By Henrique Godinho

When Amazon’s Alexa made its Canadian debut in November 2017, experts were quick to speculate about what voice-activated technology could bring to the banking industry.

What emerged was early experimentation towards the integration of voice applications into general banking operations, like verbally disseminating branch hours, locations and other general information to customers through technology. Undeniably, this marked significant progress towards a more innovative, technology-driven banking industry. However, the sophistication of voice applications at the time lacked the robust security and authentication features that would arrive in Canada the following year.

Canada’s first-ever authenticated voice banking system launched on August 14, 2018: a cutting-edge technology pioneered and launched by Central 1, to address the prevalence of technology in our everyday lives, and the changing face of today’s credit union member.

Combining machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI) and the technological genius of popular virtual assistant Amazon Alexa, the revolutionary voice banking system provides Canadian financial institution and credit union members with a transformative digital solution. One that adds convenience, connectivity and security to their daily banking activities.

Central 1’s mobile banking and payments team followed best practices in design thinking, customer experience and Lean principles when developing the technology. Development was done in conjunction with Point One Digital, a leading design agency from San Francisco, Calif. that was instrumental in developing the conversational user interface design strategy.

By simply using their voices, customers are able to conduct a multitude of transactions with ease, including making payments, sending money to vendors and transferring money between accounts, among others. High-level authentication features have also been purposefully integrated into the product in an effort to combat any opportunities for security breaches or fraud, including OAuth, the industry standard for Internet authentication and authorization.

Financial accessibility

However, an added purpose lies behind Central 1’s new digital tool. Beyond making daily financial transactions more streamlined for customers, the hope is that the voice banking system will operate to improve financial inclusivity and access to financial education for Canadians across the country.

Challenges of financial inclusivity and accessibility are felt by many Canadians today. Geographical boundaries and physical limitations—such as motor skills challenges or visual impairment—are proven factors that can hinder an individual’s access to the banking services they require to be active members of the community. Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act, now being considered by Parliament, aims to remove barriers to Canadians. With the emergence of Central 1’s voice banking system, therein lies tangible proof of the power of innovative experiences to address those very challenges.

With remote capabilities and hands-free functionalities intact, no Canadian will be bound by their physical location so long as they have a device and Internet connection. In the same vein, the ability to use simple voice commands to enact banking transactions will empower those individuals that are confined by physical restraints.

Financial literacy and education

Unique to Central 1’s voice-activated banking system is its conversational interface, which mimics human dialogue to provide assistance to customers in the same way that a customer service representative would at a branch. While the technology on its own is not new, the potential for two-way interaction, as it stands in conjunction with a digital banking tool, is the first of its kind in Canada.

The interactive nature of the platform lends itself to credit union members as an opportunity for increased financial education and literacy. Customers with questions regarding any aspect of their financial lives—be it related to their financial institution’s services, or more specifically about their personal finances—can simply use their voices to prompt answers from Alexa. For instance, customers can ask for investment planning advice and will be provided with financial tips and recommendations they need. Customers are no longer expected, let alone required, to make physical visits or pick up the phones to interact with their local credit union. Financial institutions can then fulfill their customers’ need for convenience and efficiency in the services they use.

Central 1’s purposefully designed voice banking system is a rarity in Canada and marks the disruptive power of FinTech innovation in the banking industry. Through a digital solution that offers a balance between convenience and security, the system is revolutionizing the way credit union members bank.

The very nature of the system as a digital tool also has implications for what the socioeconomic makeup of credit union members will look like going forward. With Millennials and Generation Xers being the primary adopters of digital technologies, the new voice banking system caters to their desire for immediacy and digital-friendly services. It also begs the question: will the industry see an uptick in credit union members stemming from those particular demographics?

More generally, the system is inherently inclusive of a broader user base, which drives home the importance of design thinking in product design, and the impact of technology in spearheading social inclusion and bringing remote communities together.

Henrique Godinho is vice president, digital platforms, Central 1 (www.central1.com).

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