Santander enable voice-activated app payments

22 February 2017, 15:16   By Samantha Smith

SANTANDER have updated their mobile banking app with voice-activation technology, enabling customers to make payments and check their balance by speaking to their phones.

santander bank branch
Credit: JuliusKielaitis/

Their new technology differs from voice biometrics, which banks such as Barclays and HSBC already offer as a means of identification for customers using telephone banking.

Instead, customers using the SmartBank app on their iPhones log in as usual using a password, yet once they've done so they can begin banking using only their voice.

However, while this will make the app ideal for those who aren't entirely confident using mobile banking, there's a worry that its success may free the bank to cut customer service staff and close branches.

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These worries have some plausibility insofar as Santander cut 1,200 jobs last year in Spain, with 950 of these losses coming from branches.

They were explained at the time in terms of a planned shift to online and mobile banking, and while nothing comparable has been pushed by the Spanish-owned bank in the UK in recent months, they did shed 50 call-centre staff in Leicestershire in August.

We are excited to be the first UK high street bank to enable customers to make payments using just their voice, offering them another channel of choice in how they wish to bank
Ed Metzger, Santander

They've also gone on record as saying, "We constantly review our operational model to ensure we provide the best services to our customers while at the same time, delivering value to shareholders".

This suggests that Santander may conceivably consider removing staff or even adding to the UK's ongoing wave of branch closures if the new voice functionality is successful. However, despite the outside chance of this happening, there has been nothing to indicate that the bank have any immediate plans along such lines.

What can it do?

And this distant possibility aside, the new voice features have much to recommend it, including the ability to act upon the following commands:

  • Pay Julia £30 tomorrow
  • How much did I spend on holiday?
  • How much did I spend yesterday?
  • I've lost my card
  • What is my balance?

With regards to the first instruction, it should be noted that the voice activation can be used to transfer money only to those people already on a customer's list of existing payees.

As such, it can't be used to pay absolutely anyone at all, and still requires an initial input of bank details to work.

Nonetheless, there are other nifty features as well, such as the ability to check how much cashback a customer has earned via their 123 credit card, provided they managed to sign up for the card before it was discontinued last October.

Customers can also ask the app how much they've spent at, say, Tesco (or any other retailer) in a single month, enabling them to keep better track of their own budgets.

Voice misrecognition?

Of course, despite the potential convenience of the app, there remains the question of just how accurate its voice-recognition software is.

According to Santander, the voice technology they're harnessing has already been in use since last year, when the bank rolled out a more limited range of voice-assisted functions for their iPhone SmartBank app.

As such, it's already gone through almost a year of testing and refinement. What's more, it was designed "to evolve and become more intuitive the more it was used", meaning that over time it will increasingly reduce the already slim chances of its mistaking "Bill" for "Phil", for example.

And even if it does make such a mistake, the app asks users to confirm payments before it goes ahead and makes them, ensuring that "Phil" doesn't receive "Bill's" money.

Speaking of such capabilities, Ed Metzger, Head of Technology Innovation at Santander, said, "This pioneering technology has huge potential to become an integral part of the future banking experience, playing a transformational role in the industry and redefining how customers choose to manage their money".

That said, for the time being it's being trialled only on iOS, meaning that Android users will have to wait a little while longer before they can instruct their phones to pay their bills for them.

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