Is Bank of America’s Chatbot Erica Actually Useful?

Last month, Bank of America unveiled their new AI-powered chatbot Erica at Money20/20. The chatbot, which will be available starting next year, is being touted as an intelligent virtual financial assistant that can help Bank of America customers make smarter financial decisions.

Like other financial chatbots, Erica provides answers about a user’s finances in normal conversational language. Users can ask questions in plain English through voice and text messaging and get fast insights about their finances. The ultimate goal of this service is to provide users simpler, faster, and more complete access to their financial information to help improve their financial well-being.

But does Erica really accomplish that?

In Bank of America’s demonstration at Money20/20, Erica “talked” with a user about her typical spending and offered an insightful recommendation. But what if Erica’s recommendation didn’t factor in expenses on any accounts not held at Bank of America? The resulting insights wouldn’t be very useful and might actually provide bad information that could hurt the user’s long-term financial health. This demonstration underscores a potential problem with chatbots designed to provide helpful recommendations to users: siloed financial data.

According to a recent study, nearly half of Americans bank with more than one institution. Credit cards, student loans, primary checking accounts, and increasingly, third-party apps like Digit andAcorns, all hold clues to consumers’ financial lives, and these accounts are frequently spread out across multiple institutions and platforms. Proprietary banking bots that don’t offer account aggregation are only useful to users who keep their entire financial life within a single institution. This means that for roughly half of Americans, recommendations from chatbots lacking account integration would be worthless.

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