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How voice-enabled payments are evolving

With the use of digital assistants from the likes of Amazon, Google and Apple continuing to grow – it has been estimated that 600 million people already use voice-activated assistants at least once a week globally – voice technology is an area that many industry sectors are looking to tap into.

We’ve previously looked at the use of voice for banking specifically. A number of big players, such as HSBC and Barclays, use voice to verify the identity of customers on their telephone banking services, while challenger bank Atom uses voice and facial recognition technology for customers to log into their banking app.

And Santander has offered voice-activated payments via its smartphone app for several years with NatWest recently starting to trial Google Assistant for basic functions, such as asking for current balance or latest and pending transactions with their voice.

Overall, though, there hasn’t been huge amount of development of voice technology in the banking sector as privacy and security concerns make both banks and customers cautious about using voice recognition.

Indeed, research by digital payments processing provider Paysafe found that while 74 per cent of people surveyed said they’d heard about voice recognition technology, only 15 per cent had actually used it to make a payment.

Despite this, a number of organisations are forging ahead with voice for payments. Amazon, for example, will soon allow consumers to use the Alexa voice assistant to make bill payments via Amazon Pay, in addition using it to order and pay for items.

The e-commerce giant has partnered with fintech company Paymentus to add the feature, which will allow customers to pay online using the Alexa voice assistant. The new feature will also allow users to get notifications through Alexa when their bills are due and to ask questions about the bill amount or how it compares with prior ones.

Amazon is bullish about the potential of voice-enabled payments, with Patrick Gauthier, vice president of Amazon Pay, telling CNBC in June that voice payment through digital assistants will transform the payments industry in the same way as mobile phones have.

Gauthier also cited an Amazon Pay survey that suggested around 40 per cent of people would use voice assistants in the next three years. However, the same research found that 34 per cent of respondents wouldn’t trust voice assistants to accurately select what they wanted to do.

Google also offers a voice-activated shopping service, which includes a partnership with US retail giant Walmart in which customer accounts are integrated with the Google Home voice assistant.

With the issue of security limiting the uptake of voice to manage payments, IBM is working on the use of artificial intelligence to make such transactions secure. By determining the behaviour of individuals, AI can help detect and stop fraud associated with payment enabled by voice (as well as facial and fingerprint recognition).

AI-powered authentication can help with voice-activated payments in other ways, according to IBM. These include managing omnichannel transactions more quickly, adapting to evolving consumer behaviours and cybercrime techniques, and building longer-term value with user-centric products and services.

Investment to broaden the use of voice technology by the likes of Amazon, Google and IBM will undoubtedly lower the barriers to uptake, meaning that the nascent use of voice-enabled payments could soon take off and become much more widespread.

And research by Business Intelligence Insider bears this out, suggesting that 31 per cent of US adults (around 78 million people) will use voice commands to buy something, send money to a friend or pay a bill by 2022. The same report also suggests the next generation of voice assistants will move things on considerably, making voice payments slicker and more natural.

So, while voice-activated payments aren’t currently mainstream, the developments taking place suggest they soon will be.

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