Paying With What You’re Saying

Using voice-activated payments for transfers, paying bills and more

The State of Voice Pay

We've all experienced the frustration of epic fails with voice assistants, often leading to garbled words, misfires and misinterpretations of your original intent.

Amazon Alexa now allows customers to make re-ordering simple via voice commands. Apple has enabled Siri to support a vocabulary for starting person-to-person (P2P) payments by using voice functionality, now used by apps such as Square Cash and Venmo.

Large banks are taking small steps, adding voice capabilities here and there. Capital One Financial in March added voice-powered commands for Alexa users for checking balances and making credit card payments. RBC in Canada added Siri capability in early August for bill pay and P2P. And Barclays in the United Kingdom added the capability for customers in late August.

For RBC, Siri made sense as an initial platform: about half of its users have iPhones.

"There is a good, strong band of loyal Siri users within the Apple community," says Peter Tilton, senior vice president, digital at RBC. "So it was a logical thing for us to extend this capability to that group."

Advancements Change the Tenor

The nascent stage of voice payments comes after some big advancements in speech recognition technology. During the last five years, cloud computing has offered the processing power needed for reading the complexity of speech and voice. Software has become much better at understanding voice commands and converting them to more conversational-sounding speech.

Meanwhile, the shift toward smaller computing devices over the years has actually made it harder to click and tap while on the go. From desktops and laptops to smartphones and tablets, our devices are becoming smaller and less convenient for typing. While consumers might not make a payment via a touchscreen on an Apple Watch, they sure might want to use Siri to do it.