21. December 2017

Alexa, we can’t talk about money!

Amazon backs down from banking via its voice service Alexa

Nobody will transfer money or check his account balance with Alexa any time soon. Banking via Amazon and its voice service Alexa is hitting some unexpected delays. Have digitised financial transactions by voice run afoul of the coming banking regulations?

Two steps forward, one step back

Alexa knows everything and can do everything. Ask her the weirdest questions – whenever the answer can be found within the Amazon cloud it will echo through the living room, in a friendly female voice. She will follow instructions willingly, as long as they can be dealt with digitally. Ordering more printer ink or the new Dan Brown bestseller or some new socks is all in day’s work for Alexa.

But Alexa is not allowed to handle everything. It could have been great: “Alexa, how is my account balance doing?” or “Alexa, transfer the 20 Euro fee for illegal parking!” But it’s not happening. Alexa will play deaf when given directives like that. Many German financial institutions were interested in the new technology of voice banking, jostling for pole position. The Sparkassen Innovation Hub, for example, wanted to open access to Alexa in 2017.

Alexa in stand-by position

But the technological and digital leadership in voice banking has not materialised. So far Amazon has not announced its motives for pulling out. A possible reason: within the Payment Service Directive 2 (PSD2) the European Commission has stipulated that from January 13th 2018 on, access to online accounts requires two independent safety installations. This is in direct contrast to the philosophy of managing everything by voice and without fuss, as provided by Alexa’s skills. And voice banking skills are not on the agenda in the foreseeable future, it seems.

Amazon is keeping mum about the reasons for denying Alexa access to our bank accounts, fuelling rumours that the company is setting up its own voice banking system. Whoever provides the best system in the future will hold a key position in banking. And it’s certainly possible that Amazon’s tinkerers will find a solution, with the human voice playing a central role in digital banking. It will be exciting to see what the future holds!

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