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What’s the scope for home AI assistants?

Smartphones are the most important consideration within the digital banking channel. What scope is there for AI assistants and voice-only engagement? Story by Kevin Phillips.

Smartphones are the most important consideration within the digital banking channel. What scope is there for AI assistants and voice-only engagement? Story by Kevin Phillips.

What's the scope for home AI assistants?



7th September 2017

Kevin Phillips

I’m sure you are familiar with the short history of the smartphone: It evolved quickly from the expensive luxury of 10 years ago to today’s must-have, to-live-your-life-by utility. In fact, today’s digital banking customers prefer to use them rather than visit a branch.

So, how did we come to depend on our smartphones so quickly, and why do we love them so much?

Firstly, our smartphones tell us almost everything we need to know – from the date and time, weather and news headlines, to how we’re doing in our complex keep-fit lifestyles and well-being regimes. With full access to the internet, they can tell us about almost any subject, at any time of day or night, no matter where we are.

Secondly, we just love to touch things and then watch what happens. From the moment we’re born, our instinct is to use our senses to explore, and our sense of touch is considered the most important for our development. Our smartphones are the right shape and size for tactile engagement: Their screens respond to our every touch, pinch and swipe, making them the ideal input device for our brains.

Thirdly, our smartphones fill the void when we’re waiting – whether in a queue, stopping for a coffee/tea break, or even during the ads on television. We can use them for everything, from communicating with our friends and family to watching movies and boxsets, for booking holidays, nights out and business meetings. And they have also become essential for managing our finances.

Can digital banking software move into home AI assistance?

With our daily lives now so entwined with our smartphones, what role might home AI assistants like Amazon Echo, Apple’s HomePod and Google Home have to play in digital banking software? These rising stars provide a new way of communicating across the internet using only our voice, but they lack the screen we’ve come to love.

Voice-only banking would be a different experience to telephone banking. Even if the assistant becomes as intuitive as a human contact centre operator, we are unlikely to just “talk banking to the living room” in the way that today’s home assistants expect us to do. Will we be comfortable speaking out loud to access our financial information? Will we be happy for our home assistants to read out our balances and transactions, to be overheard by anyone nearby? Our privacy and our data security would surely be compromised.

There’s also the question of whether an automated voice response can convey the same amount of information at the same speed as a screen, with its text and images. Hearing our finances read out, we may not be able to digest and fully comprehend them in enough detail.

From a customer perspective, the adoption of ‘banking by home assistant’ in this way is likely to be low; if it is unable to allow us to manage our finances securely and reliably, it will remain a niche addition for digital early adopters who love to try out something new and a bit quirky.

From a regulatory perspective, reading bank account or card data out loud is not going to be acceptable. And, if customers can’t fully understand their finances, we are clearly not complying with banking regulations for treating customers fairly (TCF).

Can AI assistants be a part of future banking?

We often fall into the trap of adopting technology for technology’s sake without ensuring that the solution is a pertinent fit for the problem we are trying to solve. Believing if you build it they will come is nothing more than a myth, you only have to look at the Sinclair C5 and the Dvorak keyboard to see why.

The fintech sector must ensure that digital banking platforms include a channel based on voice-only home AI assistants that delivers the right solution for the consumer. They need to consider all aspects of the digital customer journey: experiences, lifestyle impact, friction, and the desire to be discreet and in control. Ultimately, customer adoption is often guarded by many layers of complexity, not just the technological challenge presented and overcome.

When it comes to voice-only banking, it may seem that managing your finances using home AI assistants has far too many barriers to ever become a reality. But, I believe that this is not actually the case. This exciting technology may indeed play a key role in omni-channel customer engagement.


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