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When you get stuck, you can talk to us’: Albert’s new challenger bank status

  • Through its new checking account, Albert stands out as a challenger bank that promises immediate access to human financial experts.
  • But promising both quality and speed when your service is based on human expertise could be tricky.
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When you get stuck, you can talk to us’: Albert’s new challenger bank status

With so many challenger banks floating into app stores, standing out as a new, fresh digital bank is hard. 

Niching down has been touted as a go-to method for gaining new users. But there are other ways as well.

Albert, a money management platform with investing and budgeting tools, has been gaining momentum in the market through its promise to provide real-life human expertise through texting, as part of its subscription offering Genius. Now, it’s released a checking account called Albert Cash.

Albert Cash offers pretty standard perks -- cashback rewards, no minimum balance or maintenance fees, early paycheck access, a selection of free ATMs, and a debit card.

But combined with Genius, Albert may have an easier time standing out as a newly minted challenger bank. 

“All that stuff is what you'd expect,” said Yinon Ravid, co-founder and CEO of the company. “But what you get here is different as well.” 

At its essence, Genius is a hybrid service that acts as an affordable alternative to financial advisors. 

The AI portion of the service integrates automatically into other tools within the app, like saving and investing.

Albert analyzes spending and income and automatically puts aside money every day or every other day. In terms of investing, it also creates a custom portfolio based on users’ goals and values.

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Then there’s the access to human experts through ‘Ask a Genius’. Users can text Albert’s team of financial experts regarding anything that has to do with their finances. Examples include student loans, credit cards, and budgeting. The experts, called Geniuses, tend to be divided into different teams specializing in different domains. 

Ask a Genius kind of works like a funnel. First, a person's text is processed by a bot to determine what team to direct it to. Once the question reaches the determined team, a team member asks some preliminary questions to understand more about what this user is looking for and get any additional relevant information. If the question is highly specific and requires even more specialized expertise, the person is referred down the path to the more appropriate expert.

Albert’s Geniuses are trained in-house, with different training programs geared at different topics. Having financial training or licenses also isn’t a prerequisite. 

Finally, users can choose how much they want to pay for the Genius tool -- ranging from $4 to $14.

“The monthly fee is what you think is fair, with a minimum of four bucks,” said Ravid. “And that's all very affordable and accessible. It's sort of who we are as a product,” said Ravid.

In terms of offering access to human experts, Albert appears to be relatively unique. Other companies in the challenger space seem to take different approaches, including chatbots and doubling down on their sites’ content. 

For example, Better Financial, which focuses on helping users through financial shocks, has a virtual assistant called AI Lily. Users can text AI Lily to get help with things like lowering existing medical bills, removing medical debt from credit reports, and how to protect their family’s financial future.

Stash, meanwhile, focuses on its site content. It has a section on the site called Stash Learn, that covers both general and highly specific topics, like ‘How to Ask Your Parents For Money for Your Wedding’, and the LGBTQ+-directed ‘Coming Out? Here’s How You Can Prepare Financially’. 

By offering access to real-life humans, Albert may have an advantage among other challenger banks. 

A lot of challenger banks rely on bots for user interaction, and when all else fails only then is the user directed to customer service. 

But people don’t seem to be so happy with this form of customer support. Voice-response bots and chatbots were rated worst in customer service channels, according to research by Unblu, a conversational software provider for financial services. And part of that reason may be the fact that people prefer talking to a human about these types of stuff, especially when it comes to financial topics that tend to be more personal.

Still, there are a couple of challenges with what seems to be Albert’s main appeal. One is what happens if the advice isn’t helpful. 

There’s not always a clear one-size-fits-all answer to financial troubles, and a lot can depend on things beyond the financial advisor’s control.

That one-size-fits-all thing leaks into another problem. Not everyone likes texting. Several reviewers on Google Play have complained about not being able to call.

Whether cases like these are outliers or bugs the company has to work through is open for discussion. For now, Ravid says Albert’s Genius feature remains its core differentiator from other challenger banks.

“So that when you get stuck, you can talk to us, and you can actually get a personal banking experience.”

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