Last year Charles Schwab & Co. showed the financial services world that speech recognition technology was ready for prime time with its VoiceBroker application. Now a slew of financial services companies are following that lead with speech recognition applications.

Milwaukee-based M&I Data Services recently unveiled plans to add speech recognition capabilities to its telephone and PC home-banking bill pay service. Now about 140 banks that use the service will have to option of speech recognition, says Alfred S. Dominick, Jr., president of M&I's retail product delivery group. And like Schwab and American Express Travel Related Services, M&I Data will use Nuance Communications' speech recognition solution to drive the service. So might Integrion, rumored to be in the market for a similar solution. E-Trade is joining the pack, beta testing a voice recognition tool for investors in the third quarter, but using technology from Applied Language Technologies. The service should be available by year end, a spokesman says. Pricing for these ventures was not revealed, but ALTech officials say the technology can be deployed for between $2,500 and $5,000 per phone line, with a minimum of 24 lines.

M&I gladly ponied up the cash, suggesting that bill pay via the telephone with a speech recognition response unit may be better than either Internet or touch-tone phone bill pay because it uses a more widely embraced interface. Says Dominick, "Everyone is preoccupied with PC banking and the Internet, and we are too...but the reality is the consumer uses the telephone substantially more frequently than they use a PC. If we can make that channel even more effective and more powerful, it will only create additional revenue opportunities for our customer banks."

-sausner tfn.com

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