While often painted as hesitant to jump on board with the next big technological advance, banks of all sizes are more than ready to get going with voice-activated AI, says FIS Mobile SVP and group executive Doug Brown.
“The demand we are seeing is overwhelming from our banking partners,” Brown told Karen Webster in a recent conversation. “Banks from the biggest player on Wall Street right on down to community banks are absolutely ready for this change and want to get in on the ground floor. And the demand is really strongest from our community banking partners, who are adamant that they are not going to cede this ground to the likes of Chase or Wells Fargo.”
Those banks, he said, have not yet fully determined the full set of use cases yet, but they know for certain they want in as soon as physically imaginable.
The Moment of Truth/The Moment of Proof
When it comes to leading consumers into the world of transactional relationship AI assistants, Webster noted, banks have something of an advantage:
The trust of their customers.
Despite all the ink that has been spilled about America’s “hatred” of banks and bankers over the last decade or so, the reality borne out in study after study is that when it comes to protecting their money, consumers far and away trust banks more than anyone else.
That advantage is critical, Brown agreed, because it means consumers are more likely to give banks – and the voice AI capabilities – the “benefit of the doubt.” But, he noted, that advantage is also more a jumping-off point than an end point. Once the customer is there, locked and loaded and ready to do some voice-based banking, the experience actually has to deliver.
“That’s when the rubber meets the road: building an experience that delivers on those user expectations – and exceeds them,” Brown remarked, adding that the process, of course, must not introduce undo friction. When it does, he contended, consumers start to doubt, hesitate and decide that this just isn’t worth it to them.
And that, he noted, isn’t flip-a-switch easy – particularly because part of living up to those expectations is deeply entwined with customers’ assumption that when interacting with their bank, their data will be secure and safe.
That’s where, Brown admitted, voice technology still has ground to cover – but players are working hard to close the gap. Amazon, for example, is working on stronger voice-authentication biometrics, as Voice Profile is deep into its beta testing.
“Right now, we don’t have a secure enough model built in where we can just trust the voice print to be strong enough protection for heavy-duty authentication for transactions that move money from one person to another, or even for opening new accounts,” said Brown.
But it’s getting there, faster than most people think – and in the meantime, there are other options available, like authenticating on a different device (say, a smartphone) and then moving to the voice assistant once that authentication is logged.
It’s a piece of friction, but it’s “friendly friction” of the type that a customer is willing to go along with, because it is part and parcel to an overall more efficient, secure and fluid experience.
And that fluidity, Brown noted, is what he and the team at FIS see as critical to making a voice-enabled future that will scale.
The Cloud-based Vision
The problem with products developed for voice AI, Brown and Webster concurred, is often a failure to see the bigger picture.
Some innovators tend to treat voice as though it is a kind of talky extension of mobile, Webster noted, in much the same way that early internet innovators treated the world wide web as a place to stick a digitized copy of their brochures. Others, Brown noted, get too wrapped around the niche axel, and only think narrowly about voice applications in terms of an Echo device.
And both perspectives, Brown noted, are missing the forest that is the cloud ecosystem, by staring too closely at the mobile and its voice-activated trees.
“Whether it is voice or mobile is almost irrelevant to [FIS] – we are building a cloud-based interaction model that means users can have continuity across all devices,” Brown said.
For FIS, he said that means building voice integration on top of its total digital platform, so there isn’t what he calls a “voice island floating along in an interactive sea.” Instead, from day one, Brown said that FIS has designed voice to work as part of the consumer’s natural movement to, and through, a variety of digital touchpoints. That means FIS thinks less about engineering a portfolio of individual skills and more about building a flexible, usable and scalable solution.
Brown shared with Webster an example of a couple buying a home, a use case where voice can be a value-add if properly designed. Such a use case, however, isn’t one that can be traditionally done wholly in self-service mode. That means building voice into an interaction path that the consumer is most likely to go down – making it easier for consumers to move back and forth between voice and other digital channels without having to rekey or repeat information that was just shared a step or two before.
Just like a very helpful and useful personal assistant would, only using AI to anticipate and then addressing what they will ask for without the consumer having to prompt for it.
The Future of Collaboration
Big tech and financial services have had something of a wary take on each other in the past – but that, Brown noted, is changing. These days, banks don’t want to run from tech firms – instead, they want to understand how they can best be enabled by them.
At the end of the day, Brown said, it’s not about channel for the consumer. They aren’t voice customers, or mobile customers, or desktop customers, or in-person customers. They are just customers – and the experience that one needs to build to best serve them going forward is the one that works from end to end, without them even noticing.
Even Alexa can’t give them that on her own.
Neither can the banks.
But together, they can create a new experience that keeps customers loyal.
“What is great about Alexa and voice is that so much work can be done in the background that the consumer doesn’t have to deal with,” said Brown. “That’s a powerful tool – one that will only become more powerful as time goes by.”