It’s true chatbots in banking have a ways to go to before they become the equivalent of ATMs — i.e. simply a given. But the trend in adoption is upward. As of early 2020 13% of banks and credit unions had a chatbot, but another 16% were planning to introduce one in 2021, according to Cornerstone Advisors.
The increase in chatbot adoption by banks and credit unions has occurred as consumers have become more comfortable using mobile devices to communicate about their finances. Mostly they do this by texting, although chatbots can also communicate by voice or email.
Most chatbots, however, still only perform basic functions such as answering queries about things like account balances or how to deposit a check using a mobile app. Useful, but hardly their full potential.
That’s beginning to change as the greater use of natural language processing technology — a form of artificial intelligence — has advanced chatbot performance to where they can recognize hundreds of customer “intents.” However, even the best — like Bank of America’s Erica and USAA’s EVA — have not replaced human advice, nor do they yet have the ability to answer nuanced, complex banking questions.
And that may be a good thing. According to some, chatbots will never fully take the place of humans, but rather they will be deployed to deliver a sort of “cyborg” experience — that is, one that is seamlessly integrates AI technology with human advisors in branches and call centers.
Going forward, chatbots — and indeed all digital channels — will augment in-person interactions and work in concert with each other ensuring seamless transitions when customers move between channels, notes management and technology consulting firm West Monroe.
A Tool, But Not an Axe:
Chatbots and virtual assistants will work seamlessly with bank employees in the future, not replace them.
“It may sound counterintuitive based on current trends and our own forecast of the industry, but becoming digital doesn’t mean abandoning traditional banking channels,” West Monroe states. “From basic customer service to advanced conversations about wealth management or business banking, customers need face-to-face connection with your professionals.”
This means the experience with a chatbot within an app, a phone call with a call center or a discussion with a relationship manager should all be seamlessly integrated, West Monroe says, and feel to the customer like one continuous conversation.
USAA calls this “asynchronous experience” and is currently working to implement such capability by the end of 2022.
Read More: Why Chatbots Fail in Banking
Solve It, Or Connect to a Human Who Can
One example of how AI-powered chatbots can assist banking staff is by taking the initial steps of collecting customer information and then determining the right agent or advisor the customer should communicate with, ultimately saving everyone involved time and effort.
“Instead of letting the customer go into [interactive voice response] mumbo jumbo of pressing 1 for this and pressing 2 for that … you have a virtual assistant, which is intelligent, powered by analytics and can either solve the problem or connect the customer to the most qualified human when that interaction requires it,” Ashish Koul told PaymentsNext. Koul is Senior Vice President with contact center technology vendor Servion.
Indeed, chatbots in the future will be able to do more of the basic legwork that human agents do when a customer contacts a bank or credit union, which in turn will help employees to focus on more strategic and value-added tasks.
When used correctly, chatbots enable bank and credit union employees to use their time more effectively on tasks that add more value for the institution.
“Banks have been utilizing chatbots to help handle routine tasks like resetting a mobile banking password, transfer funds between accounts, pay bills or even open a new checking account,” AI vendor Revation says. The firm believes chatbots in banking will evolve to be capable of helping a consumer get pre-approved for loan origination.
At that point, the mortgage or loan professional would step in and help the customer with more complex questions and tasks that they have. Ultimately, this means the “future of enhanced customer experience will be a mix of serving customers both in-person and virtually,” Revation concludes.
Beyond CX: Bots As Trainers
Chatbots can not only be used to make the customer experience better by seamlessly connecting with call center staff or human advisors, but they can also be used to train that same staff.
“Can chatbots entirely replace capital manpower in any financial institution?” asks an article published on elearningindustry.com. “The answer is no. On the contrary, chatbots can be effectively used to train and serve your employees.”
One example could be to help employees retain new information from a training course, by answering questions and creating an interactive experience to put the new information to use, according to trade publication Training Industry. In another example, retail giant Target uses chatbots to help keep employees accountable to the goals they made during workshops.
Beyond training, banks and credit unions can also use chatbots to manage internal documentation processes and provide automated support for long and time-consuming tasks.
A significant use case for chatbots is within the bank, where they can manage repetitive tasks and provide information to employees.
“By using chatbots in financial services, you can automate repetitive customer service tasks and thus manage the work that is time-consuming and affects the performance of your support team,” elearningindustry states. In addition, chatbots can connect employees to the internal information they need, such as vacation details or tracking reimbursement claims.
A Glimpse Further Ahead
By 2030, the integration of chatbots and other virtual assistants with human advice will be so seamless the customer will discern no difference between them, says Ernst & Young.
In the wealth management space, for example, the consulting firm notes that clients are expressing desires to access more advice through digital tools in the future.
“This provides an opportunity for firms to improve efficiency and satisfaction at the same time by scaling up automated, client-led advice,” EY continues. “Even so, human advisors will remain vital to almost all wealth models.”
EY describes this future state as a “synergetic blend” of people and technology.
“The future of advice will see [financial institutions] develop platforms that incorporate sophisticated digital assistants alongside tech-enabled remote advisors,” the firm says. “The effect will be to transform advisor performance and client satisfaction while lowering cost to serve.”
Looking ahead, financial institutions cannot think of chatbots as entirely replacing customer-facing personnel, but instead must manage and balance digital and in-person experiences across the customer journey, West Monroe advises. Chatbots and AI will play a crucial role in helping employees understand customer needs better.
“Person-to-person relationships will always drive banking growth,” the firm believes. “In a balanced environment, digital complements live interactions by simplifying and providing [personnel] with the data-driven insights they need to enhance the relationship.”