“Alexa, show me the money” – the challenges and obstacles banks face when implementing Alexa AI

By Pete Gatenby, head of sales and marketing at B60

Pete Gatenby, head of sales and marketing at B60
Pete Gatenby, head of sales and marketing at B60

AI voice assistants have begun slowly infiltrating the customer service structure and, thanks to Amazon’s latest announcement, we are likely to be seeing, well, hearing them even more.

As of August 17th, Amazon has opened sourcing license for Alexa Voice Service Device SDK to third party users, allowing commercial devices to be powered by the AI assistant. This is a game changer.Instead of having to develop their own, companies can now implement a fully functioning version of Alexa to their devices, one that can handle speech recognition, stream media, notifications and alarms, as well as accessing the thousands of voice apps, Alexa skills, without owning an Amazon product.

Alexa has the potential to transform customer service within banking. Customers will no longer have to go through a long-winded authentication process, instead they now have the opportunity to simply ask, ‘Alexa, how much have I spent this weekend?’. This development has the potential to revolutionise both the extent to which the tech is used, and the levels of pick up seen across sectors.

The technology supporting AI has been embedded within our smart devices for a while. It just hasn’t been utilised before now. Google and Microsoft say that nearly 1 in 4 mobile services are voice-based and it’s easy to see why,with speech input being 3x faster than English or Mandarin type. So, why hasn’t this technology been introduced before?

Privacy is a pressing issue within banking, and opening up another potential security threat is a risk some banks and customers are not willing to take. No software is bulletproof, therefore, it is crucial accurate testing is carried out and the system is regularly updated, to address security concerns and protect customers.

Although banks have been slow to embrace AI technology, Virginia-based Capital One struck a partnership with Amazon and Alexa in March 2016. Capital One customers can use their Amazon Echo, Dot or Fire TV to access account information. For just under a year now, customers have successfully used Alexa to check their balance, review transactions and make payments without any security issues. The same goes for American Express, who joined the AI trend in May 2017, offering a similar service.

Currently, accounts linked to Alexa can only be accessed with a secure pin code, however, some users are asking if this is enough. One user expressed concerns regarding how account information is stored within Alexa’s voice history, potentially offering third-parties key account information if successfully breached. More sophisticated authentication features may be necessary in order to make Alexa the go-to customer service assistant, however, the technology is constantly developing.

Individual voice recognition may be an important factor in AI’s success. HSBC/First Direct and Barclays use voice recognition technology that has the ability to identify customers contacting via telephone banking solely on their voice. Another security feature setthat could address this concern is biometric scanners. Biometric verification is almost impossible to replicate; therefore, it is the most secure authentication feature we have today. With fingerprint recognition beginning to feature on every smart phone and the iPhone 8 rumoured to include iris-scanning technology, this could be the answer to protecting customers using AI.

Another key issue is whether the software is sophisticated enough to accurately recognise particular voices, especially those with an accent. To train software to understand speech, you need a lot of voice samples, allowing machines to begin to associate sounds with words. Therefore, this problem can be addressed by collecting a more varied range of voices and will continually see improvements as time goes by.

Although there are only a handful of banks currently using AI technology, Amazon’s announcement will offer brands the chance to take advantage of the technology without needing to develop their own AI assistant. Customers may be initially slow to embrace all this, but as Alexa becomes more familiar, it is likely that banks will increasingly turn to her, due to the convenience and ease she can offer customers.Those who choose to ignore the technology may find users switching over to competitors.

Overall, Alexa looks set to be your new customer service advisor. Yes, there are challenges to be overcome. But the potential she offers is undoubtedly an exciting prospect.