Article

Alexa, What's My Balance?

Contributing Writer

3 minutes

If you watched the Super Bowl this year—or if you have tech-savvy friends and relatives—you’re already aware of what a voice interaction-based personal assistant like the Amazon Echo™ (pictured at right) or Microsoft’s Cortana™ can do. Just face the black Echo cylinder and say, “Alexa, play big band music.” Soon you’ll be hearing the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s “In the Mood.”

Now, San Diego-based core processor Symitar, a CUES Supplier member, and BIG, Tampa, Fla., an innovation think tank fronted by former Wescom Resources Group Chief Technology Officer John Best, have launched an initiative called Financial Innovations Voice Experience.

FIVE integrates these voice-based personal assistants with Symitar’s Episys® core processing system, enabling consumers to conduct routine online or mobile banking activity via voice commands. According to Ted Bilke, president of Symitar, no CU has launched this system yet, but some, including Baxter Credit Union, plan to roll it out next year.

“The obvious application is, you’re sitting in your living room and, like everybody, you check your balance from time to time,” says Jeff Johnson, chief information officer of $2.3 billion Baxter CU, Vernon Hills, Ill. “The thinking is, you just say ‘Hey, Alexa, what’s my credit union balance?’ or ‘Hey Alexa, I need to transfer money into my checking account from my savings account,’ or ‘I want my last five transactions.’ From a convenience perspective, from a member perspective, it was attractive to us because it kind of gets at the ubiquity of the credit union relationship. The credit union is there in your living room and you can just talk to us.”

Less obviously, he says, it’s a chance for CUs to get in on the ground floor of a technology where transparency is increasingly lacking. When people ask a voice-activated assistant for the weather, they don’t specify which application they want the device to use. No one knows (or, presumably, cares).

Bilke says the use of these devices signals a broad shift in the way institutions provide service capabilities. Historically, financial institutions have provided services on their own terms—on the products they themselves provide, on the voice response systems they build, and on the ATM cards they issue. But that has changed.

“We’re talking about the consumer or the member picking the devices that they want to use to interact with their financial institution,” he says. “It’s kind of like shifting from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. People, as an example, who have an Apple Watch, they’re looking for an Apple Watch kind of experience when they interact with a financial institution. We have to be able to enable that. The Amazon Echo is a great demonstration of that. All of the things that you could use your traditional voice response system to do, and more, I can now do with this device that I as a member own.”

This change makes such technology substantially more affordable for the institution and shortens the development cycle at the same time, he says.

“If a financial institution was looking to purchase a voice response system to put at the credit union, for a small credit union, that’s going to cost $25,000 to $50,000 to install the equipment, and I’m going to have to have multiple phone lines people can call in on,” he says. “I can do the same things on the Amazon Echo, and the member actually buys the device, connects to the Internet. So it’s a very low cost (to the credit union) to bring that solution to the members, and then since it's Internet-based, the ongoing cost is next to nothing.”

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