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Buyer's Guide: Voice Banking for Credit Unions

Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.

Nowhere is that truer than when investing in new technology. It takes time and money to create and nurture innovation. It’s not a process that everyone wants to, or should, be involved with.

As an innovation professional, I can tell you that there is one thing that is both critical and difficult when engaging a client in an innovation project: Setting their expectations. Everyone thinks they’re cut out to tackle these projects. That they have the money, the talent, and the patience. But when push comes to shove, that’s not always the case.

Experimenting with a truly new technology can tax the patience of even the most seasoned credit union. Selecting the right partner to work with can make all the difference.  In partnering with a technology company that is a long-time, trusted partner, you develop confidence in the process that is critical to your success and your sanity.

What if you’re working with a new company on a new technology? Let’s face it, there is one rule that is certain when you’re on the bleeding edge and that is “you don’t know what you don’t know”.

As someone who has helped clients work through new technology for a while now, I know that the first thing I need to make clear is that unrealistic expectations can ruin a project for everyone faster than any delays caused by technology or process or talent. Don’t set dates that can’t shift. Don’t make launch plans. Don’t make public promises of your coming attractions. Because when you don’t know what’s around the corner, the last thing you need is a concrete schedule and a lot of people watching to see if you hit the date, rather than the nail the solution.

What does this have to do with Amazon’s Alexa voice service? Well if you know or follow BIG, you know that we’re deep into voice technology and now have Amazon certified skills for four of our credit union clients. Like other technology companies, we talked about it, experimented with it and partnered with credit unions to pilot it. Like most others, we didn’t know what we didn’t know until we went through the process. In this case, what we didn’t know was just how difficult it is to get a voice banking skill certified. Thankfully, it is difficult. Would you want just anyone to be able to create a skill that involved your financial accounts? What if they claim they are from XYZ Bank? How is Amazon to determine that they are who they claim? That they represent the FI they say they do? As a consumer, you need to be sure that the skill you are using is as secure as it can possibly be. Because Amazon is allowing FI skills access to sensitive financial information, it’s understandable that they want to be very thorough in vetting those skills.  We’re happy that Amazon fully vets the skills and that the certification process is involved and detailed.

Until we went through the certification process, we had no idea what to expect. To be honest, we had functions in our skill that Amazon did not accept. Once we went into certification, we had to remove things because they weren’t going to pass their rigorous standards.

What that means to you is 'caveat emptor’. It’s important when you’re looking for a partner with whom to develop a voice skill that you know what they do know. Have they been through the process of certifying a skill? Can they point you toward skills they’ve created for other financial institutions that are live in the Alexa Skill Store and are similar to what you want them to create for you?

Here are some important keywords to help you make sure you’re getting what you need.

Keyword 1: Account Linking

When it comes to Alexa skills, there are skills that anyone can enable and use and then there are “account linked” skills. This means that the skill requires you to have an existing account with the merchant (or financial institution, in this case) before you can use some of the features of the skill.

For example, if you want to use the Starbucks skill, you need to have an account with Starbucks. You will need to tell the Starbucks Alexa skill how to access that account, so it can determine what you want to order, and from where, when you talk to “her”. It’s similar to banking skills. You need to be a member of the credit union or a customer of the bank or credit card company, so you can link your account to their Alexa skill.

Keyword 1: Certified

What this means to you as a buyer or decision maker is that just because someone is able to build a skill for your bank or credit union that does all sort of cool stuff, that doesn’t mean they can actually get it through the certification process. There are currently plenty of financial institutions that have “pilot” or “beta” skills in a development environment that may never see a client interaction because they won’t be able to get through certification.

How do you prevent the frustration and, potentially, embarrassment of telling the world you’re going to have a skill only to find out later that you can’t deliver?

Start by working with a vendor that has already certified an account linked financial skill with the voice service. Look in the Amazon Alexa Skill Store or the list of available Google Actions/Services to find the listing. Talk to the client whose skill is in the store and ask them if they will demonstrate it for you. The live version, not a pilot, beta or demo version. Ask their references how long the project took, what the most complicated or time-consuming task was and what they would do differently.

When you’re ready to jump with both feet into voice banking using Amazon Alexa and/or Google Home, remember voice is very new technology. But unlike previous waves of cutting edge tech, you won’t have nearly as much time to wait, watch and experiment as you’ve seen with new technologies in the past. So, by all means, if you’re a leading-edge kind of financial institution, get started with voice now! Just remember to look before you leap and set your expectations appropriately.

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