4 tech innovations that shouldn’t make you shiver

Every time a new technological concept appears, somebody, somewhere (probably Tech Crunch) tells us it heralds the coming of a new age. That there’s a revolution on the horizon and disruption is imminent.

Much of our understanding of technology is shaped by the media, by books, television, and film. We hold an almost morbid fascination for tech advances. With each potentially massive shift in what our computers or phones can do, there’s a flurry of anxiety – will these changes put us at risk; how will they impact the way we live; will they harm our wallets, relationships or privacy; are they helping us or putting us in danger?

Such questions are nothing new. Throughout history, technology has been intertwined with supernatural phenomena. Cameras were associated with spectral sightings, telephones with communication with the dead; during the 1980s, fear of the rise of personal computers was so strong in the US that they coined the term computerphobia.

Yet half of what was once science fiction is now real life. Technology is progressing at such a rate that even though we may be used to ‘ghost in the shell’ stories, we can’t help but sense the uncanny in some of its advances. And given more contemporary dystopian visions for our future now appear on screen (Black Mirror, Mr Robot) what’s happening IRL (cybercrime, big data breaches, DDoS hacks), it’s not that surprising that many of us have the jitters about what tech can do (or maybe able to do) in the future.

Therefore, we undertook some highly scientific research of our own (fine, we used Twitter) to figure out how and why some innovations make our skin crawl whilst other tech seems about as scary as a Tim Burton movie.

Selfie Pay & Biometrics

Ever dreamt of a world where you could verify your latest Lidl shop with a selfie? No, doesn’t seem like many of us have. But payment technologists believe it’s going to take off. Recently, MasterCard announced that it was rolling out 'Identity Check Mobile' globally from 2017. Likewise Google’s Hands Free system operates on a similar assumption that people would prefer to wink into a camera than rummage for a card in order to pay.

However, only 15% of respondents suggested they’d be absolutely happy with selfie security whilst over a third agreed they’d rather not use it for banking purposes.

So what makes people hesitate?

If you’ve ever used Facebook’s tag-friends option then you’re already using a form of biometrics. If you have a phone with fingerprint recognition then you’re using a form of biometrics. Yet we have no end of gory representations in film where biometrics go wrong (think Minority Report) or real life ‘hacks’ such as Starbug’s in 2013.

However, in reality, biometrics may indeed be more secure than traditional methods. Underlying them are sophisticated authentication processes – including checking that your hand print has a pulse or making your selfie wink so photos can’t be used instead of your actual face. This may assuage some of the fears of the 48% respondents concerned with security or having two-step verification.

Questions regarding privacy remain – and complex algorithms that store biometric data may provide the answer to some of this – but what’s clear is ‘selfies’ have a lot of PR work ahead if they’re to be fully accepted as a secure means of paying.

Artificial Intelligence

Talking of PR – artificial intelligence has done a pretty good job of beating back its negative reputation (selfie pay could learn a lesson).

Nearly half of our respondents thought AI would help transform banking for the better, with only 9% thinking it could be dangerous. This is despite common narratives suggesting machine are out to get us (ie. Hal in 2001: Space Odyssey) or waiting to take over (as in The Matrix). AI technologists have done a great job at emphasising the benefits over the risks.

AI may have given rise to headlines about job takeovers and definitions of ‘machine ethics’ but when it comes to finance, wealth management chatbots and roboadvisors are taking over. Aimed at younger professionals, new investors, and savvy savers, chatbots like Cleo and Insurify are second nature for a generation who grew up with MSN’s Smarterchild.

So as digital banks like Starling (that’s us) combine machine learning with data to give users insights into their life and money wellbeing, many people feel ready for it.

There are snags in the technology – in 2012 US market maker Knight Capital lost over $400m (£261m) in 30 minutes because of a computer glitch. But it is getting there.

Social media

In China, WeChat is one of the biggest payment apps in the market. Figures place it on par with PayPal and Alipay, the service controlled by Alibaba’s $60bn-valued payment affiliate.

WeChat is also the number one chat tool with up to 697m monthly active users worldwide, adding close to 200m to that figure since 2015.

This is where it gets interesting.

WeChat has become something of a bellweather for mobile messaging innovation. Now it looks like the tool has heralded a new era of peer-to-peer payments via social media.

Sentiment, however, is out according to our poll. There’s an almost even split between people keen for social media payments (33%) to those who’d rather keep social separate from money (30%).

Facebook, which introduced their Marketplace (a space predominantly selling new polymer fivers as far as I can tell) and announced their Messenger will now allow PayPal payments, therefore has a job to do winning people over. Especially when people like me balk at the idea of Facebook having access to my receipts. On the other hand, as a fan of all things Venmo, I’m less reluctant about having payment integrations with apps like WhatsApp.

It’s not that people don’t trust social media (only 9% thought it was problematic in this sense). It seems to be a cultural shift that needs to take place. Social media is about sharing. Not paying. Combatting that attitude is the challenge for those wanting to compete with WeChat.

Cybersecurity & Current Accounts

And this brings us neatly round to our last bit of insight.

Following the DDoS attack that broke the internet (no thanks to Kim Kardashian), we wanted to find out what made people more nervous: checking their bank balance at the end of the month or cybersecurity.

Personally, I hate checking my bank balance. Looking at what I don’t have in my account isn’t pleasant. Add things like overdraft fees and we’re getting into a real life horror story.

But who over the age of 21, doesn’t remember the reticence that first accompanied online and mobile banking? And whilst we’ve moved passed that point, cybersecurity remains constantly on our minds.

Everyone knows someone who’s been defrauded. Banks and card companies may have prevented 7 in 10 attempts at fraud in 2015, but high profile breaches happen with alarming regularity. No wonder, then, that 38% of responders said fraud scared them the most. Narrowly pipping the end-of-the-month nerves, it’s clear that a sense of safety and security around mobile and digital offerings remains paramount.

At Starling we’re using tech to take the fear out of banking.

We believe everyone should feel secure. That innovation shouldn’t come mired in anxieties. That tech aiming to help people – like selfie pay or AI – should be a boon not a bump in the night.

So join us. Sign-up to the Starling community to find out how you can take the horror out of your banking experience, and be one of the first to have a spook-free Starling account.