Middle East Finance Giant Launches Voice Banking Alexa Skill
Emirates NBD, one of the largest banks in the Middle East, has debuted an Alexa skill for voice banking by customers in the United Arab Emirates. The skill arrives not long after Amazon released a version of the voice assistant that speaks Arabic and released the Echo line of smart devices in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Customers of the Dubai-based Emirates NBD can set up the Alexa skill on Echo smart speakers and displays. It’s also available on mobile devices with the Alexa iOS and Android apps. Once connected, they can ask Alexa to pull up their account and find out their current balance, most recent statements, and any new card transactions. They can also ask the skill for market briefings and updates. The skill works in both English and Gulf Arabic, the local dialect of the language known as Khaleeji that just expanded Alexa’s linguistic repertoire
“Emirates NBD has always been at the forefront of banking innovations and Voice Banking is another step in this direction as we utilize new technologies to enhance overall customer experiences,” Emirates NBD senior executive vice president Suvo Sarkar said. “As Amazon officially launches Alexa in the UAE, we are pleased to make available access to banking services on this platform, providing added convenience and flexibility to our customers.”
The value of voice banking is becoming well known enough for an ongoing flurry of related releases either by banks or in partnerships with tech developers. Wells Fargo recently launched a virtual assistant but is playing catch up to other American banks. For instance, U.S. Bank launched a voice assistant for its mobile app last year to allow users to carry out their banking requests using conversational language. And Bank of America saw its existing virtual assistant, Erica, become increasingly popular, tripling interactions over the last year to 104.6 million total. Credit unions are experimenting with AI too. Wisconsin’s Landmark Credit Union began working with conversational AI platform Clinc to create a virtual assistant, and Minnesota’s Wings Financial Credit Union started to work with Nuance to add voice AI and vocal biometric security to its customers.
The push for virtual assistants in the UAE is accelerating. The bank skill and language release came after two years of work by Amazon with local volunteers. The resulting software lets Alexa understand and use dialect phrases, cultural references, as well as translate from English. Locally important information has also been incorporated into the Arabic model, allowing it to understand casual Arabic and answer questions about the next time for prayer. There are several Arabic Alexa skills already available, including Expo 2020, Careem, Fatafeat and Reel Cinemas. Emirates NBD is just the latest.
A major bank creating a voice skill also fits with Dubai’s efforts of late to push digital and voice software. The city of Dubai created a virtual assistant named ‘Fares’ to answer questions and fulfill requests for citizens using AI in October. The assistant operates as a voice assistant on the city’s hotline or as a chatbot through Dubai’s official WhatsApp number. Users can ask about the city and its services and check on the status of submitted requests for services provided by the city. There’s also the option to “Verify rumors related to Dubai Municipality,” as the AI phrases it, suggesting concern about what people are saying about the city. On a more interactive front, users can ask Fares to help determine what they owe in housing taxes, report any issues, or submit new requests to the government.
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