Amazon’s Alexa May Soon Be Able to Pay Your Bills

June 27, 2016, 11:30 AM UTC
JPMorgan Plans Bond Offering As Spreads Expand To Most In 2011
Citigroup Inc. signage is displayed outside of a bank branch in New York, U.S., on Monday, June 20, 2011.
Photograph by Robert Caplin— Bloomberg via Getty Images

Alexa, the Amazon (AMZN) Echo’s virtual assistant, may soon be able to pay your rent.

Citigroup (C) is testing Amazon’s voice recognition technology as part of an upgrade to its mobile banking app. Another gee-whiz feature that Citi is planning on adding to it app: the ability to log into your bank account using your face.

Biometrics is one part of larger upgrade of its mobile banking app that Citi is planning on releasing in the fourth quarter. At first, though, the bank is only giving access to the new app to its Citigold customers, before rolling it out to the rest of its customers. Heather Cox, who runs Citi Fintech, said the bank also is close to inking partnerships with a number of fintech start-ups in order to add peer-to-peer payments and other functions to its app. Cox said she was not ready to announce what start-ups Citi might partner with.

But here is perhaps a clue. Cox is a big fan of Square Cash, which she uses to pay her child’s tutor. “The experience has evolved to where she can request cash from me, and all I have to do it click one button and my money is gone to her,” says Cox. “In two clicks they make it so easy to make that payment. The banks have got to figure out how to create that relationship and make it as simple and seamless with my customers.”

The upgrade of the mobile app will be the first major product launch from Citi Fintech, which was formed in November. The division, which acts like a start-up inside the megabank, and Citi’s effort to combat the rise of tech start-ups that are trying to disrupt the banking business—so-called fintechs—is the focus of a feature in the latest issue of Fortune magazine.

(Read also, These are the 5 Hottest Fintech Companies Right Now)

Cox has spent the bulk of her career in lending and working on tech solutions for consumer banking. Before joining Citi she was head of card operations at Capital One, which in March was the first major financial firm to strike a deal with Amazon for Alexa.

But Citi would be the first major bank to incorporate Alexa into its services. And while Capital One allows users to check their balance and pay their credit card bill using Alexa (provided you also have a Capital One bank account), Citi would presumably be able to offer a wider variety of services, including peer-to-peer payments. Citi says it is still testing Alexa, and that the voice assistant is unlikely to be a part of its fourth quarter mobile app upgrade, but the Alexa could be added in later versions.

One feature that will be part of the initial upgrade will be a number of different biometric features that will eliminate the need to enter your password. With the new app customers will be able to sign on using “touch, face, or voice recognition.” Just point your phone at your face and you can get into your account. Cox says Citi has tested to make sure the face scanning technology does not work on dead people, or pictures of faces. “It can detect that it is scanning a live person,” says Cox.

Citi is also working on peer-to-peer payments with anyone, even if they are not a Citi customer, but that may not be available in the bank’s fourth quarter upgrade. Customers will get the ability to pay anyone globally who also has a Citi bank account. Also Citi is looking to integrate its banking functions into social media networks like Facebook and Twitter so you can access your accounting information or do banking functions while on other platforms. “We are piloting a concept where you can be on the network of your choice to communicate with us,” says Cox. She says the goal of the new Citi app is to “become more a part of what you do with your life.”

Wells Fargo (WFC) is also reportedly testing Alexa to incorporate into its offerings. And all the major banks are looking to upgrade their mobile banking offerings. Bank of America (BAC) has budgeted $3 billion for investment in fintech and other new technology initiatives. And BofA is having some success, in the first quarter, the bank says, 163,000 accounts were sold through mobile devices, up 53% verses the same quarter a year ago. The bank also says that its customers logged into their accounts 900 million times during the first quarter.

Citi’s numbers, even before the planning fourth quarter upgrade have been impressive as well. The bank says in the past 12 months the number of customers using its mobile app has risen nearly 24%.

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