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Voice payments to save us from annoying PoS failures in Nigeria soon


One day – very soon – you will walk into Shoprite at Victoria Island or Ikeja or the shopping mall across the street without your bank card or cash, pick up groceries from the shelve and when you get to the cashier, you will whip out your phone and say “Hey Siri (for iPhone users) send N200 bill using (payment service the mall uses)”. The bill is transferred instantly. You can do the same when you order goods from online stores.

That future is not far-fetched, it is already here. Many of us on Android phones are already giving different commands to Google voice assistant. In fact, 63 per cent of Android owners have communicated with a voice assistant on their smartphone.

A research by Juniper expects 93 million smart speakers to be in use by the end of 2019. Globally, 600 million use a voice assistant at least once a week. The popularity of voice assistants is rising and the next frontier looks to be in payment.

Another survey conducted by Transaction Network Services (TNS) found that 26 per cent of respondents in markets across the United States, United Kingdom and Australia who own a voice assistant have used it to make payments.

PayPal is believed to have been the earliest adopter of voice payment when it added integration with Siri to let its users conduct peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions with a simple voice command. Barclays, Santander and the Royal Bank of Canada followed suit in 2017.

Amazon Pay has also set its sights on the market after seeing 5 per cent of internet searches initiated by a voice prompt. The company believes that making it easier for consumers to pay for goods with their voice works to Amazon’s advantage as it removes any barrier to using its service. Customers with Echo devices are already able to purchase goods from the Amazon marketplace by speaking to Alexa – Amazon’s voice assistant.

Voice assistants in payment may be a very new concept for Nigeria’s enterprising tech companies for obvious reasons. There is still a lot of education to be done on the existing online payment models in the country including ATMs, card transactions, Point of Sale (PoS) terminals, electronic transfers, and mobile money wallets.

There are also worries about security around the technology. For instance, 74 per cent of respondents in the TNS survey said that security concerns would stop them from making a payment via a voice assistant. The security concerns arise from the challenge of keeping information private while going through authentication procedures.

Sam Murrant, senior payments analyst at GlobalData a market intelligence firm, said a lot of time is being spent on improving the algorithms that govern voice payments systems.

But, 2019 will not be the year everyone begins to buy clothes on Jumia or with voice assistants but there is likely to be a peak in interest driven by continued difficulties experienced with existing electronic payments channels. The growth will be gradual but it is likely to happen sooner than later. Voice payment development is predicted to move in several directions in the next couple of years.

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