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How Bots can Connect Banks and Millennials

Imagine that before responding to a co-worker’s Slack message about going to lunch, consumers could ping their bank from the popular office messaging system to ask if a $12 burrito bowl at Chipotle fits within their budget. The bank’s bot says the bowl is OK, but maybe skip the guacamole. After all, that’s extra.

That’s the future a handful of banks and fintech startups are envisioning as they look to be on the forefront of using the next generation of artificial intelligence software, which promises to go beyond their not-so-great predecessors.

“Chat bots are not new but they are coming of age,” said Keith Armstrong, founder and chief operating officer of one such personal finance bot, Abe.ai.

Abe.ai and firms like Digit, Penny, Trim and Kasisto use artificial intelligence to let customers ask their bank-related questions through their bots on a handful of platforms: SMS text, Facebook Messenger, Slack and other third-party messaging channels that particularly appeal to millennials.

Banks are dabbling in the conversational language trend, too. USAA and Ally Bank have virtual assistants on their own mobile apps, while American Express and Bank of America have announced their plans to use chat bots on Facebook Messenger — an app that has one billion users.

The bot trend transcends fintech and banking. According to Gartner, an estimated two-thirds of consumers in developed markets will use virtual personal assistant services such as Apple’s Siri or Google’s Google Now daily by the end of this year. By 2019, the research firm predicts, requests for customer support through consumer mobile messaging apps will exceed requests for customer support through traditional social media.

For now, the companies looking at chat bots are considering which channels are the right way to connect.

At Abe.ai, the startup has been building its algorithms to run on Slack first because it is targeting young professionals who are just out of college, working at their first jobs and dealing with student loan debt. (It is considering other channels, like SMS, too.)

Armstrong said Slack, a platform that allows coworkers to communicate easily, is a natural place to connect. People are coming to work stressed about money. So the Slack bot is meant to help consumers address their concerns that won’t just magically disappear when the daily grind starts. (Employees have to ask their companies to integrate with Abe.ai’s Slack bot.)

“People don’t leave their money problems in the parking lot,” he said.

Another fintech company looking to connect via Slack is Kasisto, a conversational AI platform company. “It’s a new channel for banks to engage their customers,” said Zor Gorelov, Kasisto’s chief executive. The company is also offering AI via Facebook Messenger and SMS.

Royal Bank of Canada will be testing Kasisto’s technology with employees. The pilot program, which is expected to run this year, will use the smart bot technology to let clients message RBC to get access to account balances, transaction history and answer some general questions.

Regardless of the provider, the messaging medium is particularly suited for an audience all banks are vying for: millennials. “An entire generation is coming of age financially now,” Armstrong said. “They grew up in the world of texting.” As he sees it, the Slack channel is more natural for young adults. “It’s just a more fluid and seamless experience,” he said.

And Abe.ai’s hope is that an easy experience will drive behavior that yields healthier financial habits. “The need for help is certainly there,” Armstrong said. “Too many U.S. citizens are living on a financial cliff.”

You can read the full article here.

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