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August 3, 2017

It’s Monday morning and youre getting ready to drop your daughter off to school on your way to work. Youre about to walk out the door when you pause and ask, Whats the weather like today? A helpful voice answers, Theres a 75% chance of rain. Carry an umbrella. Also, theres a traffic jam on route 6. Take the freeway instead. Youll save 20 minutes.

Most of us are already familiar with Amazons Echo and Alexa, Google Assistant, Apples Siri and HomePod, and Microsofts Cortana. These data-backed, daily-life assisting software agents have become household favourites. Generation Y, Z, and Alpha customers have ever-increasing expectations of their smart devices; they want smarter (read ‘cognitive’) digital companions (digital voice assistants) to match their digital native lifestyle. Using a medium of communication that comes most naturally to people, it is clear these assistants applications are virtually limitless.

Thus far digital voice assistants can tell you what the weather is like, or look up someone on Wikipedia, or stream your music. As digital voice assistants get smarter and offer more cognitive abilities, thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), enterprises are exploring ways to use these to solve business problems.

Within the banking and finance sector, the cognitive digital assistant is an especially attractive solution. Imagine every time you engaged with your service provider, you could have a natural conversation without ever having to repeat information regarding your entire transaction history.

Capital One bank partnered with Amazon to provide customers with the ability to manage their accounts using any Amazon Alexa-based device with simple voice commands. A first mover, Capital One might be one of the few banks to give its customers this level of voice-activated convenience. As the potential for smart voice assistants to take on customer-facing roles increases, its only a matter of time before other banks start capitalizing on this opportunity. And, why not? With consumers expressing their willingness to use simple voice commands to manage their finances, this technology can help drive productivity while concurrently delivering differentiated customer experiences

Getting the basics right

Currently, less than a handful of financial services companies have integrated cognitive digital assistants for service delivery. They have mostly deployed digital voice assistants with limited capabilities such as providing balance, spend, and bill due date information, as well as answering interest rate and insurance quote queries.

Financial services companies need to identify the right digital voice assistant that can account for the fluidity of the ever-changing digital landscape and keep up with the pace of innovation. Ideally, it must support ease of use, interoperability, reliability, security, and scalability for both the customer and the financial services provider. By understanding customers profiles and expectations before integrating a digital voice assistant, financial services providers can avoid a mismatch with what customers are looking for.

What about security?

Like any new technology adoption, security is a prime concern here as well. Customers inputs and the relevant responses from the device are all recorded, leaving a trail of valuable and highly confidential financial information. Being an open channel, voice-based inputs are prone to replay, easy to replicate, and sensitive to sonic interference.

While there are voice authentication mechanisms like Googles Trusted Voice being used by banks, these may not be sufficient to provide the desired level of security. For that matter, even voice-as-biometric authentication protocol can be defeated by simply impersonating the users voice or through a replay attack. The current generation of digital voice assistant systems have not evolved to the point that they are intuitive or intelligent enough to provide this level of authentication.

Not the same can be said about other biometric security options like fingerprint scans and facial recognition. Being more personal in nature and nearly impossible to replicate, both banks and customers can breathe easy, knowing that accessing these devices will require the user to be physically present.

Harnessing the power of IoT

The digital voice assistants that exist today respond when you ask a question, have limited conversation abilities, and are not intuitive. Moreover, the devices are not intelligent enough to authenticate users. We feel the Internet of Things (IoT) can come in handy here.

You can use a customer voice prompt as a security key or a fingerprint scanner on the customer phone that can be linked with the cognitive digitalassistant to access the device and start a conversation. Face recognition technology integrated with phones that have digital voice assistant is also a secure way of authenticating users. With this integration, the cognitive digital assistant becomes a personal financial services advisor that keeps a tab on expenses, transfers funds, sets up direct debits, and offers the best advice on financial services without bias.

In future, a secure, personal, connected digital voice assistant might proactively and intuitively offer advice when it senses that your spending is beyond budget, flag off alerts in case of suspicious transactions, and even assess your risk profile and suggest the best investment options. The future will see the cognitive digital assistant combined with IoT running customer finances and reducing the demand for traditional customer services.

How do you think a next-gen cognitive digital assistant can better serve your customers? Share your views and stories in the comments section below.


The blog was co-authored by Avinash Pattabhiram. He is a Marketing Manager with the Business Operations unit at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).

Naveen Ranganathan is an Assistant General Manager within the Business Process Services (BPS) unit at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). He has over 18 years of experience in the Banking and Financial Services domain, across operations, technology and consulting. His work experience with top tier global banks spans geographies such as India, UK, USA, South Africa, and Europe.


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