Santander follows Google and Amazon on voice payments technology – but is it a good thing?

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This year Santander customers will be able to speak to their Santander Smartbank App and ask about their card spending as well as make payments, report lost cards, set up account alerts and answer a broad range of questions about spend. The bank says it is the first UK high street bank to bring voice-assistant technology into the customer user experience.

 

Hello? Is it voice banking mobile app you’re looking for?

The technology will be rolled out in two phases. Phase one will allow customers to use the app to enquire about their spending so as to familiarise them with the new technology. They will be able to ask questions such as:

  • How much did I spend on New Year’s Eve?
  • Show my transactions for the last week
  • How much did I spend on Café Nero this month?
  • Where did I spend the most money this month?

The second phase, rolled out later in the year will include more complex features and allow customers to “fully service” their accounts using just their voice. They will be able to make payments, report lost cards, set up account alerts and answer a broad range of questions about spend.

“Technology is rapidly changing how customers bank and pay on the move. We want banking to be simple, personal and fair and we believe technology, like voice banking, will play a transformational role in the way we add value by creating more choice and convenience for our customers,” said Nathan Bostock, Chief Executive Officer Santander UK.

A nifty feature includes the highlighting of retailers’ names so, if customers wish to know the total amount spent at a certain supermarket or store this year, the tool adds it up for them, saving them time having to trawl through transactions.

 

Hello, can you hear me?

Voice payments have had a very strong few weeks in terms of picking up momentum. First, Google announced its Hands Free payments pilot scheme in San Francisco, then Amazon introduced payments to its voice digital assistant, Amazon Echo. This has now evolved and piqued the interest of the banks – Lloyds has this week announced that it will start using video links for its mortgage interviews. Whilst not explicitly voice-related, the idea behind it of humanising interactions and reducing friction (in that case physically going into a branch) remains the same.

However, it remains important to consider whether it is actually a useful innovation? On the surface it does appear to be so, in particular the feature that allows you to work out how much money you spent at a particular store in certain time periods.

Delve deeper and you stumble upon an issue that put a lot of people from using for example Apple’s Siri – you look silly talking to a phone, especially in public, when it’s not a person on the other end of the line.

Moreover, The old adage of “better to be silent and be thought a fool than speak and remove all doubt” is apposite here to an extent as people do not feel comfortable asking questions out loud for fear of appearing to be ignorant on a subject matter that may be potentially obvious to everyone else.

 

 

Will we really be comfortable with this?

But in Santander’s case there is an extra frisson of security. Will people really feel comfortable asking out loud questions regarding their financial health? More importantly, how comfortable would they be when the Santander App replies loudly they have spent a hilariously large amount at Caffe Nero or even more at a place that the user normally would not like to have publicised?

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In a recent guest article, Tim Critchley, CEO of Semafone, was stunned at the number of people who still feel uncomfortable reading out their card details in public.

“The number of call centre agents who continue to ask for details verbally is extraordinary, given how frequently people are in a public space when paying over the phone, with any random passer-by able to overhear and steal card details. What’s more, reading out card numbers can potentially give agents unwanted opportunity to copy the numbers.”

Finances are one of the things people are most protective and private about. We see the rise of very subtle and understated security innovations such as biometrics, two-stage/three-stage authentication, so it is strange to see a technology be rolled out that wants people to discuss their finances out loud, especially at a time when companies and banks are doing very little to allay people’s security fears.

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