Bots have exploded in 2016, so it’s no surprise they’re expected to be one of the transformative technologies of 2017. Citibank recently revealed the bot economy is expanding much more quickly than the app economy ever did. As the technology matures, bots have great potential to make our day-to-day lives easier — even serving as personal assistants looking out for our financial well-being.
According to the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), financial health comes about when your daily systems help you build resilience and pursue opportunities. But fluctuating income flows and unexpected expenses make it challenging to stick to financial goals. As one example, the holiday season is the epitome of a high-expense period, and many of us spend without really understanding how much we have or how our habits impact long-term savings.
Given this, there’s a huge advantage in having a financial assistant that helps you proactively manage your finances. By looking at your personal financial data and combining it with your financial goals, a financial assistant can provide you with on-demand insights, offers, and savings recommendations. That’s the ultimate potential of bots: friendly coaches that can help manage our finances and keep expenses in check. And while bots are still in their infancy — serving relatively simple asks — data analytics is accelerating to the point where we’re seeing more and more exciting possibilities emerge.
Bots as a personal shopping assistant
Through use of artificial intelligence (AI), speech recognition, and data mining, bots can make your financial data actionable. They can comb through massive, comprehensive data sets — financial data, social media data, and marketing data like deals and cross-sell opportunities — to communicate relevant insights to you. Behind the scenes, bots are identifying natural speech patterns to understand your queries and are cleansing, enriching, and analyzing the data to respond accurately and make smart suggestions.
So when it comes to consumer finances, bots carry massive potential to become personal shopping assistants and influence smart shopping decisions. During the holiday shopping period, bots can provide real-time insights and curated suggestions when we’re either researching — or about to make — purchases. With the ability to examine all of a consumer’s financial data, bots can provide features like instant insights and recommendations on whether we can afford a purchase or pop-up tips for short-term savings.
Say you are purchasing a pair of shoes. Answering basic questions about your funds or account balance is just the tip of the iceberg for the insight that bots can provide. As predictive analytics and AI advance, bots will be able to take us from simple questions like “What’s my account balance?” to more complex questions that include forecasting, such as “Can I afford these shoes?”
But it doesn’t stop there. Bots have the potential to overhaul not only the shopping experience, but the way we approach finances as a whole. The ultimate end — and where bots will really prove their value — will be in answering questions that take into account multiple considerations and complex analysis: in other words, “Should I buy these shoes?”
Bots as a financial adviser
This is where bots’ impact on shopping and, more importantly, saving behavior will become most pronounced, providing meaningful recommendations based on longer-term financial goals. In the not-too-distant future, shoppers can expect insights and recommendations derived from a variety of complex factors including geolocation, account balances, and transactions, as well as any financial and savings goals they’ve set. Bots can combine all of these factors, paint a clear picture, and push back on relevant insights for long-term planning.
In this way, bots could become critical in terms of important life events, such as taking out a home loan, applying for a new credit card, or planning for retirement. Not only can they help us make smart purchase decisions, but they can also ensure that significant life events aren’t derailed by overspending during major shopping periods like the holidays.
When buying a house, for example, bots could share the rates you should expect due to your credit score and make suggestions based on your assets. They could help with your taxes — showing how much you donated to charities this year or projections for next year, for example — or detect signs of fraud by sending messages such as “We noticed your card is requesting a large transaction in London right now; is that you?”
Already there are chatbots that help you with expenses and spending. Cleo is one good example. It’s intended to help with your budget and analyze your spending. The Plum chatbot aims to help you save money, which could come in handy over the new few weeks.
The bigger picture
As bots evolve to making more complex recommendations, it’s also interesting to consider the ways they can help long-term financial literacy. In America’s savings crisis, new technologies can have a major impact on our overall financial well-being, be it our 401(k) or signing up for college loans. Especially as tech-savvy millennials and Gen Z become the largest shopping and banking generation — and the one most prone to suffer from a lack of financial literacy — implementing technologies like bots that help them make smarter decisions will be a quickly moving field.
However, none of this will be possible without the financial sector being thoughtful in the use of bots. Similar to the app economy, where many people began to feel app fatigue, bots will face the same challenge of achieving the right level of interaction without becoming overbearing. They need to be not only useful, but also enjoyable and adapt to personal needs and behaviors, just like a close friend accompanying you on your shopping trip.
Ultimately, as the sweeping changes in the financial sector over the past few years suggest, consumers crave personalization and helpful information about their finances so they can make better decisions. Bots can play a constructive role in fulfilling this need, becoming a trusted advisor that can make us smarter shoppers today and more fiscally responsible individuals tomorrow.