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April 30, 2001

Voice Technology Perks Up Top Desks: System Lets Pros Stay Ahead in Fast Markets

By Peter Chapman

Both Goldman Sachs and Salomon Brothers worked with UmeVoice on the floor of the NYSE to voice enable certain data-entry tasks at their booths. But the introduction of the superbooths in the 1997-98 period caused those functions to be automated or moved upstairs.'

Despite the setback, Padala says UmeVoice emerged a stronger product. "We have to thank them," he said. "The New York Stock Exchange is very noisy. We invented our [UmeClarity] technology after realizing just how noisy it is."

UmeClarity is the part of the UmeVoice infrastructure' that reduces background noise. Its development has proved critical to the workability of the product. Loud and unmuffled background noise will mingle with a trader's words, confusing and rendering useless voice recognition software.

That problem is especially acute in trading rooms where noise levels can reach 90, or even 100 decibels. A typical office environment operates at 65 decibels.

It was not until around 1998 that voice recognition won brokers' hearts and wallets. That's when Goldman launched UmeVoice's IOI service on its block desk. It's when tiny agency broker Swiss American Securities, a unit of Credit Suisse, chose Ficomp to voice automate its traders' order entry tasks. Swiss American became the only firm to find success with Ficomp's technology.

Ficomp later exited the voice recognition business to focus on systems integration. Now, because of a lack of technical support, Swiss American is phasing the technology out, according to CIO Martin Schwartz.

UmeVoice has the market to itself for now. That doesn't mean speech recognition is an easy sell.

"We don't consider it absolutely necessary," said an executive with a large brokerage. "We left it up to our traders. If any had said they had to have it, we would've put it on their desk. We didn't get a whole lot of demand for it."

Bill Meisel, principal in TMA Associates of Tarzana, Calif., a consultancy that specializes in voice recognition, is not surprised.

"The trader doesn't believe he is getting anything from it," he explained. "They perceive that stuff as being taken care of. Any problems that come up are someone else's problems."

In other words, traders don't see why they should do something already taken care of by their clerks.

Moving Forward

Padala is undeterred. He's promoting UmeVoice in London and says existing clients are requesting additional functions.

UmeVoice isn't just for trade advertisements. It can also be used for order-entry and order routing.

Traditionally, voice recognition in this area had been a hard sell for vendors. That's because traders were scared to use space age technology for such bottom-line critical functions. Advertisements were perceived as safe' though.

None of UmeVoice's customers are using the technology for these advanced features, but Padala says they are all considering it.

"Extensions are being talked about in all directions," he said. "On the desktop, geographically, and into other areas of the firm such as fixed income."