Picture a sunny morning when you’re grabbing your coffee to head to work, and a subtle red light flashes next to your coffeemaker, indicating that you have a bill due that day. Your smart TV reminds you about a dentist appointment later in the morning. Then a message on the front door says to take your umbrella because there’s a good chance of rain in the afternoon.
Welcome to the world of ambient computing – the always-on, always-connected devices that interact with you to make your life easier.
It seems futuristic, but ambient computing already has reached a maturity level that makes it one of the top technology trends that will shape the banking industry in the next decade, says Dominic Venturo, U.S. Bank chief innovation officer.
“The whole concept of ambient computing is that computing becomes embedded into our surroundings,” Venturo said. “Devices are both sensing and aware of things they can do. As that begins to happen, you can integrate interactions that weren’t integrated before.”
Digital assistants are the most recognizable devices in ambient computing today, and U.S. Bank recently became the first bank to offer banking services on all three major platforms: Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple Siri.
Gareth Gaston, head of omnichannel for U.S. Bank, says the uses for voice banking are in the beginning stages, and they will broaden and integrate with the bank’s other digital efforts in years to come.
The U.S. Bank mobile app remains the core of customer digital interactions, but Gaston and his team envision a time, in the not-too-distant future, where services like voice banking become a rich extension of the app, giving customers an even more frictionless way to bank.
All three digital assistant platforms can provide customers their checking, savings or money market account balances, with Alexa and Google Home also providing billing due dates and recent transaction details. Alexa can also help customers pay their U.S. Bank credit card from a U.S. Bank account.
The bank also has added extra security measures, including account set-up authentication and a four-digit security code, to keep customers’ data private and secure. The digital assistants don’t store consumers’ secure information, such as passcodes, account numbers or other identifiable data.
Transactions done with digital voice assistants are protected by U.S. Bank’s online risk-free guarantee, which pledges that the bank will cover 100 percent of losses from unauthorized transactions, as long as they are reported to the bank promptly.
U.S. Bank has been testing the uses of ambient computing for several years, beginning with voice activation in early 2012, when Venturo and his innovation team explored how devices like Siri – introduced in late 2011 – could be used for biometric security in banking.
“We began exploring using your voice as a password,” Venturo said. “At the time, good security meant complex passwords that included random things. It was a complicated customer experience. So we tested voice as a password – to add an extra layer of security to your mobile log-in.”
The innovation team collaborated with the bank’s omnichannel and technology teams to keep improving the voice interaction software and expand its uses for banking. They kept tinkering as digital assistant technology matured, until voice banking became a smooth, helpful experience for customers.
Voice banking is the latest in a series of customer-focused innovations U.S. Bank has launched recently, including the person-to-person payment service Zelle, the U.S. Bank Loan Portal for mortgage customers, an online tool to receive quick car loan approvals via AutoGravity, and safe, convenient credit card payments while you travel with Mobile Location Service.
“We have big digital ambitions, and voice banking is just the beginning of what we think will come,” Gaston said.
Heather Draper works in public affairs and communications with U.S. Bank.