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Google has announced that harried parents are finding solace in the support offered by voice-activated speakers. With the adoption of voice technology rapidly increasing in the home, there are also opportunities for the financial services industry.

There’s a new woman in my husband’s life and her name is Alexa.

Shocked – yes! Apprehensive – absolutely! But like any person, once you spend time getting to know them, you grow to like them and actually value the relationship.

Except Alexa isn’t a person, she’s a bot; a stand-alone device standing on my kitchen counter between the toaster and the bread bin, waiting for my next command. “Alexa – timer five minutes… Alexa – play Frozen by Disney…. Alexa – what’s the weather like in London?”

Alexa is Amazon’s voice-operated personal assistant, found in millions of homes worldwide. The Alexa app was the top app for both Android and iPhone on Christmas Day 2017. While far from mass adoption, we’re starting to embrace the power of virtual assistants – whether it’s Amazon Echo (Alexa), Google Home (Google’s own voice operated system) or Apple’s Siri.

The growth of digital assistants

According to eMarketer, 35.6 million Americans use a voice-activated assistant device at least once a month, an increase of 129% over the last year. 71% are using an Amazon Echo.

In the UK, 98% of iPhone users have tried Siri, whilst Amazon is launching a French version of Alexa. China has the highest number of voice technology services in Asia, with weekly usage of voice technology in the country at 31% of the population and rising.  This is a global trend.

A new frontier for financial services

If we’re all embracing it at home, what’s the opportunity for financial services companies? For example, why go through the bother of using your banking app on your iPhone when you can simply ask your digital assistant how much money is in your account? Or why phone your wealth manager for advice, or use a robo app, when you can ask Alexa for the best stock picks?

Developers are rushing to design so called “skills” for Alexa or “actions” for Google. These are what apps are to mobiles, and there are already over 10,000 skills on Alexa.

Banks are latching onto the trend, with US bank Capital One ahead of the curve, launching its Alexa skill in 2016. In the UK, Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group is working on a development programme with Amazon’s Alexa to beef up its digital offering. It hopes that the technology will give it an edge over the so-called “challenger” banks in customer interaction.

For marketers and communicators this opens up a world of possibilities – allowing us to interact with customers at home or in their office like never before.

While we’re still just about keeping pace with the number of digital and social platforms, we now need to start considering voice platforms. This undoubtedly gives us a great opportunity to engage with our audience in a very personalized way. If you already have a content strategy in place and are creating content for videos, writing blogs or driving an ad word campaign, it’s a no brainer to start creating content for these platforms.

For example, if you’re a legal firm and you send a weekly newsletter or daily legal briefing to clients, why not record a highly personalized legal flash for your tier one clients? It’s absolutely feasible, as third parties can incorporate Alexa into their products. The barrier to entry is very low, especially for the Alexa platform, as Amazon made the decision to keep the platform open. For me it’s another channel and opportunity to connect with the customer.

Implications for data privacy

However, when it comes to data privacy and data protection the boundaries are still unclear and could be a barrier to adoption in some countries.

A recent PWC survey found that while there was high awareness of digital assistants among respondents, the majority had privacy and safety concerns.

According to Amazon, the onus is on the developers to inform customers if they are collecting personal information in a skill. How this works in practice is unclear, but as Amazon and others begin to open up the platform to advertising, stricter guidelines will need to be enforced. 

‘Alexa – what’s next?’

Amazon’s ambitions continue to snowball. It wants to build and connect Alexa into everything from voice controlled music in your car to the fridge in your home.

Some analysts say that it’s just a fad and believe that since the assistants’ intelligence is so limited,  they’re unable to hold a coherent conversation with the user. But others believe that Alexa has the potential to do for the Internet of Things what Windows did for computing.

Alexa will remain a permanent feature in my life. She’s the fifth member of our family. When we went on holiday, my son actually asked me “Mama, where’s Lexa?”

So there you have it. My kids are growing up with Alexa. Now they’re laughing at her jokes, enjoying her choice of music and checking the weather forecast, but in the future they’ll be getting their financial advice while they sit in their driverless cars…

Welcome to the future.