NatWest launches voice banking trial

NatWest is to launch the first trial of voice banking through the Google Home smart speaker device and Google Assistant on smartphone.

The three-month pilot will enable 500 participating customers to trial banking services through Google’s voice technology, and will be the first trial of voice banking through smart devices to be carried out by a major UK bank.

Customers will be able to ask for commonly requested details, such as their current balance and recent transactions, before being given a verbal response. On smartphones, the information will also appear on screen.

Where customers are unable to get an answer or need to speak to someone, a message will be sent to their phone with contact details of NatWest’s customer helpline.

The voice banking service will be set up using a customer’s existing online banking password and PIN, before generating a partial voice banking PIN to confirm their identity.

NatWest said that, if the technology proves successful, voice banking could mirror the success of mobile banking, with nearly 9.6 million people owning a smart speaker in the UK – a figure set to rise to 12.6 million this year.

The bank also pointed to advantages for blind customers, as well as encouraging customers who do not yet use online or mobile banking to interact with a more human interface.

Kristen Bennie, head of open experience at NatWest, said: “We are exploring voice banking for the first time and think it could mark the beginning of a major change to how customers manage their finances in the same way mobile banking made a huge impact.

“This technology will make it easier for people to bank with us and could bring particular benefits to those who have a disability as voice banking eliminates the need for customers to use a screen or keyboard.”

However, David Emm, principal security researcher at Kaspersky, raised concerns over the security of voice-access banking.

“Smart speakers have been in the news a lot recently, particularly relating to the information that they record and analyse,” he said, adding: “ If people are able to carry out banking transactions using a smart speaker, it not only raises the issue of someone recording your voice and spoofing a transaction, but also the risk that recordings stored by the vendor of the device could be stolen by cybercriminals.

“If every transaction requires a PIN from the customer, to verify their identity, it rather negates the convenience of banking in this way.”

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