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Major UK bank NatWest is running a 3-month pilot with 500 customers for a voice banking feature that enables customers to make account inquiries through Google Assistant, per The Guardian. The feature is compatible with the Google Home smart speaker and Google smartphones.
The pilot will initially offer 15 banking tips and answer eight banking inquiries, like requesting account balances, latest transactions, and pending transactions — but NatWest plans to add features like transfers or bill pay if the pilot is successful.
There are an estimated 9.6 million Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa smart speakers in UK homes, projected to surpass 12 million this year, giving NatWest an addressable audience should it roll the feature out in full.
Voice banking is the latest in a string of digital features NatWest is piloting — and despite low demand, voice is becoming a common feature at top banks.
- NatWest has been on an innovation streak, testing features to bolster its digital channels. In April, NatWest trialed a digital personal assistant, Mimo, aimed at helping customers budget by offering insights into their finances and allowing them to switch subscriptions and utility bills. It also completed a pilot of a solution that allows customers to open an account in just 4 minutes with a selfie. And most recently, NatWest began piloting a video banking service for business clients, following the introduction of video banking for its retail customers in June.
- US banks have invested heavily in voice and conversational banking, too — pioneered by Bank of America (BofA) and Capital One. Bank support for voice- or chat-based banking features surged in 2018: 10 of the largest 20 US banks by deposits featured in Business Insider Intelligence’s Mobile Banking Competitive Edge Study (Enterprise only) support at least one conversational feature, up from 27% in 2017. Eno, Capital One’s AI-powered chatbot, has advanced capabilities like fraud alerts, potential double charges at a merchant, or suspected subscription price increases. And BofA’s virtual voice assistant, Erica, offers features including peer-to-peer (P2P) payments and bill payment — and has surpassed 6 millionusers a year since launching.
Voice banking could be a solid long-term investment for NatWest — but as it stands, there’s little utility for the feature.
- There’s a general lack of consumer interest in voice and conversational banking. Despite the surge in US banks offering the capability, all four of the least in-demand features of the Mobile Banking Competitive Edge study fell into the conversational banking category. Further, only 6% of US smart speaker users chose managing a banking account or credit card as one of their top three "most used" features on the device, according toBusiness Insider Intelligence’s Emerging Tech Survey.
- Customers could already easily access their banking information from their phones, so voice banking doesn’t add more convenience to incentivize usage. NatWest provides users with a 4-digit code for the voice assistant feature, which they’ll be asked to provide upon using the feature. And while PIN authentication might add a layer of security, it also detracts from the main selling point of voice banking: convenience.
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