TD Ameritrade wants to steer customers toward in-car voice assistants

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Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, crawling at a snail’s pace. Just the perfect time to check in on the market and your trading account.

Well, maybe not for every driver. But TD Ameritrade is betting some consumers will take the opportunity to use voice tech to speak with their broker rather than curse out other drivers.

The Omaha, Neb.-based brokerage launched a suite of in-vehicle voice capabilities, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Echo Auto. The firm cited data from the analytics company Inrix in February that showed American drivers lost an average of 97 hours last year because of congestion.

“When I'm driving in California, the markets are already hot and heavy — it's midday" on the East Coast,” Sunayna Tuteja, TD Ameritrade's head of digital assets and formerly its director of emerging technologies, said in an interview at SourceMedia’s recent In|Vest conference in New York. “I’m very bullish that conversational commerce will be one of the next frontiers.”

TD Ameritrade’s automobile voice capabilities will offer customers access to information on the market, educational resources from the TD Network and account information. Customers can see what’s happening with the S&P 500 or ask about the balance in their IRA account.

There won’t be any trading in the car yet, Tuteja said, even though it offers voice-activated trading through the home device. “Maybe when we have a self-driving car,” she said.

Every major financial institution is working on integrating voice into its conversational tools in part because of the market interest in connected car capabilities, said Emmett Higdon, director of digital banking at Javelin Strategy & Research.

“I think two of top three Alexa questions are ‘What’s the weather?’ and ‘What’s the news?’ ” Higdon said. “Looking stuff up, getting a price quote — those are all perfect applications for when you’re cocooning in your car.”

The thrust of financial-related voice assistants in vehicles so far is focused on payments. Tech firms are working with automakers to integrate in-car payments onto dashboards to create an in-car shopping experience as seamless as shopping online.

Visa, for instance, struck a deal with the satellite radio broadcaster SiriusXM in its efforts to build an in-vehicle payments platform, while the vehicle payment technology startup Car IQ raised $5 million in a recent funding round that included Citi Ventures as an investor.

Financial transactions in the car might involve a bank’s app refilling a prepaid toll device, said Suresh Ramamurthi, chief technology officer at CBW Bank. He hopes to release voice banking for home and auto by next year's first quarter at the latest. “Especially if you’re in the car alone, it gives you privacy and security,” Ramamurthi said.

Ramamurthi said he wants to release voice banking for both the home and the car together at the bank, as opposed to a release of one device after the other.

“We expect that you’ll be able to talk to your bank, pay your bills and send money to a friend,” he said. “Ideally it should work in a car through your phone. … Voice is the channel; the question is how many end points do you want to connect to.”

For instance, many gas stations are adding contactless payment capabilities to their pumps while they're upgrading to EMV technology, said Javelin's director of payments, Krista Tedder.

Automobile voice capability is especially helpful if customers can flag information they’re learning on the go to take action on later, Higdon said.

“Watchlists, reminders and push notifications are features we’d love to explore integrating at a future date, but they’re not available at this time,” Tuteja said. “Right now, we’re focused on delivering information and educational content, but in future iterations, these could be great additions.”

Financial institutions, however, will have to convince customers to use voice beyond just gaining information.

In a recent survey of consumers, Javelin found that 38% of respondents were interested in asking questions about the status of their account or conducting transactions over Alexa or Google Home. Twenty-two percent of respondents were interested in taking those actions through voice over the mobile app.

“Customers can swipe left on my phone look at a widget and see their balance,” Higdon said. “That's a whole lot faster than trying to go through voice.”

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