WTF is a banking chatbot?

  • over 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app
  • FIs can use automated software to communicate with customers

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WTF is a banking chatbot?
Remember negotiating a bank's phone tree, trying (desperately) to speak to a human being? Yeah, well, some financial institutions have vastly improved their customer service, understanding that with lots of options, banking customers want to be treated right and get their concerns and questions addressed. Nevertheless, financial firms that service end customers are always looking for technologies to improve and, if possible, automate customer service.

Seriously, what's a chatbot?

The newest installment in technology-aided customer service is the chatbot. These are computer programs that are designed to make you feel like you're having a conversation with a real person. But you're not. You're chatting with a computer. Sorry to disappoint, but banks still don't want you to speak to a real human (at least, not off the bat). Early in 2016, Microsoft launched the notorious Tay, that learned to communicate by reading comments on Twitter (it wasn't long before she launched into genocidal, racist rants, requiring the software company to take her offline). In a major move, Facebook announced at its F8 developer conference in April 2016 that businesses can now build and launch their own chatbots on top of the social network's Messenger communication tool.

Why chatbots and why now?

[caption id="attachment_8635" align="aligncenter" width="501"]chatbot usage The Economist on comms apps[/caption] With the popularity of text messaging, WhatsApp, and Facebook messenger, chatting is becoming a preferred mode of communication. Younger folks aren't even using email anymore, opting instead to chat. So, top technology firms are creating these light robots to interact with the public. According to the Economist, over 2.5 billion people have at least one messaging app installed. Facebook Messenger and the social network's other messaging app, WhatsApp, dominate. Teenagers are giving up posting on social networks and are spending more time chatting. WhatsApp users average nearly 200 minutes per week.

That sounds...interesting. How are chatbots used in finance?

These aren't just dumb dolls that repeat “mama” all day long. Chatbots are smart forms of artificial intelligence and learn as they mature. In banking, chatbots can be used to deliver front-line customer service. For example, American Express recently mentioned it was developing a customer-service focused app for its card holders to track their purchases. Bank customers can communicate with chatbots to check their most recent balances and other forms of self-service, just like they would use a bank's website. Chatbots can be used proactively as well, warning customers when they're about to be overdrawn or when a check bounces. Other fintech startups are using chatbots as the entire user interface for their apps themselves. Instead of interacting with what looks like a webpage on a phone, users of popular finance apps like Digit add and move money to their accounts by communicating back and forth with a chatbot. Gone is clicking on a button to get things done and in its place, people are now chatting with their technology. We call this trend Slack Finance, named after the hugely popular corporate communication tool.

Photo credit: Latente 囧 via / CC BY-SA


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