Siri: My Bank 2.0 Concierge

The introduction of Siri as the star feature of the new iPhone 4S already appears to be setting the stage for a major change in the way people interact with their phones. By combining insight reminiscent of IBM super computer Watson and the voice of a willing assistant, marketers from all industries can leverage this technology to simplify the way we complete tasks with voice commands. There is no doubt that Siri’s introduction represents the mainstreaming of voice recognition and natural language interface in much the same way that the introduction of the iPad mainstreamed tablet computing.

Siri represents something of a paradigm shift in how we will interact with mobile devices going forward, and there are few places where this movement from keystroke to voice command will impact business more than banking. While today’s voice technology in banking does fairly well in being able to recognize basic transaction commands and process rudimentary transactions, leveraging the technology and humanized tone of Siri and similar programs will allow banks to process an endless array of interactions seamlessly from the convenience of the phone.

Much like you would use a hotel concierge to ask various local-themed questions, imagine a world where my future banking concierge based on Siri technology will be able to work on my behalf and answer questions such as:

  • Where is the closest ATM where I won’t have to pay a fee?
  • Where is the nearest restaurant with an NFC enabled payment device?
  • Please transfer $600 into my checking account from my money market account and make my mortgage payment at XYZ bank.
  • When will the most recent deposits I made clear?
  • Are there any merchant-funded reward offers that I am eligible for at Southfield Mall?
  • Where is the closest branch with Saturday hours (assuming I would ever need to visit a branch)

What is nice is that my future banking concierge would process all of my questions with the pleasant nature of my current GPS system, listening intently and not getting frustrated if my question seems trivial or repetitive. In fact, the intelligence behind applications like Siri would get more intelligent over time and evolve based on my behavior. And instead of receiving a link, search box, application or an ad, I will receive a verbal confirmation or a direct answer.

Leading banking organizations will most likely also find a way to allow me to open a new account without ever picking up a pen, typing in personal information or meeting a new account representative face-to-face. By taking insight already available within my mobile applications and various social media sites I use, my banking concierge could easily fulfill the requirements for establishing a new account whenever I desired. This capability will obviously hasten the potential reduction of vast branch networks.

While Siri only works with the iPhone 4S, alternative voice recognition applications like Vlingo (available on Android as well as iOS devices) and Nuance (which recently acquired Swype) will definitely benefit from the re-introduction of Siri by Apple as well. In fact, last week, Boston-based Vlingo saw activations increase by 50% daily, according to GigaOm at a time when usage overall has skyrocketed.

Source: PC Magazine, October 17, 2011

The key to success of Siri and other voice applications is the natural language interface, or the ability to add context to words spoken that enable the application to figure out what the user wants to do. That requires a semantic engine and artificial intelligence that continually gets better over time. In the banking world, however, the combination of transactional processes and questions are comparatively simple. In addition, with the heightened competition for the best interface, the capabilities of these systems will continuously improve while the investment needed to leverage these capabilities will become less.

Do you think Siri and related applications will be integrated into banking by legacy financial organizations? Will the integration be fast enough to fend off the new entrants into the industry such as BankSimple and MovenBank or even current online banking providers such as Ally?

I would love to hear your opinion.

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