Siri, will banks be ready to use you on launch day?

Come this fall, Apple will begin to allow third-party apps to access several of its internal capabilities, most notably Siri's application program interface. This means iPhone users will be able to ask the talking digital assistant to order an Uber car, check movie times on Fandango and initiate payments via the German neobank Number26.

But will major banks in the United States be ready to roll out Siri capabilities alongside other companies' apps on launch day, or will they take a wait-and-see approach? For most banks, the answer is almost certainly the latter. But the pressure is rising for it to be the former, observers say.

Consumers judge a bank's digital experience not against what another bank offers, but against all their other online and mobile interactions. And as companies outside the financial services sector quickly adopt the latest features, bankers may need to move quicker or hear about it from their customers.

"If you miss a critical feature on launch day, you're going to be playing catch-up and fighting App Store reviews asking for that functionality," said Sara Taylor Demos, senior digital strategist at Solstice Mobile, a digital consulting firm that works with several large financial services companies. Some of those bank clients are aiming to let customers connect via Siri at the launch day, she said. That date, which Apple hasn't yet set, is typically in late September.

"Our banking clients find value in being first-to-market with new iOS features, and it's twofold: customer experience for retention and media buzz driving acquisitions," Taylor Demos said. "There is value in being perceived as an innovative company." Tech-savvy customers "are purposely seeking out companies who champion rapid experimentation and helpful, even delightful, digital experiences in customer banking."

The process moves quickly — on Monday, Solstice met with banking clients to prioritize the new features of iOS10 that Apple announced that afternoon at its Worldwide Developers Conference.

"Launching on Day One takes precision and investment," Taylor Demos said.

The best proxy for what to expect with new features is Touch ID, the biometric feature that Apple opened up to third parties in 2014. Financial services firms like American Express, Discover Financial Services and BBVA's Simple were among the first to allow their customers to log in to their mobile apps via thumbprint. Banks like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America were slower to market, both releasing the feature well into 2015.

Simple says its early adoption of Touch ID was motivated by security, not by a desire to be first.

"It was never about being the first to market for bragging rights, it was about seizing the opportunity to make our customer experience even smoother and safer," said Amy Dunn, a spokeswoman for the BBVA unit. She later added, "Being first-to-market with modern technology can't be the only thing — it has to be coupled with user experience and customer service."

Simple is looking into voice capabilities, but Dunn said it has "no firm plans" yet.

Similarly, Wells Fargo says its interest has been piqued by the potential use of Siri, but it would not disclose a timetable for adopting it.

"For years we've experimented with alternative forms of data input, including voice, and are excited about tools like Apple's Siri and Amazon Echo," said Miranda Hill, manager of Wells Fargo's Digital Innovation Lab. "At this time, we don't have exact release dates to announce, but we look forward to continuing to discover how voice technology might make banking simpler and more convenient."

Several other banks contacted for this story would not discuss the Siri announcement.

While customers' expectations of new features might be growing, voice capabilities are an area where many banks are likely to step carefully and methodically.

"There is not the immediately clear benefit with voice as there was Touch ID. It is sexy, for sure, but will consumers really be interested?" asked Emmett Higdon, director of mobile for Javelin Strategy & Research. "I think there will still be a lot of 'wait and see.' "

Even Simple's Dunn noted that being an early adopter can be a gamble.

"The biggest challenge — in any industry — is knowing which of these innovations will hit mass-market appeal," Dunn said. "For a risk-averse industry like banking, that likely makes it challenging to invest in rolling out new technology without knowing if it will draw more customers."

Taylor Demos said that her firm and its clients conduct user experience validation testing to ensure customers want the capabilities and pivots if necessary. Also, the introduction of Siri isn't happening in a vacuum.

"Our banking customers are already experimenting with voice, such as [Amazon's] Alexa and biometrics, and they view Siri as another opportunity to expand their ecosystem," Taylor Demos said.

If banks are planning to take a wait-and-see approach, they ought to be prepared to answer questions about when they'll adopt Siri, said Ken Hans, a partner and executive director of Blackstone Technology Group, an IT consultancy.

"I don't think not having Siri on launch day would send customers into a fit, but they are going to want to hear from banks," Hans said. "So they should have a road map and be ready to talk about their plans."