The Customer Effect

‘Alexa, did my rent check clear?’: Inside U.S. Bank’s voice banking strategy

  • This week U.S. Bank became the third bank in the country to launch voice banking functions through a newly created Alexa skill
  • While the industry often refers to voice as the next big channel, Gareth Gaston, U.S. Bank head of omnichannel banking, says the Alexa is so natural it's "almost not a channel"
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‘Alexa, did my rent check clear?’: Inside U.S. Bank’s voice banking strategy

U.S. Bank has quietly rolled out an Alexa skill for banking customers with Amazon Echo devices.

The fifth-largest U.S. bank by assets follows just two others that have also enabled voice as a banking channel through Amazon’s digital assistant: Capital One, which debuted its skill in March 2016, and USAA, which followed this July.

“Voice is going to be a hugely important part of how customers interact with any company, not just banks, in the near future,” said Gareth Gaston, head of omnichannel banking at U.S. Bank. “It’s already starting. Alexa gives us an opportunity to learn more about how our customers are going to interact with this channel and develop it before it becomes something really significant.”

Gaston said the bank intends to create similar offerings through similar platforms like Google Home, but wouldn’t confirm whether its begun those discussions yet.

Customers can ask Alexa for their checking, savings or credit card account balances, ask her how much they owe on a bill and when, have her read back their transaction history and prompt her to pay their credit card bills.

“It’s a great way to talk to our customers and give them another way to bank,” Gaston said. “Alexa is almost not a channel, it’s just there. We’ve piloted voice banking for authentication and saw this as a natural extension of that.”

The move is part of a bigger innovation effort U.S. Bank has been pushing this year. It was one of the initial banks in the Zelle Network to make the P2P payments offering available to customers in June. In July it launched an digital mortgage application.

It’s also a testament to the growing notion among legacy financial firms that to stay relevant, they need to meet customers wherever they are whenever they’re there, even if that means letting customers interface with potential competitors like Amazon or smaller financial companies to keep their business.

Earlier this year Wells Fargo CEO discussed the importance of keeping customers on a long leash by letting them maintain relationships with other payments providers, “as long as they come back to Wells Fargo.” Chase has also acknowledged its customers “really want to use these [third-party] financial apps and they do use them a lot.”

“Of course one should be concerned about what any competitive play would be in your industry, but to me, Alexa is like an iPhone: it’s a vehicle for an experience,” Gaston said. “At the end of the day we think it’s important to offer services through the devices our customers like using so we embrace it and learn from it.”

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