Citigroup walks the talk in Asia with voice recognition

A Citi branch in Beijing. The US group will be the first major bank in Asia to use voice recognition technology instead of passwords for customers to access some services. The technology will be rolled out in Singapore first, followed by Australia, H
A Citi branch in Beijing. The US group will be the first major bank in Asia to use voice recognition technology instead of passwords for customers to access some services. The technology will be rolled out in Singapore first, followed by Australia, Hong Kong, India and Taiwan over the next few months.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG • Citigroup is set to be the first major bank in Asia to roll out voice recognition technology to its retail customers - starting with Singapore - as part of a move to upgrade its Internet and mobile banking offering across the region.

The New York-based bank plans to have at least one million Asian users of the technology within the next 12 months, doing away with cumbersome passwords and speeding up transactions such as money transfers, bill payments and checks on account balances, said Mr Anand Selvakesari, Citigroup's Singapore-based consumer banking head for Asia-Pacific.

"One of the frustrating points for the client is remembering the password and being asked questions multiple times over," he said in an interview last week.

He said Citigroup will roll out the voice recognition technology in Singapore first, followed by Australia, Hong Kong, India and Taiwan over the next few months.

Those markets have the highest proportion of digital banking usage in the region, ranging from 40 per cent to 60 per cent, said Mr James Griffiths, the bank's spokesman.

The growth of Internet and mobile banking means that about 95 per cent of Citigroup's retail banking transactions in the region take place outside the branch network, Mr Selvakesari said.

The US firm cut the number of branches in Asia by 9 per cent to 481 in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to a statement in April. At the same time, it added about one million new digital banking clients, Mr Griffiths said.

Asia contributed about 21 per cent of the group's global consumer banking business by revenue, Citigroup said in the statement.

The new technology will allow Citigroup's Asian customer service division, which receives about 35 million customer calls every year, to cut the average time it takes to validate a client's identity over the phone to 15 seconds, from 45 seconds previously, Mr Selvakesari said. "We're looking forward to this phase of the next two to three years of the whole digital transformation."

Last year, Citigroup introduced voice recognition to its credit card customers in the United States, the bank's first use of the technology. Some 70 per cent of its customers have enrolled, Mr Selvakesari said.

HSBC and Standard Chartered are also looking into the voice recognition services in Asia.

The total revenue of finance biometrics hardware and software will jump to US$2.2 billion (S$3 billion) in 2024 from US$126 million last year, with Asia Pacific being the biggest contributor, according to a forecast by Tractica.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2016, with the headline 'Citigroup walks the talk in Asia with voice recognition'. Print Edition | Subscribe