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App review: Plum

When I reviewed Cleo a few weeks ago, I also came across Plum. Plum describes itself as “your personal savings” assistant and lives in Facebook Messenger.

How did Plum come to my attention?  I came across Plum whilst reviewing Cleo, another virtual savings assistant. I then spoke to Victor Trokoudes, co-founder and CEO of Plum, who gave me a first introduction to Plum.

My quick summary of Plum (before using it) – I expect Plum to not only monitor my spending and saving habits, but to also do my saving for me and transfer savings directly to a savings account of my choosing.

How does Plum explain itself in the first minute? – From the headline to smaller print on the landing screen, it’s apparent that Plum is all about saving, helping me to save. Plum “monitors your daily spending and automagically sets money aside for you.”

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Getting started, what’s the process like?  After I’ve clicked on the “Sign up for free” button, I’m taken to Facebook Messenger where I see a landing page that explains about Plum; “I’m a robot. I was built to help you save money so you don’t have to worry about it.”

At this stage, I’m not entirely sure about how exactly Plum will help me to save money, but I decide to click on the “Get Started” button to find out.

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On the next screen, I’m presented with the choice between signing up and learning how Plum works. I decide to do the latter and click on “How it works”.

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And I’m pleased that I asked the Plum bot to explain how it all works, because I like the response that I get in return:

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I now feel more confident about how Plum works and how it can help me with saving money, so I decide to click on “Sign up”. After entering my email address, the Plum bot asks me for some more information to complete my setup. After clicking on the “Complete setup” button, I’m taken to separate page where I can enter my personal details.

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After I’ve entered my personal details, the next step is for me to link my bank account to Plum. I like how Plum is keeping me posted on progress by striking through the previous two steps of the onboarding process. There’s copy there to assure me that my bank login details will be treated securely by Plum; making it clear that Plum “will never, ever store it (my bank login, MA) on our system.”

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Did Plum deliver on my expectations? – Once I’ve managed to sync my bank account info, and have completed my Plum set up, the app starts helping me to save money. For me, Plum’s biggest draw is that I can add money to my Plum savings. Plum tells me how much of my cash is still available for withdrawal, and prompts to me decide on how much money I’d like to set aside.
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Similar to the standard account and transaction info that your traditional bank offers, Plum provides a neat overview of my monthly and total savings, and I can see my most recent transactions at a single glance. Ultimately, I feel I can only truly answer the question about Plum delivering on my expectations once why I’ve achieved a specific savings goal. In the meantime, I feel that Plum does offer a pretty smooth onboarding journey and a clear path to actually saving money. If you’re struggling to save or understanding how much you can save in the first place, definitely worth checking out Plum and start setting money aside!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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App review: Cleo

I wrote about virtual assistants a few weeks ago, which made me realise that I hadn’t yet explored Cleo in more detail. Cleo is a virtual assistant that I believe can help me save money. However, my knowledge of Cleo ends there, so let’s have a closer look at Cleo and its onboarding process:

  1. How did Cleo come to my attention? – I came across Cleo a few months ago as I was looking at so-called ‘robo advisers’ like Betterment and Nutmeg.
  2. My quick summary of Cleo (before using it)? – When you search for Cleo, Google will tell you that it’s an “Intelligent assistant that helps you save money”. I therefore expect a virtual assistant that will give me a better view of my expenses and gives me tips on how to spend less. I expect an app that’s highly personalised, aiming to making saving fun. I guess a bit similar to Qapital, an app that I reviewed a few months ago.
  3. How does Cleo explain itself in the first minute? – I like how how the homepage of https://meetcleo.com/ talks about Cleo being “The simplest way to manage your money” (see Fig. 1 below). The page also mentions “bank level security” although I must admit that I’m not entirely sure what that means in the context of Cleo.
  4. Getting started, what’s the process like (1)? – Cleo’s onboarding process feels very intuitive and easy, particularly the part where Cleo syncs with my bank account (see Fig. 3 below). The messaging about how Cleo will treat my current account data instills trust and is clear, even to the point where I get a text from Cleo to say that banks are a bit slow when it comes to synching (see Fig. 8 below). However, when I’m asked to set my monthly income, I’m not sure what purpose this will serve and how I’ll benefit from sharing this data with Cleo (see Fig. 4 below).
  5. Getting started, what’s the process like (2)? – The simplicity of the onboarding process is reinforced by the text messages that I’m getting from Cleo on my mobile whilst onboarding on my laptop (see Fig. 8 below).
  6. Did Cleo deliver on my expectations (1) – After completing my onboarding with Cleo, I get a pretty comprehensive overview of my bills and spending (see Fig. 7 below). Perhaps I hadn’t fully set my own expectations when signing up with Cleo, but I’m left with a faint feeling of disappointment, expecting to receive more insights around my spending patterns or be able to ask Cleo specific questions about my balance. For example, when I ask Cleo about how to best increase my balance, she refers me to the generic balance call to action which she’d shared with me 3 seconds prior in the same exchange on Facebook Messenger (see Fig. 10 below).
  7. Did Cleo deliver on my expectations (2) – Some of the machine learning parts that underpin Cleo feel like they’re working pretty well, and getting started with Cleo felt very seamless and self-explanatory. I’m, however, keen to see how Cleo will develop further over the coming months, in becoming truly ‘intelligent’ about my spending habits and ways for me to save money.

 

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Fig. 1 – Screenshot of the homepage of https://meetcleo.com/

 

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Fig. 2 – Screenshot of the first step of the Cleo sign-up flow

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Fig. 3 – Screenshot of the second step of the Cleo sign-up flow

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Fig. 4 – Syncing a bank account with Cleo

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Fig. 5 – Screenshot of setting a monthly income in Cleo

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Fig. 6 – Screenshots of the workflow around adding bills

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Fig. 7 – Screenshot of the ‘outputs’ of the info entered into Cleo

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Fig. 8 – Text updates from Cleo throughout the onboarding process

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Fig. 9 – Chat message from Barney, CEO and Co-Founder of Cleo

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Fig. 10 – Chatting with Cleo through Facebook Messenger

 
 

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Some good conversational UI examples to learn from

It was Dennis Mortensen – CEO/Founder of x.ai – who made me aware a few years ago of the concept of ‘invisible interfaces’. He talked about applications no longer needing a graphical user interface (GUI), taking “Amy” – x.ai’s virtual personal assistant as a good example (see Fig. 1 below).

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Fig. 1 – Amy, x.ai’s virtual assistant – Taken from: http://www.agilenetnyc.com/business/x-ai/

Since then, I’ve been keeping more of an eye out for bots and virtual assistants, which can run on Slack, WeChat, Facebook Messenger or Amazon Echo. Like “Amy” these applications can be driven entirely by complex machine learning algorithms, or can be more ‘smoke and mirrors’ and operated entirely by humans. Let’s just have a look at some relevant examples to illustrate where I think some of these virtual assistants and chatbots are heading.

Example 1 – Nordstrom Chatbot and Operator offering personalised discovery:

US based Nordstrom recently launched its first chatbot for the 2016 holiday season. If you’re already on Facebook Messenger or Kik, Nordstrom’s virtual assistant is only a click away. Users who engage with Nordstrom’s bot will be asked a number of questions about who they’re shopping for. The bot will then respond with bespoke gift suggestions based on the user’s responses.

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Fig. 2 – Nordstrom Chatbot – Taken from: https://chatbotsmagazine.com/the-complete-beginner-s-guide-to-chatbots-8280b7b906ca#.l5e2i887r

You can get a similar experience using Operator, which is driven entirely by human experts who’ll provide you with personalised advice on what to buy (see Fig. 3 below).

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Fig. 3 – Operator’s experts providing tailored advice to its users – Taken from: https://www.operator.com/

Example 2 – KLM sharing flight information via Facebook Messenger:

KLM, the well known international airline, now enables customer to receive their flight documentation via Facebook Messenger. After booking a flight on KLM’s website, customers can choose to receive their booking confirmation, check-in details, boarding pass and flight status updates via Messenger. It’s built on a Messenger plug-in which customers only have to enable in order to receive ‘personalised’ messages from KLM (see Fig. 4 below).

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Fig. 4 – Screenshot of KLM’s Messenger app – Taken from: https://messenger.klm.com/

Example 3 – Telegram using buttons for discovery and shortcuts:

As much as it’s great to have a very simple ‘single purpose’ conversational user interface, there are messenger apps and virtual assistants out there that do offer user functionality that works better with buttons to click. A good example is the Telegram app, which has buttons for specific actions and shortcuts (see Fig. 5 below).

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Fig. 5   – Screenshot of the buttons in Telegram’s messenger app – Taken from: http://alistapart.com/article/all-talk-and-no-buttons-the-conversational-ui

Main learning point: I’ll no doubt learn more about conversational user interfaces over the coming months and years, but looking at simple examples like x.ai, Nordstrom’s Chatbot, Operator, Telegram and KLM’s Messenger feels like a very good starting point!

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://alistapart.com/article/all-talk-and-no-buttons-the-conversational-ui
  2. https://uxdesign.cc/10-links-to-get-started-with-conversational-ui-and-chatbots-3c0920ef4723#.yqpfdz5re
  3. https://chatbotsmagazine.com/the-complete-beginner-s-guide-to-chatbots-8280b7b906ca#.l5e2i887r
  4. http://www.geekwire.com/2016/new-nordstrom-mobile-chat-bot-ready-help-shoppers-find-perfect-holiday-gift/
  5. https://www.techinasia.com/talk/complete-beginners-guide-chatbots
  6. https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/07/conversational-interfaces-where-are-we-today-where-are-we-heading/
  7. http://www.theverge.com/2016/3/30/11331168/klm-facebook-messenger-boarding-pass-chat-integration
  8. https://messenger.klm.com/
  9. https://www.operator.com/
 

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App review – Qapital

As my readers might know by now, I’m always on the lookout for new apps or any other technology innovations that provide a simple but great customer experience. I think I’ve found another one in Qapital, an app that enables people to “Save small” and Live large.” The app lets people make small savings in an automated fashion. Qapital makes it easy to create (1) saving goals and (2) set up rules to trigger deposits into one’s Qapital account (see Fig. 1 below).

Fig. 1 – Qapital user interfaces – Taken from: https://letstalkpayments.com/keep-lookout-amazing-pfm-app/

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These are the main components of the Qapital app:

  1. Choose a Goal – User can set monetary Goals through the Qapital app. Unfortunately, the Qapital app isn’t available in the UK yet, so I couldn’t set up a Goal through the app. However, once you download the Qapital app, users can set their own saving goal or select one of Qapital’s pre-selected goals.
  2. Create a Rule – Qapital users can create Rules to managing their saving habits. Rules are events that trigger the Qapial app to transfer money fro a user’s linked account to their Qapital account. For example, if you find yourself spending a lot of money on guilty pleasures like tech gadgets or trendy trainers, you can set up your own “Guilty Please Rule” (see Fig. 2 – 3 below).
  3. Connect to IFTTT – Users can link their Qapital account to their everyday (online) activities through IFTTT. IFTTT is a free web-based services that enables users to create “recipes”, which are simple conditional “If This Then That” statements. These statements are triggered based on changes in services such Gmail, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest (see Fig. 4 below).

Main learning point: I love how Qapital encourages people to save and makes it very easy to do so! Call it gamification or jusr great user experience, Qapital has created a very compelling proposition and product in my view.

Fig. 2 – Screenshot saving Rules on Qapital’s app – Taken from: http://www.tested.com/tech/android/564019-google-play-app-roundup-qapital-dub-dash-and-evo-explores/

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Fig. 3 – Rules that users can create on Qapital – Taken from: https://www.qapital.com/how-it-works

  • The guilty pleasure rule – This Rule has been design to help users curb their spending habits. If you feel that you really gotta have it, you can create a Rule to save a set amount when you give in to your guilty pleasure.
  • The spend less rule – Users can decide on a cap for how much they want to spend in one place, and they can then challenge themselves to spend less than that. When you come in under budget, the remaining amount is automatically to sent to a user’s Goal.
  • The roundup rule –  This Rile lets users round up their change every time they make a purchase with their card linked to their Qapital account. Qapital’s average user saves $44 each month with this Rule.

Fig. 4 – Connecting users’ Qapital accounts to their online actvities – Taken from: https://ifttt.com/p/qapital/shared

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Related links for further learning: 

  1. http://www.advisoryhq.com/articles/qapital-review/
  2. https://ifttt.com/p/qapital/shared
  3. https://ifttt.com/qapital
  4. http://www.ourfreakingbudget.com/qapital-app-review/
  5. http://www.americanbanker.com/news/bank-technology/can-mobile-apps-prod-millennials-to-save-this-startup-thinks-so-1073121-1.html
 
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Posted by on October 26, 2016 in FinTech, Gamification, Mobile, User Experience

 

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App review: Abra

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The main reason why I’m excited about Abra – a US-based peer-to-peer payments startup – is that people become tellers or ‘human ATMs’ who expense cash at hand to the recipient. The Philippines is a key target market for Abra, and it facilitates seamless payments between residents of the US and the Philippines.

Recent stats show that about two-thirds of the adult Philippine population is still unbanked. Currently, Filipinos will have to go to a local exchange ‘business’ (often a one-man band or small operation that does foreign exchange as one of its activities), fill out paper forms to send or receive money abroad. This can be very time-consuming, costly or unreliable.

Abra’s mission is to change all this and make cross-border peer-to-peer payments as easy and seamless as possible. This is how they do it:

  1. Deposit money into the Abra app – Users can deposit money into the Abra app either via a linked bank account, or by using Abra’s network of Abra Tellers, which are like human ATM machines (see Fig. 1 below). Each Teller will set their own fee with the customer, after which the Teller and the customer will meet up in person to accept a cash deposit and credit the customer’s account with funds (or vice versa, if the user wants to cash out) (see Fig. 2 below).
  2. Convert into Bitcoins – After a user’s account is credited with the necessary funds, the money is instantly converted to bitcoin behind the scenes, but still denominated in a traditional currency. What I like about Abra is that it doesn’t really talk that much on its website or its other comms about using bitcoins to underpin these payments. Abra, however, does use bitcoins and shared ledgers to facilitate peer-to-peer transactions without the need for an intermediary.
  3. Send and withdraw money – Customers can use the Abra app to send and withdraw money, or buy things online where Abra is accepted by the seller. The company generates revenue by charging a .25 percent fee to a customer upon transacting with an Abra Teller.
  4. You don’t need a bank account – One of the key upsides of Abra in my opinion, is that you don’t need to have a bank account to do a transaction through the platform. Competitors like Simple and Venmo still require users to add their bank accounts, whereas Abra let’s people transact without the need for a bank account.

Main learning: I’m really excited about innovations like Abra; using bitcoins and blockchain technology to solve a real-world problem and enabling unbanked people transact easily and cheaply.

Fig. 1 – Add money through Abra – Taken from: http://fintechranking.com/2015/03/05/why-we-started-abra/

 

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Fig. 2 – Finding and engaging with Abra Tellers – Taken from: https://techcrunch.com/2015/09/10/abra-raises-12m-in-series-a-funding-for-its-bitcoin-based-remittance-service/ 

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Related links for further learning: 

  1. https://www.goabra.com/
  2. https://www.goabra.com/blog/were-live-in-the-us-and-other-updates/
  3. http://www.coindesk.com/abra-remittance-app-us-launch/
  4. https://www.finextra.com/pressarticle/65114/bitcoin-remittance-app-from-abra-goes-live-in-the-us
  5. http://uk.businessinsider.com/mobile-payment-company-abra-launches-with-blockchain-technology-in-us-2016-6
  6. http://techcrunch.com/2015/09/10/abra-raises-12m-in-series-a-funding-for-its-bitcoin-based-remittance-service/
  7. https://www.reddit.com/r/Buttcoin/comments/4qq794/can_someone_explain_to_me_how_abra_tellers_are/
  8. https://www.mybanktracker.com/news/new-startup-to-be-uber-of-banks-abra-turns-everyday-people-into-atms
  9. http://money.cnn.com/2015/06/08/technology/abra-bank/
 

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App review: PayKey

I recently came across PayKey and have been intrigued since in the combination between banking and social media. PayKey’s vision is “to make payments in all social chat possible.” To this end, PayKey provides a secure payment keyboard which people can use when they’re in a social network of choice (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Twitter, etc. – see Fig. 1 below).

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Fig. 1 – PayKey Startup Pitch at the Mobile Monetisation Summit 2015 – Taken from: http://www.slideshare.net/IsraelMobileSummit/paykey-startup-pitch-at-the-mobile-moentization-summit-2015-startup-contest

The first step is for users to include payment functions in your keyboard.

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As soon, as you’ve included the payment capability, you start the payment flow within the messaging service. This enables you to pay to any people within your social network on the messenger service of choice.

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The penultimate step involves choosing an account to send to a contact, setting limits that work for you.

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Once you authorise the payment, the specified amount will be sent. The authentication that takes place here is one of the critical components of PayKey. PayKey is linked to existing bank payment systems, which means no changes to their current security practices. In addition, users can also choose a unique identifier (e.g. Twitter account detail) to connect with their bank account, making it easier to connect with your bank account.

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Main learning point: Companies like PayKey are making the experience around making payments a lot more intuitive. Instead of relying on customers to go where their banks are, PayKey enables customers to connect with banks where a lot of their daily interactions already take place – social networks and messenger apps. Don’t be surprised if Facebook launches a very similar service soon!

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://www.cbronline.com/news/verticals/finance/fintech-profile-paykey-enables-payments-within-any-social-network-4857108
  2. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/wired-money-2016-startup-stage-digital-banks
  3. http://www.centrodeinnovacionbbva.com/en/blogs/blog-talents/post/paykey-proposition-tailored-help-banks-remain-competitive-current
  4. https://www.paykey.me/#/vision
 
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Posted by on September 20, 2016 in FinTech, Mobile, Online Trends, Social Media, Startups

 

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Voice-enabled security and payments

I know I’m slightly late to the game when it comes to voice recognition technology, but I was intrigued when I came across a mobile banking app by Dutch bank ING, which they launched about a year ago. This app uses a voice enabled security and payments system, which makes it possible for its clients to check their balance or make mobile payments using their voice. In order to log in, users will have to say a short phrase which the banking app then matches to a sound file stored on the user’s phone.

The underlying claim here is that the shape of a user’s vocal cavities and the way a user moves her mouth means that speech can be more unique than a fingerprint. Nuance, a US based biometrics company, has developed technology that analyses a user’s voice “for hundreds of unique characteristics that are then compared to the voiceprint on file.”

 

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Instead of having to remember 15,000 different passwords or related security questions – you should be able to tell my frustration with existing security measures here – Nuance aims to do away with all this by matching the user’s voice to a stored voiceprint. This can be either passively, whereby the user can say anything to enable the matching or actively, whereby the user is asked to recite a specific passphrase. As a result, authentication should become a lot easier and less stressful for the user.

From the perspective of a bank like ING or any other company, voice-based security mitigates the risks inherent in knowledge-based security. Four-digit PINs or event digital fingerprints can be easily compromised, for example when a person is attacked. Passwords and security questions can be successfully answered with simple web searches of the account holder.

In contrast, it’s much harder to compromise voice biometrics. A voiceprint is a hashed string of numbers and characters, which means that it’s pretty meaningless to a fraudster. Even more so, each time a hacker tries to speak with a call centre or a mobile app, their own voiceprint will be left behind which can then be used to proactively keep them out of the system.

Thinking of mobile payment giants like WeChat (see Fig. 1) and M-Pesa (see Fig. 2) and the rapid raise of in-app payments, I can see voice-based see voice based technology taking great a great flight over the coming years.

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Fig. 1 – WeChat screenshot – Taken from: http://www.digitalstrategyconsulting.com/intelligence/2014/08/wechat_adds_virtual_payments_to_messaging_app.php

 

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Fig. 2 – “How to get started with M-Pesa” – Taken from: https://www.vodacom.co.tz/mpesa/consumers/getting_started

Main learning point: I know that voice recognition isn’t yet where it needs to be in certain cases, but I can see how voice-enabled security and payments can provide a secure and seamless user experience, especially compared to issues related to the current knowledge based approach to passwords and security.

Related links for further learning:

  1. http://news.sky.com/story/make-mobile-payments-using-your-voice-10351022
  2. http://www.nuance.com/for-business/customer-service-solutions/voice-biometrics/index.htm
  3. http://www.techweekeurope.co.uk/mobility/mobile-apps/ing-netherlands-voice-password-nuance-173717
  4. http://www.cnet.com/news/google-wants-to-help-you-manage-your-passwords/
  5. http://www.ing.com/Newsroom/All-news/NW/Do-you-want-to-transfer-money-Just-say-it-out-loud.htm
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interactive_voice_response
  7. https://techcrunch.com/2016/03/17/messaging-app-wechat-is-becoming-a-mobile-payment-giant-in-china/
 
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Posted by on August 7, 2016 in FinTech, Mobile, Technology

 

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