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‘Unleashing a chatbot on a customer is not improving an experience’: Clickatell’s Pieter de Villiers on the future of chat banking

  • Clickatell started 20 years ago with an early SMS API.
  • The company is an important player in the emerging chat banking space.
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‘Unleashing a chatbot on a customer is not improving an experience’: Clickatell’s Pieter de Villiers on the future of chat banking

As chat platforms have eclipsed the size of the largest social networks, businesses are increasingly using them to service their customers. Some financial institutions are even enabled for customers to transact over chat. 

Pieter de Villiers, co-founder and CEO of Clickatell, joins me on the podcast to talk about his vision 20 years ago for mobile experiences. Now the firm covers more than 220 territories, 1000 networks, and 85% of the world’s population, with an SMS reach of more than 5 billion users.

Pieter and I talk about banks embracing chat apps, like WhatsApp, to reach their customers. With chat banking, customers can get digital banking customer support, account management, and bill payment services from within chat. 

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

Looking ahead 20 years at messaging

It’s a quite a story. When we founded the company, we had a very simple objective. And that was how do we connect the fastest growing e-commerce platform in the world, which was the internet at the time, with the fastest growing communications platform in the world, the mobile phone?

It’s actually quite ironic to think that back in 2000, those two worlds had not collided, and they could not interoperate. So, in November 2000, we launched four lines of code that enabled any website to send a mobile text message, and that really became the first SMS API interval.

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Servicing financial services

We were not focused on financial services at the time, just really about how to bring the commerce universe to communications. We’ve always been interacting in the convergent space between those, and financial services happen to be the early adopters, early movers.

We launched the first transaction alert on SMS in the world for First National Bank circa 2002. And we also did some of the first one time pins in the world for WhatsApp. Certainly, financial services and authentication became use cases that the early adopters went with, and we serve them in that case.


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