Bots (and articles about bots — oops!) are popping up everywhere these days.
Indeed, very few concepts have shot up the hype curve so fast, especially considering that the idea of conversational UI has been with us for a long time in various forms and under different denominations. It looks like a jungle, but all bots are essentially doing the same thing:adding conversational capabilities to FAQ and search.
You can read a good evolution and state of the art here and here. Personally, I had the pleasure of working for two companies that developed their own virtual assistant (basically a chatbot with a cute face). You might remember Anna, IKEA’s robo-assistant — just one of a fairly comprehensive chatbot database here — although all kind of them have somewhat faded away now without significantly transforming our lives.
So, could it be different now that the worlds of bots and banking are colliding?
Maybe. Big fish like Facebook and Microsoft are betting high on the concept of AI-driven user interfaces, and not only for the utility of the interface itself — but because bots represent a second chance to gain a strategic foothold in the mobile space.
This focus is already heating up the development landscape as chatbot technology advances at a rapid clip.
Google and Microsoft already offer digital assistants on smartphones, called Google Now and Cortana, respectively, which gain increasingly deep knowledge of their users’ habits and schedules. Amazon sells a stand-alone device called Echo that features Alexa, who can, among other things, play music, read books aloud and help buy items through Amazon. And Siri of course reigns over the Apple universe.
According to Gartner, about 38% of American consumers have used virtual-
assistant services on their smartphones recently; by the end of 2016 an estimated two-thirds of consumers in developed markets will use them daily.
So, all signs point toward an AI-induced change in the way we interact with… well, probably everything.
BOTS FOR BANKS: AI AND FINANCIAL SERVICES
Let’s take a step back and look at artificial intelligence from a financial services perspective…
Although some interesting examples emerged from a recent Mondo hackathon, and some non-bank fintech startups are starting to introduce clever apps like Cleo and Penny, few others signals show these reaching the retail banking mass market anytime soon.
As far as I know, no bank yet offers a fully conversational interface outside their own app.
But here are a few promising examples:
- Santander UK recently added the ability for some account holders to ask questions directly to their bank accounts, using the Santander SmartBank App. The voice assistant service can pull transactions and process user requests to find details on a particular charge. Future versions promise to include voice-enabled payments, account alerts, stolen and lost card reporting and deeper insights into users’ spending.
- Atom Bank, the UK-based mobile-only bank, announced that it is incorporating WDS Virtual Agent software from Xeros into its mobile app. The machine learning software will give customers an agent-like option for assisted self-service on the app.
- Caixabank has implanted IBM Watson to help their business customers in the area of international commerce and expansion.
- RBS has launched Luvo, to support staff to help them answer business customer queries more quickly and easily.
- Swedbank Group, present in Sweden, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, is using Nina,an intelligent virtual assistant that delivers a human-like, conversational customer service experience to enable self-service capabilities and quick and easy access to information for Swedbank customers and service agents alike.
- digibank by DBS probably offers the most exciting example. Their mobile app is powered by Kasisto’s AI platform, KAI, which is unique in its ability to entertain multiple channels of conversation simultaneously.
Despite these examples, the fact remains that traditional banks with online presences tend to force customers to dig around in order to reach customer-service representatives — generally via a call or live chat. Why is the current focus of these banking technologies not so much around self-serve information finding (FAQs, searches, etc) but rather customer service? Because, despite its inherent complexity, there are a relatively finite number of customer problems and solutions for a given set of products combined with large amounts of historical data.
DOING THE ROBOT
So, you’re thinking about bringing artificial intelligence technology to your financial institution — what do you need to take into consideration?
To continue reading this article, head over to our blog, FinTech Pulse.