The Customer Effect

How big tech and retail are inspiring consumer innovation at Wells Fargo

  • Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon -- and other retailers like Starbucks -- are "setting the bar" for the banking industry, according to Wells Fargo's Brian Pearce
  • Wells Fargo has released a new “predictive banking” feature that pushes insights based on customer data and more personalized guidance
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How big tech and retail are inspiring consumer innovation at Wells Fargo

In the new world of banking, banks come to their customers — not the other way around.

On Tuesday, Wells Fargo released a new “predictive banking” feature that pushes insights based on customer data and more personalized guidance. It could flag higher-than-normal automatic monthly payments or remind customers to transfer money between accounts to avoid an overdraft fee, for example. It’s similar to how other banks are experimenting with voice capabilities; like USAA and U.S. Bank’s experiments with Alexa skills or Bank of America’s digital assistant erica.

There are currently 50 different prompts a consumer can receive based on past and expected future account activity, and the bank plans to roll the feature out to small business and credit card customers later this year.

Customers have driven the evolution of banking channels from branches to phone banking to ATMs to desktop and mobile apps for the last 100 years, but the next waves of demand aren’t driven by banks and financial services companies anymore — they’re driven by tech companies and retail, according to Brian Pearce, svp for enterprise artificial intelligence at Wells Fargo.

“The companies that are setting the bar for the industry are Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon,” he said. “Those companies dominate our customers’ lives.”

That was part of the inspiration for a small AI-driven experience through Facebook Messenger the bank began piloting last year. Wells let 5,000 customers test the chat experience, through which they could look up their balances and check their activity.

It was around the same time Pearce said that Wells had woken up to how transformational AI could be for its business, and that with the tons and tons of data it stores and protects, it really needed to begin using that information to provide something useful for customer experiences instead of just keeping it.

“When people switch from that Facebook app to the mobile banking app, they’re coming out of a particular experience, set of applications and paradigms of interaction,” Pearce said. “But when it comes to the mobile banking experience, what happens? Is it an abrupt change, are they disappointed? Are there things Facebook is doing or setting the bar on that we should be copying or emulating?”

About midway through 2017 Wells began working with predictive banking technology to generate personalized insights and advice. That followed the launch of Daily Change, an interactive mobile app that encouraged customers to save money. Later in the year it also launched Intuitive Investor, a digital brokerage advisory account and Greenhouse, its sub-branded mobile bank with PFM capabilities built in.

But the competition from other industries happens offline as well, Pearce said.

“We have 6,000 branches. We have a huge retail presence — we’re really a retailer ourselves,” he said, describing how customers come in “every month” and have interactions with tellers that are judged against their other retail experiences.

Pearce cited the Starbucks app’s order-ahead feature as part of the inspiration for cardless ATM access, calling it the bank’s “pilot on an order-ahead experience.”

“We often look at those retailers and think about what does that order ahead experience mean? What would our customers want to order ahead? Are there things we could do to queue up transactions for customers?”

It’s hard to see the value in conversational interfaces, either in chatbot form in apps, in Facebook or through voice assistants, Pearce admitted. But he maintained that Wells is working hard to make sure it evolves in a sophisticated way — beyond just checking balances and account activity — as customers needs and expectations evolve.

“You can speak in your own language,” he said. For example, instead of calling it “account activity,” a banking term, people can one day just say “show me my purchases.”

“It’s really powerful and puts customer back in control.”

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