Chatbots are hot.
As I’m sure you know, Amazon introduced Echo, a home device with a built-in chatbot named Alexa. The device is voice-activated, and responds to all kinds of commands. Users can get weather reports, set alarms, create to-do lists, and have it play music.
And, of course, make banking-related requests.
Wired recently ran an article titled A New Chatbot Would Like to Help You With Your Bank Account in which the author wrote:
“I asked a bot to tell me how much I spent on coffee this past month. And a few moments later, it replied. “Let’s see,” it said. “You spent $199.83.” Certainly, I drink an awful lot of coffee. But not that much. After asking the bot for a bit more information, I can happily say I spent at least some of that nearly two hundred dollars on chopped fruit and the occasional pastry. The bot didn’t actually explain this, but it did give me list all payments to coffee shops, which made things clear. “Thank you,” I told the bot. And it responded with a big yellow smiling emojicon.”
Interestingly, the rest of the article makes little mention of banking other than mentioning that, in order to answer the question of how much money was spent on coffee, the chatbot relied on information “supplied” by a bank (in quotes because the data isn’t really “supplied” by a bank) and a quote from someone who said that “banking is going to be embedded in other things you want to do with your life.”
I could make the case that none of the article had anything to do with banking. I’d bet that few people consider the act of calculating how much they spent on coffee to be “banking.” Of the minority of people who actually care about that sort of thing, I’d bet most consider it to be “budgeting” or “expense categorization” — and not banking.
But let’s stop quibbling. Whether or not budgeting-related questions should be considered “banking,” the real issue is: How can voice-activated devices like Alexa change banking and the banking customer experience?
Personally, I believe that getting your account balance or transferring funds between your accounts using a chatbot is no big deal.
For chatbots to truly have an impact on banking, they need to address important questions, and execute valuable commands. In that context, I present to you The Top 3 Banking Questions (and Commands) for Chatbots:
3. Which stocks are Warren Buffett going to buy? Here’s the problem with this chatbot, voice-activated nonsense: It’s all backwards-looking. I don’t really care what happened. And if I did, I have 30 devices, channels, and technologies to tell me that. None of the things I have today, however, can tell me is what is going to happen. And if your chatbot can answer this question about Warren Buffett’s investment plans, it would be nice if I can tell it to go buy those stocks for me.
2. How much money does the guy in seat 2B on the plane I’m on have? I know how much money *I* have in my account. You should too. Don’t start giving me excuses why you don’t. What I’m really curious to know, though, is how much money *YOU* have in your account. I’d buy an Alexa in a heartbeat if it could tell me that! And if your chatbot can tell me how much money other people have, it would be super cool if I could tell it to transfer that money to my account. Now we’re talking!
1. How much money did my wife and daughters spend in the past 10 minutes? Not one of the 30 devices, technologies, or banking channels I use can tell me this. I don’t care what they spent it on — coffee, shoes, clothes — that doesn’t matter. I just need to get a better handle on how much they’re spending, and how fast they spend it. And as far as I’m concerned, here’s the holy grail of banking chatbots: Give me the ability to tell the chatbot “stop them from spending so much money!!”
When chatbots can do these three things in banking, then I’ll buy one.