Voice Recognition Eases Call-In Trading

BOSTON (05/20/2000) - DLJdirect Inc. last week became the latest online brokerage to jump on the voice-recognition bandwagon. The company signed a deal with Boston-based SpeechWorks International Inc., one of the two major software players in voice recognition.

DLJdirect, a subsidiary of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Inc. in New York, plans to roll out within the next few months an interactive voice response system to replace the existing "press 1 to buy a stock" system with a self-learning, natural-language capability, said DLJ direct CIO Suresh Kumar.

The system will let a buyer call and say, "I want to buy 100 shares of company stock." The software will repeat the order and process the transaction.

Customers can already place trades, get account data and look up market informationby phone through a series of menu prompts.

"The new system will do exactly the same thing, except that you won't have to go through complex menus using the touch-tone telephone," Kumar said. "It'll make it a lot easier than what we have today."

A Good Match

Brokerage services are a perfect fit for voice-recognition technology, said Stuart Patterson, president and CEO of SpeechWorks. People buying and selling stock use a vocabulary too varied for easy access through menus and touch pads but small enough for software to process in real time, he said.

Other brokerages - including Charles Schwab & Co., Fidelity Investments and TD Waterhouse Group Inc. - also offer voice-recognition features, though their vendoris Nuance Communications in Menlo Park, California.

At DLJdirect, Kumar said the number of calls routed to the customer service department should drop from a quarter of all calls to less than one-tenth once the new voice features are added. That is desirable to brokerages because market volatility means that the call centers are often either overstaffed or understaffed.

Within the next few years, voice recognition is expected to spread to all automated phone answering systems, said Bill Hills, an analyst at Boston-based Aberdeen Group Inc. The main holdup is price and ease of installation - and the major vendors are working on both of these issues, Hills said.

The installation of a SpeechWorks system can take as little as three weeks, said Patterson.

"If there's a Web site, the whole process is, generally speaking, easier," he said. "We can reuse 80% to 90% of that infrastructure. But even connecting to the back end, if it's one simple order status check, can also be quick."

Pricing ranges from $100,000 to millions of dollars, he added, but prepackaged systems run as little as $40,000.

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More about Aberdeen GroupCharles SchwabDLJdirectFidelity InvestmentsNuance Communications AustraliaSchwabSpeechWorksSpeechWorks InternationalTD Waterhouse

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