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Virtual teller

Alexa, Amazon’s voice-based virtual assistant, the latest technological advance in banking convenience, is undergoing testing by Canadian credit unions.

Two Canadian credit unions are testing a system that lets their members do their banking through Alexa, Amazon’s voice-based virtual assistant. The technology comes by way of Central 1 Credit Union, which developed it in collaboration with San Francisco design agency Point One Digital. By way of this new and innovative tool, Alexa becomes a personal member service representative, allowing end users to tell the artificial intelligence (AI) platform to make payments, transfer money and perform other banking transactions, all via a simple voice command. Additionally, thanks to Alexa’s voice recognition capability, the system ensures that an authorized user is requesting these transactions, keeping the member’s banking information private and safe.

Aside from providing greater convenience for those who already use the Alexa-based smart home speakers, the system will also benefit and improve banking accessibility for individuals who are visually impaired, are challenged by mobile or keyboard interfaces, or have difficulty leaving their homes. Currently, trials are being undertaken by Saskatchewan’s Conexus Credit Union (127,461 members, $6 billion in assets) and Innovation Credit Union (52,164 members, $2.5 billion
in assets) in the hope Alexa will become available to members this year.

Quicker than online

The voice-command banking system works through a conversational interface on any Alexa-enabled device. Quicker than a person can access an online account, the system enables users to inquire about an account balance, pay a bill and transfer money between accounts. To set-up an Alexa account, a member first needs to install the Amazon Alexa app on their mobile device. Then they use the app to download the “Innovation skill” onto the Alexa device. Once installed, the member needs to link their Innovation online banking login to the “skill” on the Alexa device via the Amazon app. A member must create an additional four-digit code to complete the voice-command set-up. When the “skill” is verbally activated, it’s initially authenticated via voice biometrics. Once the speaker is recognized, he or she then articulates their four-digit code before the saved digital banking credentials are used to enable any functionality within the app.

Dean Gagne, chief digital and technology officer at Innovation, points to the positive feedback provided by numerous employees who have been testing Alexa. For those who already own the Alexa-home system, the voice-command banking system is a convenient add-on to their daily routines, he says.

Innovation’s involvement with the voice-command banking system was possible thanks to collaboration with Central 1’s senior product manager, Alexander Chan. During an interview on the credit union talk show CUBroadcast, Chan explains that “we launched Alexa banking before the big banks and from a credit union perspective we’re really proud of this achievement. And when we look at Alexa banking, it’s not only about its unique features, we’re also looking at the tremendous potential it can bring to credit union members in terms of accessibility of use.”

To make it more interactive and user-friendly, Conexus included a feature that allows Alexa to share financial tips with its end users, further mimicking an interaction with a real-life credit union employee. Along with ease of use, Alexa will also be able to accommodate technological growth in the future.

Attracting millennials

Keeping up with changing times also serves a vantage point in terms of member attraction, particularly when looking at younger generations like millennials. Technology is continually progressing and if credit unions aren’t leveraging new technological advancements, they might be overlooked by potential members searching for innovative banking resources, says Gagne. “To reduce the roadblocks to attract generations like millennials, you need to have up-to-date technology,” he says. “It might not guarantee their commitment to your credit union but you automatically won’t be in the running if you don’t have the latest products available.”

As Alexa redefines traditional banking methods, credit unions have found a natural partner to meet the needs of members who are limited by disabilities, who wish for greater convenience and who strive for the latest and newest interactive technology. ◊