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Citibank recently announced plans to roll out its Messenger chatbot in Hong Kong by the end of 2018. The bank chose Singapore as the first market to get the new bot last year and is now extending the service to Hong Kong, a move that will provide five million additional Facebook users with access. Citi’s chatbot uses natural language processing to help customers manage their accounts through Facebook. While there are many banking bots on the market, reports say Citi’s will be the first Facebook Messenger-embedded chatbot to allow customers to access their financial records and potentially conduct transactions in future.

Though there are some objections to bots entering the banking space, the idea of moving mobile banking to a conversational platform on Facebook is exciting when you consider the increased accessibility the shift could provide. The current options — mobile banking apps and onsite bots — leave users with yet another interface to learn, but Messenger bots bring their services to a platform where users are likely already well-versed and checking in regularly.

Citi has company

There’s a lot of noise about Citi’s bot at the moment, but the institution isn’t alone in offering financial services via Messenger. Other notable names in the space include Wells Fargo and American Express. These two companies have also made the move to extend their mobile banking services to Facebook using Messenger bots with different capabilities.

Wells Fargo announced its plans to test a new Facebook Messenger chatbot last spring. The company touted the bot as its “latest effort to engage and serve customers directly on social media — via desktop, smartphone, and other mobile devices — through an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot.” The initial design allowed users to complete tasks such as checking account balances and reviewing spending activity. In February 2018, the brand announced it would add an AI-powered feature to the bot to offer “predictive banking,” which provides users with tailored account information and financial guidance.

American Express (AmEx) often lures customers in with the promise of superior fraud protection and solid membership perks and rewards. So it’s no surprise that the company’s bot for Messenger has the ability to update members about new rewards and can facilitate in the process of identifying and stopping credit card fraud. According to AmEx’s site, the bot can also answer general cardholder questions, add additional cards to an account, and show account balances.

The implications of bot-driven banking

In most cases, automation equals lower overhead costs for companies in the long run. This is likely the goal for the financial institutions jumping onboard the bot train, but greater accessibility and easier integration for end users is a nice perk. Lower operating costs for banks and increased accessibility for customers sounds like a win-win situation, but these institutions will need to address some important security concerns in moving financial operations to a social platform.

Social engineering hacks thrive on Facebook, and banking customers using bots to make financial transactions will likely be a key target for these scams. It will be important for financial institutions to tell their users what they should look out for and how they should verify they are speaking with the bot rather than someone posing as such.

Additionally, managing consumer data could get a bit tricky with the move to a third-party platform. The way financial institutions work with Facebook to handle customer information will be especially important due to the sensitive nature of the information banking bots will need to access.

Surveying the landscape

Chatbots are quickly becoming one of the most widely accessible AI technologies for business owners, thanks to platforms like Facebook Messenger, .BOT, and Chatbase. These technologies were created by heavy hitters in the tech industry with the goal of helping more businesses leverage the power of AI early on. This means that even smaller banks and credit unions will be able to create and optimize bots to reshape their mobile banking offerings.

Although even the most advanced financial chatbot technologies have a ways to go before they can offer a seamless user experience, the future of mobile banking could be more accessible thanks to the ability to integrate mobile banking operations with conversational AI platforms on popular social media sites.

Scott Bay is a writer who covers AI and Internet of Things for PC Mag, Wired, and Men’s Health.

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