Giving a voice to Premium Bonds: How NS&I came to create an Alexa Skill

Amazon Alexa Echo Dot
Lorna Kujawa, Assistant Retail Director at NS&I, and Ben Murphy, Director of Digital and Innovation at Atos UK & Ireland, write about how we came together to become one of the first financial organisations in the UK to use voice technology on Alexa.

Lorna Kujawa and Ben Murphy

At NS&I, we are continually improving the service to our customers and making use of new channels to help them wherever they are. This is driven by customer feedback, our insights and where we can see customers using other services to manage their lives.

The excitement of checking the monthly prize draw creates a huge demand among our customers – has ERNIE been kind to them this month?

Android

Android

In fact, every month 1.5 million customers choose to check if they are a lucky winner through the website prize checker, and there are over 1.5 million more checks made via our free mobile app.

“Alexa, ask Premium Bonds have I won this month?”

ERNIE’s looking (and for the first time ever, sounding) a little different. The past six months have been a very exciting time for ERNIE’s upgrade. We’re not talking just a haircut and splash of make-up.

Learn more about voice technology for checking your Premium Bonds prizes

ERNIE has been enhanced to do the equivalent of rolling dice but with subatomic particles. And, for the first time, through Alexa, Premium Bonds has a voice. It can now tell you:

  • whether or not you have won a prize each month;
  • how much;
  • when the next prize draw is; and
  • if you have any unclaimed prizes.

How we gave a voice to Premium Bonds

Reaching this achievement has been very exciting. It’s been a real coming together of different skills, from different organisations and nationalities with a shared goal of making the checking of Premium Bonds easier and more fun.

We’re doing this with modern technologies: through the Amazon Alexa and state-of-the-art technology that allows ERNIE to make use of quantum mechanics in the random generation of numbers, and keeps the machine increasingly safe.

ERNIE 5 Premium Bonds random number generating chip

Read more about the technology behind the Power of Premium Bonds

Not only that, we are working in new ways, adopting Agile development and cross functional squads that are delivering customer focused change fast.

The NS&I/Atos team that worked on this spent a huge amount of effort making sure they got something that is right and offers opportunity for progression.

Talking your language

If you consider your interaction with a mobile phone app, you’re forced to interact in the language the device understands; you can only click an “OK” button in one way.

Speaking with an Alexa is communication in its purest form: you can say “yes” in several ways.

Variants in language and the interpretation of what is actually being asked had to be taken into consideration when the team designed the Alexa skill as well as those ‘unhappy paths’, where Alexa can’t quite determine what you’ve said or what you want to do.

Being where our customers are

But, why are we doing this? Ownership of voice activated speakers has seen a 100%+ growth in less than a year and now more than 10% of people in the UK own one, and growth is expected to continue.

Not only is ownership growing, it is particularly engaging for two key groups for NS&I.

We are keen that our younger customers engage with us and understand the savings they have, to help them form healthy savings habits for life.

Also, we are proactively making it easier for vulnerable customers to access services. Digital Assistants are being used by people with limited dexterity and sight impairments, as a simple way to access information and services online using only their voice – and now they can also check their Premium Bond prizes.

At NS&I we are really excited and proud of this latest delivery with our partners Atos. The partnership has led the way in releasing one of the first financial services apps openly available in the UK on Alexa.

We really see this as progressing into technology that customers use regularly, and by doing so, hope to continually inspire people to invest with us.