OK Google, Alexa, Hey Siri – The Rise of Voice Control Technology

Posted on : 30-04-2018 | By : kerry.housley | In : Consumer behaviour, Finance, FinTech, Innovation, Predictions

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OK Google, Alexa, Hey Siri…. All too familiar phrases around the home now, but it was not that long ago that we did not know what a ‘smart phone’ was! Today most people could not live without one. Imagine not being able to check your email, instant message friends or watch a movie whilst on the move.  How long will it be before we no will no longer need a keyboard, instead talking to your computer will be the norm!

The development of voice activated technology in the home will ultimately revolutionise the way we command and control our computers. Google Home has enabled customers to shop with its partners, pay for the transaction and have goods delivered all without the touch of a keyboard. How useful could this be integrated into the office environment? Adding a voice to mundane tasks will enable employees to be more productive and free up time allowing them to manage their workflow and daily tasks more efficiently.

Voice-based systems has grown more powerful with the use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, cloud-based computing power and highly optimised algorithms. Modern speech recognition systems, combined with almost pristine text-to-speech voices that are almost indistinguishable from human speech, are ushering in a new era of voice-driven computing. As the technology improves and people become more accustomed to speaking to their devices, digital assistants will change how we interact with and think about technology.

There are many areas of business where this innovative technology will be most effective. Using voice control in customer service will transform the way businesses interact with their customers and improve the customer experience.

Many banks are in the process of, if they haven’t done so already, of introducing voice biometric technology. Voice control enables quick access to telephone banking without the need to remember a password every time you call or log in. No need to wade through pages of bank account details or direct debits to make your online payments instead a digital assistant makes the payment for you.

Santander has trialled a system that allows customers to make transfers to existing payees on their account by using voice recognition. Customers access the process by speaking into an application on their mobile device.

Insurance companies are also realising the benefits voice control can bring to their customers. HDFC  Insurance, an Indian firm, has announced the launch of its AI enabled chatbot on Amazon’s cloud-based voice service, Alexa. It aims to offer a 24/7 customer assistance with instant solutions to customer queries. Thereby creating an enhanced customer service experience, allowing them to get easy access to information about policies, simply with the use of voice commands.

It could also help to streamline the claims process where inefficiencies in claims documentation take up insurers’ time and money. Claims processors spend as much as 50% of their day typing reports and documentation; speech recognition could rapidly reduce the time it takes to complete the process. US company Nuance claims that their Dragon Speech Recognition Solution can enable agents to dictate documents three times faster than typing with up to 99% accuracy. They can use simple voice commands to collapse the process further.

Retailers too are turning to this technology. With competition so tough on the high street retailers are always looking for the ultimate customer experience and many believe that voice control is a great way to achieve this. Imagine a mobile app where you could scan shopping items, then pay using a simple voice command or a selfie as you leave the store. No more queuing at the till.

Luxury department store Liberty is a big advocate of voice control and uses it for their warehouse stock picking. Using headsets and a voice controlled application, a voice controlled app issues commands to a central server about which products should be picked. For retailers voice control is hit on and off the shop floor.

So, how accurate is voice recognition? Accuracy rates are improving all the time with researchers commenting that some systems could be better than human transcription. In 1995 the error rate was 43%, today the major vendors claim an error rate of just 5%.

Security is a major factor users still face with verification requiring two factor authentication with mobile applications. However, as the technology develops there should be less of a need to confirm an individual’s identity before commands can be completed.

As advances are made in artificial intelligence and machine learning the sky will be limit for Alexa and her voice control friends. In future stopping what you are doing and typing in a command or search will start to feel a little strange and old-fashioned.


How long will it be before you can pick up your smart phone talk to your bank and ask it to transfer £50 to a friend, probably not as far away prospect as you might think!!

The tech company threat to financial services

Posted on : 31-08-2017 | By : john.vincent | In : Finance, FinTech, Innovation

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We were interested to read the update from the World Economic Forum in their August 2017 publication “Beyond Fintech: A Pragmatic Assessment Of Disruptive Potential In Financial Services”. The report forms the third phase of work, started in 2014, into understanding the potential impacts of transformative new entrants to financial services, which fintech innovations were most relevant, the implications on consumers, existing providers, regulatory impacts and the infrastructure underpinning the future of financial services (such as blockchain).

Specifically, it considers;

  1. What are the innovations that have had the greatest impact since the report was commissioned?
  2. How have they changed the structure of financial services and how they are consumed? and;
  3. What are the broader implications for the sector?

At this point, it is important to note the contributors to the WEF report consist of a steering group and working group of senior leaders from mainly banks, insurers and payment providers, with some VC’s (largely at the working group level). That isn’t to detract at all from the findings, but is an important lens from which to consider the viewpoint (indeed, there are some points where the contributors are also presented as solutions to industry trend, such as “externalisation”).

So what are the conclusions? In a nutshell. whilst fintechs have so far failed to disrupt the status quo, they have “laid the foundation for future disruption”. In other words, we are still at the start of the beginning. No surprise really, given that whilst the barriers to entry in technology innovation have dramatically lowered, the implementation of there within the highly regulated, complex ecosystem of financial services has proved more challenging. Indeed, whilst changing the shape and approach to innovation has been a success, as well as raising the consumer expectation bar, the actual material changes have been largely periphery or improvements to existing infrastructures.

Whilst it is recognised that the incumbent players have responded to the pace of the fintech ecosystem, both by embracing startups and ideas, we don’t believe that this is as optimal as it could be. The report highlights that some firms have waited to see how new technology gain traction “before deploying their own solutions” is symptomatic of the issue. There is still an arms-length, protectionist attitude which pervades and is ultimately detrimental to the long-term business model of many financial institutions.

Of course, this is only human nature, and one might argue even more so in this particular sector.

The report cites 8 disruptive forces which have the potential to shift the landscape and competition in the coming years. Many of these are no surprise, from the power transferring to the customer interface (experience ownership) through to the reliance of financial institutions on large technology firms. The latter is something that we have written about a lot about over recent years, and we strongly believe that by accelerating technology partnerships and shifting delivery outside of the organisational boundaries, it would really benefit many financial services firms. Somebody will take the plunge and steal a march on the market…surely.

The report delves into the implications for different sectors (Insurance, Digital Banking, Lending, Crowdfunding etc.), what the end states might be and conclusions, such as in Investment Management the robo-advisors which are commoditsing the advisory value proposition whilst humans will still maintain a crucial role in products selection, particularly for high net worth individuals.

Let’s pick on Digital Banking though, just focus on a little. In this space the report highlights the importance of capabilities in customer-facing analytics and intelligence that are increasingly important from a competitive differential. Who are best at this, have a richness and, more importantly, a golden source, of data? The big four? The major insurance companies? Unlikely and, more importantly, the systems, people and processes are not going to change that in the short to medium term.

Given the conditions above, we are likely to see the usual technology companies that do excel in this space such as Google, Amazon, Facebook and the like (maybe Uber) chose to enter the market distribution of financial services products in the short term (see our prediction from 2011!). Whilst financial services firms establish technology partnerships with some of these tech firms, it is not a huge leap of thinking to have them pivot to providing competitive services very quickly. They have the data, the customer engagement, the brand, the scale and the capital to do this, plus the ecosystem of partners to plug any gaps.

Ah, but what about the regulators! From their perspective, we expect a softening of stance towards the distribution of products by tech firms, whilst having a close eye on the potential market dominance and systematic risk profile. In terms of the entrants, we already see technology easing the burden of regulation in the coming years, rather than employing an army of human beings, and the tech firms are again in the driving seat to benefit from this.

Maybe we are closer to “FaceBank” than ever.



Insurance companies and their Cyber Insecurity

Posted on : 26-02-2016 | By : kerry.housley | In : Cyber Security, Finance

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In October 2015 all UK insurers were asked to provide details of their cyber resilience to the Prudential Regulation Authority. The Bank of England has been concerned about UK financial institutions’ cyber resilience for some time now and has extended their concern to the focus on the insurance sector.  The regulator is keen to understand the current policies and capabilities of the insurers and the steps they are taking to protect their information. Should they be found to have inadequate measures in place, strong action will be taken against them.

Information security is also a key focus for the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority). They are particularly worried about insurance companies due the nature of their business which involves large volumes of personal data. The biggest fines for data breaches so far imposed by the FCA are on insurance businesses, highlighting the reason for the regulator’s intense concern.

Insurance information is particularly attractive to hackers because of the number of highly personal individual details they hold. The Anthem healthcare insurer was breached last year and it is reported to have lost the personal information records of 80 million customers and employers.

Health care breaches are particularly on the rise as there is a lucrative resell market for these types of records. While credit card details typically trade at $10, insurance data typically trades at $100.  The US government is so concerned about its US insurance companies’ lack of preparedness that the National Association of Insurance Commissioners has set up a Cyber Security Taskforce to tackle the issue.

European policymakers are yet to agree the final provisions of the new General Data Protection Regulation. However, the new Regulation means that data privacy issues should now be a key concern for all insurers and they should be prepared to review and amend their data protection programmes. In general, regulation is likely to become increasingly formalised and more rigorous in its application.

The rise of big data presents opportunities to offer more creative, competitive pricing and, importantly, predict customers’ behavioural activity.  This is great news for insurers but a concern for the Information Comissioners Office (ICO). The ICO monitors how firms respond to subject access requests and complaints handling and firms will be invited to do an audit if the ICO has concerns. Compared with other EU Member States, such as France and Italy, the UK carries out relatively few audits.

However this too is changing. The FCA has announced that it is conducting a market study into how insurance firms use big data. Big data raises the possibility that an individual’s circumstances may not be factored in to an insurance risk assessment. As part of its market study, the FCA may examine whether such an approach is contrary to Principle 6 of its Principles for Businesses which requires that firms treat their customers fairly. Depending on the outcome of the review, the FCA may introduce specific consumer protection measures for the use of big data in underwriting.

Compliance measures will need to be reviewed and a risk assessment undertaken in order to implement appropriate security measures. These measures need to be documented and made available to regulators on request.

An insurance professional was recently reported as saying that most companies in the global market are not compliant with international standards. Many firms have no incident response plans in place to let their customers know that a breach has occurred. They are simply ill prepared for a data breach incident that is inevitable. A survey by technology company Xchanging in Nov 2015 reported that only one third of insurers in the London market believed that they could withstand a major cyber attack.  As in all areas of business, customers will be increasingly concerned about the cyber security of a company offering services.  Failure to demonstrate good cyber security will mean failure to win new customers.

2016 looks like this will be the year that insurance industry will be forced to take cyber security more seriously and make it a top priority for their board.