Slideshow Data: 'Hey Siri, Alexa, Google—when will you be ready for payments?'

Published
  • April 11 2018, 11:29am EDT
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Voice assistants are on a fast track, with ownership of home devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home surging to between 20% and 25% of households from a mere 1% in about two years. The rapid growth is inviting keen interest in many circles about the potential for voice assistants to spark disruption in commerce, payments and financial services.

Financial institutions are starting to experiment with ways for consumers to verify balances and transfer funds, and TSYS predicts that within three to five years, ownership of voice assistants will be mainstream, with consumers using them regularly to shop and make purchases.

What follows is a look at the latest numbers on how consumers are using these devices so far, and what the immediate implications could be for payments.

Nearly 20% of U.S. consumers own a voice assistance device, according to an online survey Voicebot.ai conducted in January 2018 among 1,057 U.S. adults. That figure correlates with other recent studies—Total System Services (TSYS), reports that 26% of U.S. adults own voice-controlled speakers based on its own similar-size survey conducted in recent months.

Of the estimated 47.3 million U.S. consumers who own voice assistant devices, millennial men are the most common users.

Men account for 58% of ownership of voice assistant devices, versus 42% of women, according to Voicebot. Many users are enthusiasts. Two-thirds of owners have just one unit, but 15% of households said they have three or more voice assistant devices and 2% of households claim to have 5-10 devices.

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Nearly half, or 47%, of device owners, are using their voice assistants to shop or make purchases, according to TSYS, a promising sign for broader financial services development. TSYS conducted its study last year, surveying 1,200 U.S. consumers who have at least one credit and debit card.

Amazon, which has long harbored ambitions to take a bigger role in the Internet of Things, is now eyeing Alexa, its virtual assistant service, as a conduit for payments. Though no details have been released, Amazon is exploring several new projects in banking and fintech, including connecting consumers to JPMorgan Chase accounts, the Wall Street Journal reported this month.

Not surprisingly, the most popular use case for voice assistance devices is for answering questions, with controlling music and entertainment close behind, followed by other step-saving tasks like getting news and information along with making lists, setting timers and alarms.

Payment security is a hot topic, given the recent spate of data breaches and growing pressure to improve methods for authenticating payments. Voice recognition technology could play a key role.

In its survey, TSYS asked consumers for their comfort level with different approaches for authenticating bank accounts and payment apps. Passcodes ranked highest at 69%—likely due to familiarity—followed by fingerprint technology at 63%. Newer approaches using smartphone cameras and voice recognition ranked third and fourth, at 44% and 34%, respectively.

Passcodes are widely considered to be a weak authentication method by modern standards, and better approaches are in development leveraging various biometric and behavioral factors. Voice assistance technology is still relatively new, but the fact that more than a third of survey respondents said they would be comfortable using voice recognition to authenticate a payment bodes well for its future adoption by consumers.

Consistent with other new technology, young adults are the most likely consumers to own a voice assistant device, according to TSYS. The largest group of device owners is consumers 25-34 years old, at 41% of the survey base, while only 17% of adults over age 55 own voice-activated speakers.

Asked whether they would use voice-activated speakers to make a payment, about 75% of adults between 24 and 44 said they would, with the percentage falling to only 67% of those 45-54 and 37% of those 55 to 64% willing to conduct payments via voice command.

Security is the primary area of concern for device owners considering using their voice assistants to make payments, and unfamiliarity with the technology is another obstacle to adoption, TSYS said.

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Voice assistant device usage could be habit-forming, Voicebot.ai’s data suggests. Nearly a third, or 28.6% of voice assistance device owners say they use the unit once or twice a day, while one in five users hit it up three to five times a day. At the extremes, about 13% of consumers with a device claim to use it six or more times a day, and an equal number of owners use them “never or rarely,” according to Voicebot’s survey.

Payments industry futurists may draw early conclusions about these frequency trends and evolving use cases for voice assistants, based on locations within the home where devices are used. The most common spot to put a voice assistance unit is in the central part of the home, with 45.9% of respondents listing the living room. The kitchen comes in second at 41.5%, followed by the bedroom at 36.8% and the home office at 10.8%. Fractions of respondents placed their unit in the bathroom, garage and dining room.

Amazon Echo, launched in 2014, got a good head start over Google Home, which made its debut about two years later. Amazon has the largest share of the U.S. installed base through Dec. 31, 2017, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP), but Google Home saw strong gains during the fourth quarter of last year, when Google introduced a cheaper "Mini" version of its Home speaker.

The Echo Dot, Amazon's budget-priced home speaker, accounts for more than half of all Amazon voice assistant devices sold, and enthusiasts are happy to own more than one.

Corroborating data from other sources, more than 20% of Amazon Echo users and 13% of Google Home users report owning more than one unit, according to CIRP. Around 60% of consumers who use a voice assistant device have at least one other connected home accessory, such as an appliance or security system, providing clues to what other technology companies like Apple, Samsung and Facebook may need to consider as voice assistant technology evolves.