USAA Bank enlists talking mobile banking app
US bank USAA Bank has adopted a mobile virtual assistant called Nina, developed by Nuance Communications, which lets customers interact with their bank account in novel ways that simulate a conversation with a real human.
USAA Bank is using Nuance’s technology as part of its mobile banking app, which is due to release on iPhone in April. Android is expected to follow shortly afterwards.
When a customer uses the app, the virtual assistant will respond to questions and commands in a way similar to Apple’s Siri. Customers can ask questions such as “What is my member number,” “Where is the closest ATM,” “Show me my transactions worth $100 and over,” and “Did my cheque clear?” The user can also approach the app with problems such as “I just broke my windshield” or “I want to buy a vehicle”, and the app will give the user details of where they can go to fix the problem.
“Users can check the weather with Siri, so why can’t I see if my check cleared?” said Eric Smith, assistant vice president of information technology at USAA. “This is about making banking personalised to an individual.”
The voice assistant, Nina, will also allow users to issue commands such as “I want to send $200 dollars to my son’s account,” or “Pay $500 dollars on Friday to this account”. The idea is to supplement the entire call centre process with a personalised assistant that already knows the customer’s details and is able to understand and respond to their needs immediately, cutting the need for customers to spend time phoning the bank. To make sure that as many customers are covered as possible, Nina currently works in 38 languages. Nina can also route a customer to live agents, when needed.
“Working with dynamic language was a challenge,” said Robert Wiedeman, executive vice president at Nuance’s enterprise division. “Nina works even when you say things in several different ways, and will prompt you for more information if it needs to. This is based on 30 million voice prints that we have in our database – it has taken a long time to build up the data to make this app possible. The technology is here and ready for banks to use.”
The security aspect works by a combination of plugging into the bank’s existing security – i.e. the user has to login to the bank app first before they can access the tool at all – and by optional additional layers of security, including voice biometrics. USAA has not adopted biometric security, although the bank has said it would consider it as a possibility for the future.
Under the voice biometric security option, the customer will have a spoken password that Nina recognises to allow access. The technology has been designed to recognise different users speaking, and is able to recognise a user within five seconds of speech. In a demonstration seen by Banking Technology, Nina mapped the sounds made by different users, clearly displaying a markedly different trajectory on the graph when different individuals spoke.
Nina is not the only voice banking tool to be developed in recent months. Standard Chartered has been working on its own voice banking technology since at least November 2012; Citi has an alliance with IBM’s Watson supercomputer, while Spanish banking group BBVA is working with the Stanford Research Institute, which played a key role in Apple’s rollout of Siri in October 2011. However, Nuance insists that Nina is the first to combine speech recognition with voice biometrics. Earlier this month, Nuance added the ability for Nina to work online, so that users can also have a web-based conversation with the virtual assistant using typing rather than speech. Nina was first launched in August 2012.
USAA Bank was founded in 1922 by a group of US army officers .The original mission was to offer banking and insurance to US military servicemen and their families – a role the bank still holds today. The bank is headquartered in San Antonio, Texas.