The past, present and future of voice banking

It’s been a little over a year since our Digital Banking Tracker heralded the “Dawn of Banking Voice Technology.” Now it’s more like the high noon of banking voice technology, with most major banks hosting their own incarnation — all with slightly different capabilities and adoption rates.

Santander U.K. started the trend by launching a voice assistant within SmartBank, its mobile banking app for students, before rolling it out to the general public. In the early days, adopters of the new technology mostly used it to check card spend at the end of the week or month. By winter, customers were able to move beyond simply asking questions and begin conducting actual transactions using their voice — although they still had to log in to the app using a password.

Meanwhile, it’s been exactly a year since Barclays announced news that it was doing away with passwords and replacing them with voice recognition technology for identity verification. Barclays said that a voice was like an auditory fingerprint, with more than 100 characteristics determined by features of the speaker’s mouth and throat.

The technology was touted to be able to recognize a customer’s voice even if he or she had a cold, had aged or underwent gender reassignment surgery, yet Barclays said it would not be fooled by someone mimicking the voice.

Barclays applied the technology to telephone banking, so that callers would not have to input a password or give other identifying information in order to securely access their account. Bank officials touted the innovation as a form of insurance against fraud, and so far, it seems to be just that.

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