By Gursimran Kaur
“Alexa, drumroll please!”
In a country where names like Asha and Sumitra are popular, Alexa and Siri are gaining traction! From being called the “sone ki chidiya” to now being the biggest market for Twitter’s “blue chidiya”, India certainly has come a long way. India’s digital payment sector is one that is growing exponentially, allowing the country to slowly inch its way towards the long-awaited model of a digital economy. This dream has been in the making for far too long and seeing it come to fruition has definitely made RBI and the government misty-eyed.
With a payment ecosystem encompassing 1.38 billion people, India is expected to become a $5 trillion economy by 2025, with digital payments reaching 1.5 billion transactions a day by that year. UPI hit a record high of 2.8 billion transactions in June 2021, showing the leaps and bounds that the country is making in its effort to become a digital economy. Indians are overachievers at the end of the day, right? The digital-first push by the Government under the Digital India programme coupled with increasing smartphone ownership, growing internet user base, entry of fintech players, and technological innovations are turning the tides. This is immensely benefitting citizens, giving them easy, safe, and reliable access to multiple digital payment options.
THE AI AND VOICE REVOLUTION
Voice-enabled and AI devices have called for a new revolution in the tech world. Virtual assistants are becoming more and more intuitive and accurate with each passing day, resulting in heavy demand for them across the globe. A survey shows that the number of people using digital assistants is estimated to rise up to over 1.8 billion by 2021. With big Indian names such as Amitabh Bacchan being the voice of the Amazon Alexa, how could you resist asking, “Alexa play Shava Shava!”
This exponential surge withinside the use of digital assistants has led to purchaser expectations to increase tenfold with users growing accustomed to instructing digital assistants to perform their tasks. Simply shouting, “Google, flip off the lights!” has definitely made everyone’s life easier. The increasing popularity of digital assistants has driven a large number of financial institutions to offer their own voice assistant. These assistants are expected to perform functions including, but not limited to, digital payments through simple voice commands.
Voice payments offer financial institutions an exceptional opportunity to bank on the idea of
creating a brand identity that is unique and gives them an edge in a competitive market. Virtual assistants can be built in keeping with the ideology of institutions and can provide services that are personalised according to the needs and wants of the user. This experience of personalisation in transactions encourages loyalty and paves way for new profitable acquisitions. Features such as saving cards in a wallet and easy payment through UPI definitely making ordering food from Zomato a dream!
ANOTHER STEP IN THE DIGITAL FOOD CHAIN
The heart of the nation is still connected by the reliable and enduring feature phones, which don’t break even if you drop them from two storeys up. For India to emerge as a truly digital economy, a seamless digital payment infrastructure that percolates down to the remotest corners of India is needed, to allow the country to achieve its vision of financial inclusion. As a result, it’s hardly a surprise when the next generation of mobile payments in India has set its eyes on the segment of users loyal to feature phones.
The revolution that was started by the voice-based smart assistants like Siri and Alexa, is now expected to be the flagbearer for the feature phone segment to come aboard the digital payments bandwagon. Financial inclusion for a population that has access primarily to feature phones, has been on the agenda of the private and public stakeholders and with the emergence of having access to voice-based commands to complete payments, this dream has come very close to realisation.
The National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) has started testing voice-based systems for payments via feature phones, especially in areas where internet coverage is scarce. The NCPI, however, is not alone in this endeavour. Companies like ToneTag are utilizing encrypted sound waves to allow proximity-based contactless payments, Paytm has taken digital transactions to a three-step authentication process for SoundBox and the launch of JioPhone by Reliance Ltd. is only going to further help this endeavour to reach its fullest potential.
The rise of voice-based digital payments is set to balance the scales, where digital awareness and literacy would no longer be a restriction and anyone with a phone will have access to digital transactions. India finally has a ticket to the much-awaited train of financial inclusion and it is definitely not missing its chance.
DOES IT WORK?
Just like any other budding technology, voice payments have a set of problems associated with them. The biggest concerns that have caused a hinderance in adoption of voice payments are security and privacy. We do need an added layer of protection so that our sibling doesn’t empty our bank account, don’t we?
Voice assistants have are not skilled enough to deftly identify voices accurately enough to prevent cybertheft. Observations of virtual assistants accidentally offering unauthorised access to payment facilities have also raised concerns. Apparently, Siri likes to shop at Zara too! The absence of an authentication system that leaves absolutely no room for error is being inspected carefully by innovators around the world.
THE FUTURE OF DIGITAL PAYMENTS
With the continuing evolvement in technology, digital assistants are expected to become
increasingly accurate. The virtual assistants are on the way to shun the title of being scripted machines and take up the function of a reactive listener which will anticipate a user’s needs and offer the most appropriate recommendations. Let’s hope that we find an assistant as good as Samantha in Her. Some of the features that have already rolled out are:
• Google’s expansion into the payment sector, led by its company Google Pay, is betting big on
India’s digital payment revolution. The company will be rolling out a ‘speech-to-text’ feature
for Indian consumers, offering them the ability to use voice input to transfer funds directly
to another user’s bank account.
• ToneTag, a fintech giant, has partnered with Amazon to develop technology that can complete
transactions via means such as narrating instructions to the television or orally placing an order
• ICICI bank announced its integration of AI-powered multi-channel chatbot and Google
Assistant to allow its retail banking customers to undertake a plethora of banking services
with just a voice command.
• Axis bank has started providing its customers with voice payment services through Amazon
Alexa. It provides customers access to multiple banking services by a simple voice command.
All in all, the voice payments system seems to be heading towards advancement beyond our
comprehension and is expected to change the face of the financial services offerings around the world.
“Alexa, roll the credits!”