U.S. Bancorp is developing a voice command mobile application to allow users to speak payment-related commands into the mobile device.
"I could say 'show me payments over $100,' or ask 'what is my balance,' or verbally ask that other payment tasks be executed," said Dominic Venturo, chief innovation officer for retail payments solutions at U.S. Bank, during an interview at Nacha's Payments 2013 conference.
U.S. Bank developed the new voice app with Nuance, which sells a mobile voice recognition technology called "Nina." U.S. Bank's app understands spoken requests for information on APRs, cash-back for purchases and fees. Users speak to a microphone icon that appears in the corner of the mobile payments app.
U.S. Bank is piloting the technology with internal staff, and will enhance the features based on the results of those tests. Other financial institutions, such as USAA, have deployed Nuance's voice technology—mostly for basic functions at first. The app works similar to Siri, Apple's voice-controlled digital assistant.
U.S. Bank's mobile strategy also involves responsive design, which determines screen design based on the device that is accessing an application. The bank is also determining when to use native apps or Web-based mobile technology for function and content, Venturo says. "A location-based function, for example, may require a native app," he says.
The voice application is one of a number of tech initiatives the Minneapolis-based bank is using to accommodate "omnichannel" functionality, a growing trend in the payments industry that refers to services that can handle a shopping session that begins in one channel, such as Web, and ends in another channel, such as mobile.
"Consumers are used to going through to the point of sale in their own way. The last thing a merchant wants to do is interrupt that and slow it down," said Jennifer Schulz, head of global ecommerce at Visa, during a panel discussion on retail point of sale technology and omnichannel payments.
As smartphones and tablets mature, users' relationships with devices get more complex, Venturo says. For example, consumers still prefer larger screens, even though PCs are falling out of favor, he says.
"There's human tendency to gravitate toward the larger screens, all things being equal…so I think you need to be able to design to expectations and realize the same problem may need to be solved in a number of different ways," Venturo says.
Other companies are responding to the omnichannel trend via acquisitions that allow broader digital payment capabilities, such as linking marketing to electronic payments. For example, PayPal over the past two years has acquired about a dozen tech companies, many form outside of financial services, says Dan Schatt, head of financial innovations at PayPal. PayPal this month acquired Iron Pearl, an online marketing company.
"The banks are taking our tech and embedding it into their mobile apps so their customers can take advantage of the tech and retailers nave another channel to communicate with their customers," Schatt said during the panel on retail payments.