Synchrony’s first Alexa skill targets bill payment, not shopping

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Synchrony Financial designed its first voice assistant technology for Amazon Alexa around Amazon’s store card, serving as a template for the private-label card issuer’s other retail clients.

The Amazon store card skill for Amazon Alexa went live this week, enabling Amazon credit card customers to check account details and pay their bill though Amazon’s voice assistant. This is a first step toward adding voice payment technology for other retail clients, according to Tim Christensen, Synchrony’s senior vice president of IT innovation and design.

But using Alexa to broadly shop for merchandise through Synchrony’s retail card customers’ apps isn’t on the immediate horizon.

“Shopping is still a somewhat narrow activity with voice assistants, and we can’t put the whole storefront on Alexa, but we want to be ready with tools as more retailers explore this channel,” Christensen said.

Synchrony developed the Alexa skill for Amazon cardholders in less than a year at one of the company's four innovation laboratories, following a brainstorm at an internal hackathon, he explained. Naturally, the idea had immediate support from Amazon.

Developers discovered that vocal account management calls for different logic than online and mobile account access.

“One of the most surprising things we learned during testing was how many different ways a person might ask Alexa to list their recent transactions,” Christensen said. Synchrony responded by developing responses to a wide range of terms and intentions related to checking accounts and paying bills.

Participating customers may download from the new skill from the Alexa app and log in using their Synchrony account details for the Store Card. A four-digit voice key or password is also required to inquire about balances, most recent transactions and other payment details.

“We added a voice PIN to validate the consumer because Alexa devices are often placed in common areas and people usually want some privacy about their finances,” Christensen said.

So far Synchrony has developed voice assistant technology only for Alexa, but it’s exploring other voice assistant platforms.

"We expect to be able to translate the technology and lessons we learned here to other products and voice assistants because our goal is to build seamless mobile connections with more utilities for all our retail cards,” Christensen said.

Last year Synchrony introduced its SyPi plug-in connecting store credit cards to retail clients’ mobile apps. Walmart uses SyPi within its app to support Walmart’s private-label credit card, including the ability to apply for an account within the app.

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Digital payments Bill pay Internet of things Synchrony Amazon