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Wells Fargo tests voice command for easier mobile banking

Wells Fargo is testing voice command to see if it will be the next point of growth for mobile banking.

The San Francisco-based bank has started working on voice-recognition technology that would change the way that consumers bank on their phones. The technology will let consumers ask their phones for account information without having to type or click on a bunch of buttons.

“Today the keyboard remains central to data input across a variety of devices, but as consumers increasingly multitask, we see alternate means of input continue to grow,” said Brian Pearce, head of mobile for Wells Fargo’s Digital Channels Group. “One example is voice applications. You’ve already seen this apply to GPS. Now you’ll see voice applications in banking.

“Wells Fargo conducted a voice banking pilot among our team members in early 2013,” he said. “In the future, we view this as a terrific experience for our customers that will allow them to complete complex interactions while completing other important activities in their lives.”

Innovative banking
Wells Fargo began testing voice recognition technology over the summer with a group of employees. The bank does not yet have a timeframe for rolling the technology out to the general public.

In theory, voice recognition should simplify any process for consumers by taking away the need to type on small smartphone touchscreens.

For instance, if a Wells Fargo customer wanted to know how much he spent on gas during the month of November, he could just ask the app as opposed to having to click through different screens to figure out the number himself.

However, the voice recognition needs to be accurate and able to understand consumers. Otherwise, it will become annoying, and having to repeat a question multiple times might make a consumer give up and retreat to traditional ways of accessing account information.

Yet, banking, like most verticals, is seeing a dramatic shift to mobile, and Wells Fargo is wise to invest more in the channel. Whether or not voice command is successful, the move shows an increase in interest in mobile banking.

Voice command
Wells Fargo is not the first financial institution to test voice-recognition technology in apps.

In April, U.S. Bank began testing a voice command feature on the FlexPerks Visa Mobile App.

Geico, E*Trade, ING Direct Canada and USAA have also incorporated voice technology into their own apps to help consumers easily find information (see story).

Additionally, retailers such as Toys “R” Us have incorporated voice recognition in ad campaigns to simplify the process of finding gifts (see story).

“Voice command offers a convenient alternative to mobile banking customers, especially when an on-the-go lifestyle may not lend itself to typing out commands or navigating menus,” said Brian Stein, managing director at Pervasive Path, Cleveland, OH.

Mr. Stein is not affiliated with Wells Fargo. He commented based on his expertise on the subject.

“However, the real value is driven not by the voice recognition itself, as we’re not always in a location quiet and private enough to talk to our phones, but rather the ability to respond to natural language queries with relevant and insightful answers,” he said.

“By enabling a customer to find answers to their own questions, such as the ability to drill down to the merchant category, location, while also highlighting any related/nearby transactions, these tools can help consumers understand specific charges. By providing customer self service, the bank has addressed the issue, or redirected the inquiry to the appropriate merchant, either way, avoiding the customer contact center call costs.”

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York