Experian developing voice tech for a retail world with fewer keyboards

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Point of sale credit is advancing as an on-the-fly financing alternative for retailers, but as smaller screens and internet-of-things devices become more prominent, credit providers will have to find a way to accept personal information without the convenience of a terminal and keyboard.

It may seem a few turns down the road, but Experian argues this transformation is approaching quickly, and is building a voice-controlled version of its Text for Credit product, which itself has only been in the market less than a year. Text to Credit is designed to prepopulate most of the credit application at the point of sale to speed decisioning.

The idea is consumers can use voice devices such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, either at home for e-commerce or in a store to apply for credit or make payments.

"We have linked the voice devices to a display," said Eric Haller, executive vice president and global head of Experian DataLabs. "Over the next two to three years, the keyboard will dissipate and the experience will go to voice."

Experian's voice for credit product is still being built, so there's no formal release date. But it considers the technology near term, close enough to appear on some of Experian's promotional materials.

Voice assistants are still very early stage as transactional devices, but there has been some traction. Sales of voice assistant technology have skyrocketed over the past two years, leaving merchant acquirers little choice but to examine how the technology fit into their plans.

Amazon this spring enabled account queries and bill payment through voice, two common early stage financial transactions for new technology—account queries and bill payment were also early features for internet and mobile banking. Synchrony has deployed voice technology with an eye on adding more shopping experiences in the future. And a handful of Australian banks have adopted voice assistants to support marketing and payments.

Many other companies are approaching in-store credit, so there's plenty of technology for merchants to sift through. Paysafe has integrated installment payments in merchant networks to help retailers battle Amazon. Splitit added a debit option to compete with other installment providers such as Affirm and Klarna. Affirm earlier this year collaborated with Apple Pay, and Klarna partnered with Magento to improve e-commerce checkouts and user experience for in-store credit.

To use Experian's Text for Credit, consumers view an ad and text a keyword or short code to initiate prequalification. The consumer's mobile phone number identifies the name and address, avoiding the need to key that information on a small screen.

"It's an instant form that fills out 22 of the most common 26 fields in the credit form automatically," Haller said. "You don't need a mobile app, and there's no requirement for merchants to implement infrastructure."

Experian identifies the consumer's identity using mobile phone and credit bureau information. A text response is sent to the consumer, directing the person to view prequalified offers via an Experian-hosted interface with the merchant's branding.

The voice version is more tailored for e-commerce, as people are inclined to see a web advertisement and finance a purchase through the same experience. But since most people access voice assistants through mobile phones, people financing a purchase in person could use this technology in stores.

"Voice activated decisioning seems like a natural evolution for Experian in two ways," said Leslie Parrish, a senior analyst at Aite Group. "This technology represents another way to further reduce friction in issuing just-in-time credit at the point of sale, complementing Experian's 'text for credit' offering."

And Experian already allows consumers using Alexa voice commands to get credit report updates, "so this is one more step down the path of voice commands as a sway to deliver financial services," Parrish said.

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Internet of things Digital payments Experian