Speech recognition could help with banking across language barriers

16 January 2007
Recent innovations in technology and software standards could see the world's biggest banks better integrate online.

As voice recognition systems push towards early maturity, speech synthesis protocols developed by the W3C could help improve the quality of banking services across Asia.

Already most of the major banking companies have an extensive internet presence, especially offering services such as internet banking.

However, a common problem for many banks with integrating internet services is that fact that not only do they cover a wide spread of difference countries, but also different languages.

The result is that banking services have to be fractured by geographical and linguistic concerns, which escalates development costs.

If this wasn’t a problem enough, much of the hardware and software technology developed to provide these services remain centred on English-language use, causing potential problems for both established and emergent markets in Asia.

However, recent developments in technology means that usability focused on speech and new protocols for non-English languages could herald a new era on global digital banking.

Voice Recognition

Microsoft are integrating voice recognition technology into their Windows Vista products. The aim is to help distribute and promote voice recognition as a cornerstone of software use.

The benefits of this include better usability, as voice recognition can be used by both able bodied, but also people with special usability needs, such as the blind or those without fingers.

Another key benefit is one of security. In order to fight identity theft and credit card fraud, some US banks are already issuing credit cards with in built voice recognition systems, that require a user to verbally speak a password before the card can be used.

The problem for banks is that voice recognition has been primarily developed for English language use. This means potential issues when trying to integrate non-English language voice recognition services across global markets.

Breaking language barriers

The W3C consortium, the body responsible for setting standards that apply to software use and development for the internet, is extending how speech standards apply across Asian languages in particular.

The standards revolve around Speech Synthesis Markup Language – SSML – which is a voice recognition protocol used in applications such as VoiceXML – a future cornerstone of Microsoft’s Vista and Office applications.

Extra support is now being implemented for character-based languages without natural word spaces, such as Chinese and Japanese. Additional support is also being provided for Hebrew, Arabic, and a range of languages originating on the Indian sub-continent.

The result is that as voice recognition is increasingly brought to use for internet banking, to help improve and safeguard users, so these services can be applied globally, especially in key Asian markets.

Global digital banking of the future

The current developments in technology and software protocols – specifically voice recognition across key language groups – means that in the future banks may not need to roll out different platforms for users in different countries.

Instead of services fractured by regions and languages, the pace of progress means that soon we could find banks able to offer the same service to all users – regardless of their location or first language.

This can only be helpful for reducing costs from having to develop different language platforms for banking services.

In fact, the natural convergence of these technologies and standards is that one day all customers would be able to log into a bank’s services from anywhere in the world.

And simply by talking through their PC, be able to provide and receive information on their account, in a safer and more accessible technological environment – no matter what language they speak.

For a sector that needs to apply solutions globally, this can only be a welcome future for the financial services industry.