hearing from us on other platforms, including our conversational assist [products].”
Providing linked information to different accounts (offering, for example, aggregate availability in checking and savings) has meant that USAA also had to address what might be seen as inevitable consumer concerns about security and sharing information.
“We went through a couple of design iterations and ultimately decided that we wanted to support the exact same authentication flow that we would do on the mobile app,” he said, with positive feedback – “because people knew that they were going into USAA vs. the apprehension of ‘am I giving my credentials to a third party’ – and this was a confidence booster.”
How to avoid overwhelming the user? “It goes back to how conversational our skill is at this point. If we are having a dialogue about personal finance, and we have shared finances, you are not going to ask me how much money is in my checking account. You are not going to ask how much is in the account that ends in number 2754.
“Instead, you are going to ask ‘how much money do I have available right now?’ – and if you need to know specifics, like which account is it in, then you’ll dive into a subcategory, like a checking or savings account.”
Writ large, the executive told PYMNTS of the interaction with Alexa, “it’s reminiscent as to the conversation two college roommates may have about who is going to pick up the bill.”