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Alexa, show me the money

Amazon’s Alexa, a popular virtual assistant that you may already have sitting on a nearby desk or shelf, is soon to be the newest employee, figuratively speaking, at Spokane-area financial institutions. 

At least two area credit unions—Numerica Credit Union and Boeing Employee Credit Union—see the appeal artificial intelligence has for Spokane-area customers and have begun working to incorporate them into their member service offerings. 

Numerica has already added Alexa voice transaction capabilities, and BECU says it plans to make the service available to its members later this summer. 

Representatives from both financial institutions describe the new offerings as skills, or applications that have been designed to integrate into existing proprietary banking systems, in order to interact with member accounts and information. 

KayCee Murray, senior vice president of information technology for Spokane-Valley-based Numerica Credit Union, says the credit union in February began offering an Amazon Alexa voice skill to its members.

Amazon Alexa is a virtual assistant developed by Inc. through which users can play music, create to-do lists, set alarms, get news, and perform other tasks through voice commands. 

Numerica customers who use Alexa devices now can speak a question aloud, such as asking about their account balance, and the virtual assistant will answer them immediately. 

Murray says Numerica’s voice banking transactions for Amazon Alexa are enabled through a partnership between technology innovation and development company Best Innovation Group Inc. and credit union software vendor Symitar.

“BIG developed the platform that supports Alexa, and worked with Symitar to gain client interest,” says Murray. “Symitar provides the banking software we use for our core systems, and for us it was important that this technology be able to tie into our existing systems, for ease of use and consistency.”

She says normally Alexa skills are pre-set and designed to work one way for all users, but BIG worked closely with service providers like Symitar in order to match voice skills with the specific needs of credit unions and their customers. 

“Numerica was one of two credit unions to beta test the software, through a nine-month process. We took our time figuring out how this feature would work,” she says.

 “We wanted to start with one of the most popular, basic things customers ask for each day, like checking their account balance. Once that was established we knew we could eventually add more functions to it.”

To use the voice transaction service, Murray says, members need to have an Amazon Echo speaker, and the Amazon Alexa application on their phone. They can then add the Numerica “skill” to their Alexa application, and set the account with the login and pin code they use for online banking services, to link it to their Numerica accounts. 

“In order to use the service members also must be signed up for online or mobile banking in order to set up their account with Alexa,” she says. 

Once signed in, Numerica members can use voice commands to transfer funds between accounts, make loan payments, and access balances and account histories for checking, savings, and loans.

Using Alexa, members can also cancel a lost or stolen credit or debit card, ask for general information like loan rates, and listen to educational audio clips on critical topics like security and financial literacy, Murray says.

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