Why 2018 Will Be the Year of the Digital Assistant

By Ryan Harbry
Published in Pennsylvania Association of Community Bankers February 2018 Digital Transactions Magazine
 

Banks are reimagining how financial advice works in a mobile world, and innovations by Capital One and other big banks are beginning to make digital assistants a new standard for how people can interact with their finances.

Starting 2018 can be the perfect time to evaluate where these innovations have gone and how useful today’s artificial intelligence services are to an everyday banking customer.

Since its launch in 2016, Capital One’s skill with Alexa allows customers to ask the Amazon Echo device about their checking, savings, auto loan and home loan accounts.

5 questions Alexa can answer about your Capital One account:

 “Alexa, open Capital One…”

1. “What’s my checking account balance?”
2. “How much money do I have in my savings?”
3.  “How much did I spend at Starbucks with my credit card in December?”
4.  “When do I have to pay my auto bill?”
5.  “How much is my next car payment?”

 5 questions Alexa can’t answer:

1.    “How do I open a trust account?”
2.    “How can I get a better rate on my mortgage?”
3.    “What’s the best way to save for my retirement?”
4.    “How do I make a spending budget?”
5.    “How do I save for my son’s college tuition?”

View a demo of Capital One’s Alexa skill here.

So while Alexa can immediately answer a question as complex as “How much did I spend at Starbucks in December?,” she isn’t yet able to understand other types of relevant banking questions.

While Capital One pioneered the way for integrating banking with Alexa, other banks are on their heels to go further with artificial intelligence.

Bank of America has plans to launch Erica, a chatbot that customers can chat with inside the bank’s mobile app via voice or text message.

Erica was announced in 2016, and Bank of America continues to try to perfect and enhance the technology before putting it into the hands of its 22 million mobile app users.

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“One thing we want to avoid is getting out there with parlor tricks. You could go out with a launch that answers three questions and the rest of it is all a joke,” said Hari Gopalkrishnan, client-facing platforms technology executive at Bank at America. “It’s got to be a collection of things the customer wants that gets packaged up so they're like, ‘Oh, it's worth talking to this thing, because it doesn't just do three things, it does 46 things.’”

Erica is also being built with the ability to provide insights and recommendations to customers. “If a customer’s FICO score dropped, for instance, Erica might suggest better money habits, drawing on a partnership with Khan Academy, a provider of educational tools,” reported Penny Crossman of American Banker. “The chatbot may identify ways the customers could save more or pay down debt. Erica could help customers avoid mistakes like missing a mortgage payment.”

Insights are expected to improve as the chatbot can continuously learn about the customer. Gopalkrishnan said this leads to a more dynamic insight to be able to engage the customer. 

The other big banks are paying attention and are working to innovate just as fast, as they look to how they can also make financial advice more engaging, more intuitive and built with simpler interfaces that incorporate voice and text interaction. 

American Express Co. launched its integration with Alexa in May 2017, allowing the company’s card holders to check their account information and pay bills, and also access Amex Offers, which are exclusive discounts available to customers through their American Express card. U.S. Bancorp launched its Alexa skill in September 2017, giving their customers a new way to check account balances and transaction history.

Aside from just their Alexa skill, Capital One has also launched a new chatbot called Eno, which customers can use to ask account information questions with their natural texting language, which includes the use of emojis. For example, Eno can understand that the little bag of money emoji means customers want a summary of their accounts.

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Capital One and other big banks will continue to battle it out to bring the best digital assistants to 2018, and it’s important for community banks to pay attention and take notes and spend time in their own innovation labs to understand what their customers need for financial growth. By learning from these new services, community banks can in turn make their user experiences better, simpler and more intuitive for the way customers live and want to manage their finances.

View the article in Transactions Magazine here.