It was the exciting challenge of creating a product that will revolutionize credit union member experience that drove the team at Central 1 to propose and demo an idea that’s the first of it’s kind to launch in Canadian financial services. And it originated with the development team, not in the board room.

This week, Central 1 is pushing technology forward, with the launch of Canada’s first-to-launch authenticated voice banking service, utilizing Amazon Alexa.

Credit union members will now be able to securely make payments, send money to vendors, transfer money between accounts, and better understand their financial wellness using just their voice.

“We didn’t do this for a reward or recognition,” explains Joe Ocampo, Web Developer. “We wanted to prove to ourselves that we could do something quick without going through hoops corporately. This was a fun project – it didn’t feel like work. The best part was the executive response to the demo, and we could see it was working and it was a good product.”

Working through the 2017 Christmas holidays and in their spare time – in order to not take focus off of priority business projects – the team developed a proof of concept that was enthusiastically received by Central 1 management and clients.

Discussions around emerging technology and the changing demographic of credit union membership got the team originally thinking about what future consumers who are growing up in an AI assisted world will expect as table stakes from their financial institutions.

While banks are currently offering a voice application with general information – such as branch hours and locations – to their customers, Central 1 is the first to launch secure features.

“This is a trend that industry has been looking at for a while, and it resonated with our clients and our team,” says Alexander Chan, Product Manager (and coincidently, one of two “Alex Chans” working on the Alexa project!). “Amazon, Google Home, even Apple has a home pod now. They’re in a lot of households and when we talk to banking customers, we hear that they’re constantly multitasking. This is a solution that offers a balance of convenience and security.”

Looking at the growing adoption of the mobile banking apps, together with Central 1 team’s own banking habits and being self-admitted tech fans, this concept just made sense to create such a solution.

“No financial institution in Canada has this feature yet, and so our team members developed a proof of concept to be ahead of the game with clients’ convenience in mind,” says Roy Patel, Software Test Analyst. “We all have these devices and could visualize what we could make happen with them. The credit unions really liked this and wanted to be the first to have voice activated banking. We felt it was possible and so that was the driving force to make this project happen.”

The development meant leaning into something of a learning curve for the team, taking online knowledge courses, learning how to test it in various environments, and documenting all of the ‘aha’ moments over time.

“It’s a project that really demonstrates Central 1’s core values: courage, collaboration and curiosity,” says Betty Leung, Team Lead, Acting Technical Development. “We were curious to explore a new technology that wasn’t part of our regular work projects; we had to collaborate to do research; and we were courageous in working on a project in our off hours.”

In the spirit of continuous learning and improvement, now that the Alexa skill is launched, the Central 1 team will keep looking for and implementing improvements and additional functionality. The most important thing the team learned during the build?

Says the ‘other’ Alex Chan, Business Analyst, “Anything is possible. There’s nothing that the people here can’t do.”

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