U.S. Bank Testing Mobile App Voice Commands

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U.S. Bancorp has developed voice recognition software that will let customers handle banking tasks by speaking commands into their mobile device.

"I could ask, 'What is my balance?'" and listen to the answer, says Dominic Venturo, chief innovation officer for retail payments solutions at U.S. Bank.

U.S. Bank developed the new voice app with Nuance, which sells mobile voice recognition software called "Nina." U.S. Bank's app understands spoken requests for information on annual percentage rates, cash back on purchases, and fees. Users speak to a microphone icon that appears in a corner of the bank's mobile app.

U.S. Bank is piloting the technology with internal staff, and will enhance the features based on the test results. Other financial institutions, such as USAA, have deployed Nuance's voice technology — mostly for basic functions at first. The app works similar to Siri, Apple's voice-controlled digital assistant.

U.S. Bank's mobile strategy also involves responsive design, which adjusts application design based on the device that is accessing it. The bank is also determining when to use native apps or Web-based mobile technology for function and content, Venturo says. "A location-based function, for example, may require a native app," he says.

The voice application is one of a number of tech initiatives the Minneapolis-based bank is using to accommodate "omnichannel" functionality. This is a growing trend for mobile apps; it refers to services that can handle a banking or shopping session that begins in one channel, such as the Web, and ends in another channel, such as a mobile app.

"Consumers are used to going through to the point of sale in their own way. The last thing a merchant wants to do is interrupt that and slow it down," says Jennifer Schulz, head of global ecommerce at Visa.

As smartphones and tablets mature, users' relationships with devices become more complex, Venturo says. For example, consumers still prefer larger screens, even though PCs are falling out of favor, he says.

"There's a human tendency to gravitate toward the larger screens, all things being equal …so I think you need to be able to design to expectations and realize the same problem may need to be solved in a number of different ways," Venturo says.

Other companies are responding to the omnichannel trend via acquisitions that allow broader digital payment capabilities, such as linking marketing to electronic payments. For example, PayPal over the past two years has acquired about a dozen tech companies, many from outside of financial services, says Dan Schatt, head of financial innovations at PayPal. PayPal this month acquired Iron Pearl, an online marketing company.

"The banks are taking our technology and embedding it into their mobile apps so their customers can take advantage of the technology and retailers have another channel to communicate with their customers," Schatt says.

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