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Wells Fargo working on voice-based payment capabilities


Wells Fargo & Co. is developing a voice biometrics-based payments offering for consumers that will reportedly expand beyond the basic day-to-day functionality offered by current virtual financial assistants, according to a report by DigiDay.

“These digital assistants like Siri or Alexa — these things are just starting,” Steve Ellis, head of Wells Fargo’s innovation group, said. “There’s a really big future here for how our customers interact with us. We are starting to do proofs of concept with information exchange … but the idea of moving money from one fund to someone through a peer-to-peer payments system — that’s coming.”

Ellis did not specify when the bank would introduce the new capability but said it would be “a shorter time frame than three to five years.”

Wells Fargo Startup Accelerator, which was co-launched by Ellis, is developing the artificial intelligence technology that enables conversational banking abilities as well as strengthening the biometric authentication practices required to execute mobile voice banking.

EyeVerify approached the startup accelerator in 2014 with an idea to develop eye-recognition technology for security and identification purposes.

Wells Fargo now enables corporate clients to sign in to its commercial banking app using either EyeVerify’s Eyeprint ID system.

The accelerator startup also selected chatbot provider Kasisto, which Ellis described as a Siri for financial services.

The bank is “very close” to introducing some of these virtual assistant capabilities to select employees and customers on a test-and-learn basis, Ellis said.

Ron Shevlin, director of research at Cornerstone Advisors and author of Smarter Bank, said that Wells and the rest of the financial industry need to improve the AI and its speech recognition to fully understand and process what a client is saying on an emotional level.

“There’s a lot of potential for [voice banking,] but I’m afraid we’re conflating the voice interface with the AI capabilities needed to interact in a high quality, whether it’s providing service or advice,” Shevlin said. “If it’s simple types of interaction then the bloom is off the rose. … There’s no economic impact, no greater levels of customer satisfaction you’ve just created one more way for someone to check their account balance or account fraud or maybe pay a bill.”

Ellis highlighted three key phases in creating a voice-first future, including information exchange, funds transfer and personalized advice. He said the majority of banks are in the ‘information exchange’ phase, Wells Fargo is optimistic that it will soon enter the ‘fund transfer’ phase.

Wells Fargo’s Innovation Group announced earlier this week it would focus on AI as well as payments and application platform interfaces.

“AI is a baby step right now,” Ellis said. “It’s going to really adjust the way people think of how they use their phone to get information and actually do things.”

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