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Banking bots

Banking bots

Posted on: March 10, 2017
Author: Barry Strader

Artificial intelligence. Machine learning. The internet of things.

ATB Financial is introducing chatbot technology to help customers—particularly young millennial customers—do their banking, from day-to-day transactions to planning for retirement.

ATB is poised to become the first “traditional” financial institution in North America to offer banking services via Facebook Messenger’s chat bot platform. A chat bot uses large amounts of data to answer questions or perform tasks for the user. ATB is working with Vancouver-based artificial intelligence start-up Finn.ai to develop the technology. The idea came from two fronts: ATB’s Emerge team and Pinnacle group. Both groups were looking for ways to attract younger customers to ATB.

“To be relevant to millennials, you need to be where they are, when they need you, in a smart, simple, helpful way,” said Pinnacle’s John Pieri, senior managing director of marketing, strategy and results at ATB. “No longer should we think they need to come to us on our terms. If you can embed yourself into their lives, that’s exactly what they’re looking for.”

Of course, it could be argued the 16-24 age group ATB is targeting is not hanging out on Facebook, unless they’re catching up with grandma. ATB chose Messenger because it’s the furthest along with chat bot technology. Eventually, ATB plans to expand chat bot banking to where young people do hang out, like Kik, Amazon Alexa, iPhone’s Siri and Google, among others.

So how does banking with a chat bot work, exactly? Essentially, it’s the same as chatting with one of your friends. You can check your account balances and transactions by asking questions such as: how much money do I have in my chequing account? You’ll also be able to make transactions including transferring funds or paying bills. Eventually, it will have personal financial management capability, allowing you to check with the bot to see how much you’ve spent on gas this month, or find out what’s left in your clothing budget. You can ask customer service related questions as well, to find out the fee for an e-transfer or locate the nearest ABM.

“It’s still early,” said ATB’s Sean Ballard, who has worked on the project. “The best analogy is it’s at the toddler level, so it doesn’t have all the answers. But it learns. And that’s the key. The more we test it and push the limits, the faster it learns and the more value we’ll be able to offer the customer because we’ll see where the bot gets stumped.”

That’s where machine learning and Finn.ai come in.

“The truth at the moment is it’s a lot of human learning,” said Finn.ai co-founder Nat Cartwright. “If the bot can’t recognize something someone said, it goes through training. We look at everything that was said and we make sure it’s getting the right answers.

If it didn’t, we label it so that next time it has a higher chance. The bot has to reach an 80 per cent confidence interval that this is what you’re trying to ask for. As it gets more and more people asking questions, it gets better at predicting what you want.”

Investing is another area ATB is incorporating artificial intelligence technology. With help from Toronto-based software development company Pivotal, ATB Investor Services developed an online investment platform, Prosper, to help young investors get over the scariness of planning for retirement.

With Prosper, visitors are asked a series of questions around time horizon, investment knowledge, risk appetite and more. Based on the answers, Prosper will recommend an investment portfolio. The user can set everything up, make contributions, check progress, all without a single sheet of paper, phone call or visit to a branch.

Sample Prosper transaction, graph

“Our current tool, online advice, has not kept up with the advancements and is beyond the ability to be tweaked or made more competitive, so we decided to put together a much more compelling offer targeted to a younger, more digital-savvy demographic,” said ATBIS vice president Tony Sevenko.

ATBIS developed the platform based on feedback gathered from interviews with young Albertans in an effort to find out what they wanted, and where and how they wanted it.

“It’s super cool to see how it’s come to life,” said Sevenko. “It’s ticking a lot of the boxes from the feedback we got. And what we launched in February will look quite a bit different the following January. As we learn more from users and as technology continues to advance, we’ll continue to iterate and make the product better and better.”

Both projects are examples of ATB embracing existing and emerging technologies to create the best possible experiences for customers.

And when a company like Facebook is impressed with what you’re up to, you know you’re on to something.

“They told us we’re dictating what the banking experience will be like on their platform because everyone else will follow suit,” said Cartwright. “That’s a really cool thing to get to do. We could actually be setting a standard in the market. We’re really pushing boundaries and trying new things. It’s very cool.”

Yes. Cool. That notion is not lost on any of those involved on either project.

“In the short term, it will get a lot of bankers excited because it will signal that we’re on the forefront of something that’s emerging,” said Ballard. “It will get a certain segment of early adopters very excited. The coolest part about it, though, is that it demonstrates how we’re listening to our customers. We want to meet them on their terms and we’re taking practical, actual steps to do that.”


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