Exploring the New Voice-First Payments Landscape

Digital assistant software capable of voice recognition has exploded in popularity this year. Now that consumers are becoming accustomed to the convenience of speaking to their devices, voice payment and banking solutions are following suit to become increasingly mainstream. Many gadgets and companies have already begun to utilize this technology and see the wide spectrum of benefits in leveraging voice-controlled payment options in their business.

The rise of digital assistants

According to a recent study, 21.6% of mobile users employ voice search at least once a day, and close to half conduct voice searches at least once a week. In recent months, voice technology has undergone a number of updates and development, moving from clunky keyword searches to the arrival of sleek voice-enabled home hubs and their ever-increasing array of skills. Consumer confidence in this variety of artificial intelligence has increased since its first introduction and is likely to increase even further as digital assistants become even more reliable.

Smart speakers and voice shopping

While there’s still a bridge to cross for voice payment and voice shopping to attain widespread adoption, many large firms are making forays into the space signaling change to come. For example, Barclays UK now allows customers who have iOS devices with touch ID and iOS 10+ to make person-to-person payments merely by speaking to Siri. Additionally, the Royal Bank of Canada has deployed a similar setup that enables individuals to pay their bills via voice control with Siri.

But it’s not only banking and other financial institutions that have seen the merit of supporting voice-based payments. Google’s home automation hub and speaker, Google Home, allows online voice-controlled shopping with its Google Express partner retailers. Although it requires consumers to first enter in their credit card information on file, consumers can then simply tell Google Home to place an order for a certain product and it will automatically put the order through. Google has recently signed a deal with Walmart to share their customer databases so that the retailer’s exhaustive inventory will be seamlessly accessible to Google’s consumers.

But it’s Amazon that is truly blazing the trail towards greater voice-first interactions. Over 75% of American smartphone owners currently have the Amazon Pay app downloaded to their phone. Combined with the approximate 8.2 million consumers that already own and interact with Amazon Echo devices, Amazon has the ability to carve a massive lead in the growing voice commerce ecosystem. It also helps that consumers already associate the online retail giant with purchases both large and small.

Apple is looking to get into the smart speaker market with its HomePod, set to debut in a few months. Bank of America is creating a digital agent called Erica that will proactively suggest account management tips rather than just responding to the customer’s queries. Countless other large businesses are also taking big leaps to bring voice compatibility and payments together. All of the above and more show that many believe one of the first steps to securing long-term customer satisfaction is allowing easier payment systems and more a seamless, conversational shopping experience.

When will voice go mainstream?

Like many new innovations and gadgets in smart technology, there are a few concerns that are holding voice controlled payments back. The most widely agreed upon issue is security. Because we’re talking about handling consumers’ private financial information, it only makes sense that there is a bit of unease lingering in the air. It’s vital to prevent unauthorized account access and to ease this concern, it is critical that gadgets and businesses better develop voice authentication and analysis of speech in order to verify users’ unique identities. Voice authentication shows great promise in being able to accurately identify speakers. Other biometric mechanisms, like facial recognition and fingerprinting, may also have a significant role to play as fingerprints and facial recognition may allow for better security practices.

The other big stumbling block may be convenience. The voice payments industry will have to make its solutions easier to use than existing methods. Most people prefer to communicate by speaking than by typing or any other means, so this might seem like a trivial problem at first. However, misinterpreted instructions and inappropriate follow-through could cost users time as they backtrack and attempt to correct mistakes. Even worse, erroneous purchases could be made if the software misunderstands what someone is trying to accomplish. Fortunately, Google has announced that its voice recognition accuracy has surpassed the 95% mark, and future refinements to the applicable algorithms will undoubtedly push this number higher.

We’re already seeing successful endeavors combining speech recognition with payment processing, and such synergies will become much more prevalent in the coming years. As long as organizations and creators remember to prioritize security and convenience, they should have no trouble navigating the emerging voice-first landscape.

About the Author

Beth Kotz is a freelance writer and contributor for numerous home, technology, and personal finance blogs. She graduated with BA in Communications and Media from DePaul University in Chicago, IL where she continues to live and work. Find her personal website here.