Voice Payments: Future of Money or Money Heist?

“Alexa, Send Money via Paypal Cash Plus balance.”

There is just something extremely gratifying in ordering someone (or in this case something) to do your chores. Especially, when that something saves you from putting your password every single time, logging in to your bank’s website, and keeps you signed in all the time.

At the beginning of the decade, commanding a bot to make payments for you would have sounded like a fairytale. Even when voice payments started to enter our day to day lives, it was thought of more as a novelty than utility. 

However, the increased adoption of voice technology has made voice based payments a mainstream phenomenon. By 2017, Eighteen million US consumers had already tried paying by voice. It was estimated that another 5 million would try the same by the end of 2018, and the numbers will quadruply by the time 2022 comes. 

How do voice payments work?

The process of setting up a voice payment account is very similar to that of paying through any online wallet.  In both cases, the customer  must first link their credit/debit card or their bank account details to their devices. However, in a typical wallet scenario, the customer most likely has to open the app, manually type in the details of the amount and the receiver and then press the ok button to facilitate the payment. 

However, in case of voice payments, the customer can simply prompt his device to make the payment with a voice command, and the following steps will proceed:

  1. Once the choice of payment app is opened, the end-user is greeted with a screen prompting a confirmation. The customers can authorize the payment by using a password or by a simple fingerprint scan, as he wishes. 
  2. The receiver, on the other end will be given a confirmation message via email, text or in-app notification of the amount he or she received. 
  3. The process works equally smoothly in reverse. Just prompt your device to ask for a money transfer from one of your peers and the user at the other end will be sent a message to confirm the same.

In addition to making payments, customers can also check their account balances and monitor their payment schedule. 

Voice Payments: Use Case

The rise in the popularity of voice payments is a tribute to the ‘24*7 connected’ lifestyle. In the modern world’s fast-paced environment, voice payments are offering the consumers services that save their time and are easy to use. On the other hand, brands win because they get a never before access to the personal data and behavior trends of their customers. 

This win-win situation has made many brands and financial institutions jump on the voice payment bandwagon. Mobile payment platforms such as Zelle, Venmo, and PayPal are already allowing their customers to use voice activated commands to carry out banking and other financial functions. Traditional banks like Wells Fargo on the other hand, are adding conversational voice interfaces to their mobile banking apps to allow their customers access to all banking services. 

Some of the most well know use-cases of voice payments are the following: 

  • Peer-to-peer transfers through online wallets and platforms like Venmo, Square Cash, or PayPal
  • Ordering products from e-commerce sites or retailers and paying off via voice-enabled credit card applications.
  • Using the ‘reorder’ feature to shop for order products that you buy regularly. 
  • Perform a variety of financial transactions including paying off card debt and fund transfers. 

Companies like JP Morgan, and Mastercard are using conversational AI platforms like KAI. Institutions like Royal Bank of Canada, Barclays, and Santander have already introduced voice-based payments via Siri, and Cognitive Banking Brain from Personetics is serving over 50 million customers across the world. 

With so many use cases there is no wonder that a variety of companies have initiated processes to empower their customers with voice-based payments. However one question still haunts this modern technology – “If voice payments are so convenient, why haven’t they still become mainstream?”

The Challenges for Voice Payments

In many ways, the challenges presented to voice payments are the same as for any new technology — Unfamiliarity, and a lack of trust. Voice payments like any novel tech needs to justify the gap it is filling, and with money involved, it needs to become extra credible to have a wider adoption. 

Here are the top challenges that voice payments are facing today:

  1. Security issues:  According to a recent study, 39% of the responders find voice-controlled payments unfamiliar and too risky. Customers still find it difficult to trust the voice of systems they can’t see or feel physically.
  2. Compromising on privacy : On one hand, the customers are scared of an alien technology, on the other, they also fear that the same technology will become too personal. 43% of respondents fear that voice respondents can listen to their private conversations.
  3. Understanding different accents: Voice assistants still have issues understanding different accents, especially non-american. In a study, the overall accuracy of voice-based systems went down by 2.6 percent for people with Chinese origins, the accuracy dropped by 4.2 percent when it came to Spanish accents. This gap became even bigger, when it came to media playback with Spanish accent receiving a 79.9 percent accuracy rate when compared to a 91.8 percent for an eastern US accent. 
  1. Point of service integration issues: To ensure a wider adoption, the hardware and software component at the POS of merchants needs to be compatible with voice activated technology. The cost of integrating with Wi-Fi and bluetooth enabled systems becomes a major stumbling block at this state, with merchants having to cover the majority of the expenses.
  2. Participation from financial institutions: As mentioned earlier, a lot of prominent names of the financial sector have started adoption voice payments. However, the issue of licensing means a hindrance in the road to mainstream adoption. Since there has been no major overall collaboration with banks at a worldscale, limited roll-outs mean that the pace of voice payments is slow for now. 
  3. Return on investment: With digital wallets and net banking, many feel that online transactions are already as easy as they can be. The added proposition of voice payments is often considered to be a shiny novelty without any additional utility. Banks often feel that it is not enough of an added value proposition for their customers to sign up for. 

So, does this mean that voice payments will never truly become mainstream. That with all their comforts and advantages, they will continue to be an innovative tech for companies to show-off? The answer thankfully, is ‘No.’

The future of voice payments 

Any shift in the market is usually driven by changing customer demands. For voice payments luckily, these current shifts seem to be in their favor. The increase in familiarity with technology as well as an increased desire for comfort means that millennials are easily attracted towards convenience-based technology like voice payments. In a digital world, where efficiency is increased and optimized everyday, voice payments can be a boon for brands and customers alike.

The adoption of Artificial Intelligence in our everyday lives is shifting the trend towards voice applications. IoT devices such as smart refrigerators, speaker, car systems and voice assistants are making everyday connections in daily users’ life. With such rampant usage, many industry stalwarts predict that over the next 5 years almost every technology in any industry will have voice powered systems integrated in one way or the other. 

Currently, only a small portion of the people owning voice assistants use it for their payment services. 6% of consumers use voice activated to look up banking info, and only 11% to conduct bank transactions. 12% of consumers use voice activated to pay bills and 10% to send money to another person.

Another issue is that people still use voice payments as a ‘trial service’, i.e. for smaller payments. The graph given below summarizes it well:

To make voice payments mainstream, the technology needs to be given more credibility. Here are some of the aspects of voice payments that need to improve in order to give it a mass appeal:

  1. Improved security: Let’s first address the massive elephant in the room. The biggest threat to voice payments is the conceived notion of insecurity. Keeping information undisclosed while verifying payment procedures can be a big challenge for financial institutes. However, various experiments are being run on combining various biometric markers like  fingerprints, irises, and voice recognition to give a holistic and robust security boost to the system.
  2. More accuracy in accent recognition: Voice assistants are getting better at ignoring background noise and as applicable to any system that uses AI, they are also getting better at recognizing various accents with time. Recent tests by the United Services Automobile Association (USAA) have shown significant improvement in voice recognition capabilities. Machines are already getting better at understanding the context  behind the phrases. They can now differentiate between accents and different voice “techniques.” Soon it would be impossible to distinguish between an AI conversation and conversing with a real human. 
  3. Enabling other systems: The best of technologies work hand in hand with the existing systems, and don’t tend to replace them immediately. For example,  Amazon’s newest voice  device, the Echo Show, is enabled with a screen to show consumers visual content, and provide an added security layer.
  4. Global deals: In a theoretical way, one complete integration deal with a Mastercard or VISA could consolidate voice enabled solutions for most banks around the world. Similar global deals with online payment platforms or retail franchises can put voice payment adoption in a fast track mode. 

The future of voice payments in one of integration. Expect voice enabled devices to complement and not replace the existing technologies. A great example of this is the new Google ‘Hands free’. Under this voice activated platform, the customer simply needs to walk up to the cash register with his android phones and say ““I’ll pay with Google.” This will activate a system that combines Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, phone sensors and in-store cameras to transfer payment details to the merchant. The merchant is then given the prompt to match the user in front of him with the pre-loaded image of the account holder. Assuming that the merchant is satisfied, the payment can then be authorized. 

A vital cog in the wheel for voice payments to become mainstream would be their integration with smart speakers. With more than 1 of every 4 American homes equipped with smart speakers, voice payments clearly have a new pathway to break into the customer’s life. Let’s have a look at this latest integration. 

Voice payments with IoT

Alexa users are already accustomed to authorizing payments via their faithful smart speakers when they purchase items from Amazon. The fact that customers are already logged in 24*7 with their smart speakers, makes the medium quite convenient for voice payments. For customers who are already comfortable with their voice enabled speakers, venturing into voice payments is just the next logical steps. 

The success of payments via voice will depend largely on the capabilities of the hardware that are powering it. Companies have already introduced voice control technology in devices ranging from alarm clocks to washing machines. As these devices become capable of handling financial transactions, it wouldn’t be of surprise if customers can verbally order their refrigerator to stock up on grocery essentials or direct their washing machine to buy their favorite detergent. 

Conclusion

We have already seen a revolution in the financial field recently, with mobile payments disrupting the way consumers transact. Voice commands are just the natural progression of a similar technology. As voice continues to integrate with the existing ecosystem of technology expect the minor chunks to be ironed out. The promise of a comfortable, hands free and frictionless payment system is just too hard to ignore. Voice payments might just be the revolution that drives up the revenue and customer experience together. 

According to a recent study from the global consulting firm OC&C Strategy Consultants the value of voice-based payments is set to skyrocket, from $2 billion in annual payment volume in 2018 to $40 billion in volume by 2022. 

This calls for a massive opportunity for retailers to build voice enabled applications and connect them with smart speakers and other IoT equipment. According to Voicebot.ai, Amazon had over 80,000 Alexa skills worldwide as of January 2019.There is a massive opportunity for retailers to build skills or connected applications for smart home speakers that will enable voice-based shopping. 

Blu.ai is helping brands create voice based apps that can be made live in a jiffy. We handle the backend and infrastructure on commercial cloud servers and provide customizable templates to add new voice interactions when needed. Our centralized service manages voice applications from various platforms . To know more about our solutions visit https://blu.ai/