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Tech insights: How Programmable Banking Connects Siri and Account Transfers
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How Programmable Banking Connects Siri and Account Transfers

By Shannagh Hare

Hey Siri, make a transfer” has been six years in the making. It now allows users to transfer funds between accounts with a simple voice prompt. Here’s how it works.

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The technology that integrates with Apple’s voice assistant, Siri, has come a long way.

The beginnings

Hennie Spies, Development Manager for Programmable Banking at Investec, had an aha moment during a hackathon in 2016: He realised that voice command could be a viable and valuable future channel for banking transactions.

He was initially looking for an easier way to quickly transfer money between accounts, keeping his money parked in his savings account to attract interest while transferring only the necessary cash to his transactional account.

Thanks to Investec’s transfer API and other technologies, the team has finally merged voice technology with banking payments:

“I was able to finish the project in two hours with the Investec transfer API, something that I struggled with for three 24-hour hackathons without success in the past,” he says.

Hennie believes that voice interfaces will play a significant role in the future as technology catches up with its potential uses.

How it works

Hennie worked the Investec online platform, so Siri could recognise the various accounts under his ID, and specified the nicknames of each, so Siri could discern between the accounts.

Then, he used Shortcuts iOS 15 to do the rest. “The Auth Investec shortcut asks you to input your client ID, and it’s ready to go.”

With the voice prompt feature, the app authenticates against the Investec API, pulls accounts to get the nicknames on the account IDs, and executes a transfer using the voice prompt, “Hey Siri, make a transfer.”

In practice, the conversation between the user and Siri goes something as follows:

Hennie: Hey Siri, make a transfer.

Siri: On it. From which account?

Hennie: Savings.

Siri: To which account?

Hennie: Private bank account.

Siri: How much?

Hennie: R100

Siri: Are you sure you want to transfer R100 from savings to private bank account?

Hennie: Yes.

Siri: Transfer done.

“I wrote a few tests and modularised the shortcuts, including the main shortcut in charge of transfers,” Hennie says. “The Auth Investec one asks you to input your client ID, but from there, it was ready to go,” he says.

The “ask for text” feature in Shortcuts is a powerful function, says Hennie, as it allows you to filter between variables such as numbers, names or currencies, and import the selected input.

The tech stack

  • Transfer capability in Investec’s external API
  • Siri
  • iOS Shortcuts

The Shortcuts app on iOS 15 has improved in leaps and bounds by adding some very useful and interesting features. Up until this latest update, many of these features had been clunky and difficult to use, Hennie explains. However, some of the latest shortcuts remain incompatible with older versions of iOS.

If there are multiple shortcuts, the API will ask you to allow for authorisation between these. For example, if a shortcut calls on another one, it will prompt you for authorisation between each, but this will only be the case the first time you use it.

While Siri is only a feature for Apple users, Google Assistant may be worth looking into for use of voice prompts in Android devices. “From a voice perspective, Llama is definitely more feature-rich than Siri Shortcuts,” says Hennie, but he has yet to confirm how Llama integrates with Google Assistant.

The next step? “The human voice is the most perfect instrument of all,” the 19th century German composer Richard Strauss said. “I really believe that,” Hennie says. “I think voice is a very viable interface going forward. The technology is catching up.”

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If you have questions or just want to say hi to the Programmable Banking Community core team, you can pop us a mail and we will get back to you.

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