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You Talking to Me? How Voice Is Revolutionizing Mobile Banking

Robert McGarvey

NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Want to race?

Pull up your mobile banking app, enter bill pay data, click pay.

I'll use my voice to log in - no keying in the password - and simply tell the app whom to pay, how much.

Who will be faster? Who will get the job done with less irritation? And with none of the miskeyed entries that turn so much mobile banking into an exercise in angst.

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Listen up: a revolution is starting and it is one where voice - the very thing mobile phones were originally designed around - becomes the primary data input tool and in the bargain it also may emerge as the way to swiftly but securely log in without any typing at all.

"It is a natural interaction on a phone, and it requires no specialized hardware. It's a natural fit with mobile," said Julia Webb, an executive with biometrics company VoiceVault.

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Does it work? Robert Weideman, executive vice president at Nuance, a company focused on voice recognition, claimed accuracy is "over 90% today."

Where NINA - Nuance's Siri like voice recognition agent -- misfires, "it's typically because of a noisy environment," such as calling in from a bustling coffee shop or at an airport gate.

"Speech rec from a mobile phone now is amazingly high," said Weideman, and that's partly because cellphone networks are vastly more powerful than they were even a few years ago and the phones, too, have gotten much better, particularly when it comes to filtering out extraneous ambient noises (such as wind).

That sets the stage for what is shaping up as a two-pronged invasion of voice into mobile banking where the first is using voice in lieu of a password in logging in. "Enrollment takes 30 seconds," said Weideman, who added that Nuance already has "23 million enrolled voice prints."

George Waller, an executive vice president at security firm Strikeforce Technologies, said that in his company's voice log in system, the user is asked to repeat an ever changing nonsense phrase such as "elevator, carwash, bookends, tobacco." That complex phrase mixes in lots of sounds and, said Waller, the results are very accurate.

Another plus, said Waller, is that deploying voice rec is an endrun around keylogger scams that capture what a banking user types in, then use that info to log in and loot an account. No can do that with voice, which will up the security ante particularly when deployed as part of a multi factor log in, said Waller.

Which brings us to the other prong: using voice to power transactions. NINA, said Weideman, currently understands around 150 common functions and these can get complex such as, pay my Visa bill in full tomorrow. With voice banking the customer simply talks to the app, telling it what to do.

What happens if you call in with a bad cold, or a seriously sore throat? Probably nothing goes amiss at all in terms of making transactions and, as for log in, neither should be an impediment, insisted the vendors. Laryngitis of course would be a deal killer but the recognition systems are said to be smart enough not to be thrown by minor alterations in a voice.

In most cases, too, financial institutions will have already set up another route into the accounts, in the event voice rec absolutely fails.

Who is doing voice banking now? Probably the pioneer is San Antonio-based USAA, which has been working with Nuance. Also on board is Barclays Bank, another Nuance client.

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Watch for more financial instutions to join this parade, mainly because data input via smartphones is not likely to get smoother - but most of us almost always have a voice at our disposal.

Then, too, some financial institutions are piloting voice deployments in targeted use cases and this, believe some experts, is where voice may get its earliest traction. VoiceVault's Webb said that her company currently is working with "a top three bank" - she declined to name names - to harness voice to add a verification layer to, say, wire transfers, which can be high risk to institutions because the money may move in real time and it may cross borders and when it does, it is gone.

So VoiceVault displays four digits - "that is biometrically rich," said Webb - and asks the user who is attempting to initiate a wire transfer to repeat the numbers into a phone.

Meantime, VoiceVault already has authenticated the device, it has asked for a swiped PIN, and with the voiceprint match, chances of a fraud occurring are negligible, said Webb.

How easy is that? Exactly right, and this is why many now are talking up voice as the savior of mobile banking.

--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet

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