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Kristi Nelson
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CIBC Extends Speech Recognition to Bill Payment

CIBC's 2.5 million telephone banking customers can register merchants for bill payment any phone, anywhere, anytime.

Using only their voices, CIBC's more than 2.5 million telephone banking customers can now register merchants for bill payment from any phone, anywhere, anytime. Before the end of the year, the Toronto-based bank will also incorporate speech recognition into bill payment, check reordering, and its branch and bank machine locator service.

"We're the first bank in Canada to introduce speech recognition in banking services," said Janice Wagner, vice president, channel strategy and development at $268 billion CIBC. "Our customers are already choosing to complete 80% of calls using our automated telephone banking service, and this technology allows us to add services that were previously too complex to automate."

Providing a speech interface eliminates the cumbersome and tedious touch-tone entry of longer alphanumeric strings required for some transactions. "Now customers can simply say the name of the bill they want to register, the type of mortgage information they need, or name of the stock they want to trade. It's simple, intuitive and convenient," said Wagner.

CIBC's speech recognition solutions were developed in collaboration with Norstan (integrated telephony solutions), SpeechWorks International (speech recognition software) and InterVoice-Brite (application software platform).

CIBC's discount brokerage service, Investor's Edge, has been using speech recognition technology for about a year. Investor's Edge clients have been able to obtain real-time quotes with an easy-to-use, voice-activated telephone quote service. Using simple voice commands, clients can also place equity trades, review account information and open orders.

CIBC is also getting ready to launch speech recognition technology in its mortgage division, enabling English and French language customers to quickly obtain current mortgage rates and comprehensive information about a specific mortgage.

Two years ago, however, the bank wouldn't have touched the technology. "It's really come a long way," Wagner said. "It's advanced to such a state now that you can provide a good customer experience."

To make sure it would satisfy customer needs in the telephone banking environment, the bank piloted the system for six months last year. That was followed up with customer focus groups and surveys. "We learned a lot before we went full bore and launched the technology as a full national launch," said Wagner.

Gaining that knowledge was one of the bank's biggest challenges. "We're really good at touch-tone IVR, and we know how to make it work for customers," said Wagner. "Speech recognition is a whole new game. It's a much more complex technology than touch-tone because of the speech tuning." In Canada, the system needs to recognize more than 100 different accents to complete transactions. But the technology is so robust that once it has the basics it will continually tune itself, said Wagner.

Since launching the service in May, the bank has already converted bill payment from touch-tone to speech recognition. Bill registration, check reordering and ABM and branch locator service, which in the past required assistance from a sales and service specialist, will be available to customers by the end of October.

Already, adoption rates on the first application are running about 94%, thanks largely to the scripting, which uses user-friendly, natural language. "It's like talking to a human being, even though you're talking to a piece of technology," Wagner said. "Customers are having a blast with it."

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