Chat Banking: The Path to Ubiquitous Mobile Banking

Menus, icons, and clicks from the world of GUI have served us well by bringing computing (and so Online Banking) to the masses. In today’s hyper mobile world, the ‘gooey’ model is crumbling under the weight of the increasing number of services and amount of information people want available on their mobile devices.

Natural User Interface (NUI) is an interesting promise to make GUI unobtrusive and invisible by allowing natural human behaviour (touch, gesture, and speech) to interact with devices. But we don’t yet feel so natural interacting with machines for general use. Google Glass, Oculus Rift, and Leap Motion won’t become widespread anytime soon.

Enter Chat UI. Texting is hot for chatting among friends. Add to it some richness from the world of GUI and it may soon become the primary way in which people bank (and shop, and search even) on their mobile devices.

Chat UI for mobile forms

In early 2013, I wanted to reimagine banking forms so that even mobile users could apply for bank accounts, loans, or credit cards. There was a lot written about “mobile-first” for information consumption, but not much about the same approach for capturing user input. Sure, there were information capturing technologies such as OCR to consider, but I was looking for a more basic and ubiquitous design solution before aiding it with technology to take it to the next level.

I came across an article by Luke Wroblewski. His point was that people happily text (SMS) all the time, so designers should embrace text for capturing input on mobile. People are happier typing in their date of birth than using a more laborious calendar control.

This was an aha moment for me and I wondered if SMS style interface for forms was a good solution. I came up with this model:

There is a single text entry box as opposed to one for each piece of information to be captured. The information captured gradually scrolls up as one types in.

I was getting ready to disrupt the way businesses captured user input on mobile devices.

Typeform made forms awesome

In April 2013 Typeform, a startup from Barcelona came up with a fantastic new way to collect user input across devices. It beautifully addressed most of the pains of mobile input — they look beautiful and focus the user by automatically presenting one question or form element at a time. My lizard brain told me to back off and I parked my idea of reimagining forms as a Chat UI. I started designing input experiences on the Typeform platform or just like Typeform.

A recent phenomenon

It wasn’t until this recent tweet by @Jason that I got excited about chat as an interface again.

A quick research revealed there is so much happening around Chat UI as a model. Operator (shopping), Better (health), Luka (food), Path Talk (private messaging), Magic (concierge), Haptik (concierge), Lark (fitness), and Slack (team collaboration), to name a few, all use Chat UI as a model to create exceptional experiences.

Wow!

This is bigger than just forms and capturing input, way bigger. It’s potentially the preferred interaction model to do all kinds of stuff on mobile devices.

Even banking!

What Chat Banking might look like

Selecting a credit card: It’s is not uncommon for banks to offer a long list of options to credit card shoppers. I did some work for a bank that offers 3 travel cards, one each from VISA, MasterCard, and Amex! They try to make it easy by allowing them to compare the cards side by side. Not many people have the patience to do this arduous analysis.

Using messaging interface to select a credit card:

Applying for the card: I am amazed at the trouble most banks make even their old customers go through when they want a new card, insurance, or account. The age old excuse of legacy systems not smart enough is not a good excuse any more.

Using messaging interface to apply for a credit card:

Updating address and contact information: It’s always a pain to get this done. And some banks don’t even care to digitise such services.

Using messaging interface to update address/contact info:

Reporting a lost card: One almost always has to make the dreaded phone call to the bank to block a card. People are not in the best frame of mind at this time and they hate being put on hold to crappy music and nagging automated marketing messages.

Using messaging interface to report a lost card:

Why mobile banking desperately needs Chat UI

Most of the world still doesn’t bank on mobile devices, and those that do are quite underwhelmed by how much banking they can actually do on their mobile devices. Chat UI solves both these critical problems the industry is facing. Here’s why.

  • It’s a familiar and comfortable way to interact via mobile devices and interaction rules don’t change much from one chat app to another. An iMessage or Facebook Messenger user can easily switch to WhatsApp or WeChat without much of a learning curve. Users don’t have to deal with and adapt to different ways of doing the same thing. For example if you want to pay a bill, the digitally mature bank a has 3 steps (steps a, b, and c), while the digital dinosaur bank has 7 steps (steps c, a, b, d, e, and f).
  • It’s a path of least friction. People like things done for them (DIY is rarely a preference). They have little tolerance to click through menus and buttons. Google instantly answers their questions on weather, flight, TV show, song lyrics, basic math, and much more through cards presented on top of the regular results. A 2 way conversation (with a machine or human as required) takes this convenience to the next level.
  • People like being themselves and talk in their natural language. Instead of trying to find their way through clever insurance policy or personal loan product names, they would love to make a request in natural language “Hey! what kind of travel insurance do you have for me and my family traveling to Japan soon?”.

Already tried plugging a chat feature?

Barclays Web Chat

Banks have been trying to plug in “Live Chat” as a support and sales tool. That’s so 2002! Too half hearted and inferior compared to the chatting experience people are now used to on WhatsApp, WeChat etc. It may have worked back then, but I now see this feature absent on bank websites (Wells Fargo) that pioneered it.

Why should chat be a small part of the entire digital experience? I would argue that the future belongs to chat as the central construct with product catalog and other company information weaved into/around it.

Text is better than voice, for now

I believe it’s still too early for “Her” style voice based assistance to dominate human computer interactions. It’s however the best portrayal of a beautiful past like future.

Even SIRI has a long way to go for both behavioural (t00 uncomfortable) and technical (too dumb) reasons.

Chatting, however, is already a preferred and forgiving way to interact on mobile devices, and the technology is reasonably mature.

Possible paths to Chat Banking

  1. Turning iMessage/Android Message/WhatsApp/FB Messenger etc. into a platform. Leading providers of chat services themselves allowing GUI enriched conversations. This is the one least likely to happen but it’s a game changer. More on this here.
  2. A FinTech startup builds a white labelled rich chat banking platform. Using available chat APIs, a startup builds and licenses this consistent universal experience to banks. This seems to be the most likely scenario. Any one wants to partner?
  3. A truly digital bank reimagines the way people access their services on mobile devices. Quite possible but remains to be seen who will be the first one. Could be a Spanish, Polish, German, or an Aussie bank. Or a Moven or Simple?
All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come. — Victor Hugo

If you liked this, you’ll love: Chat for Delivering High Touch Wealth Advise at Scale