Bank of America’s Personal Finance Chatbot to Debut Next Year

Can artificial intelligence help advise people on their finances? Bank of America seems to think so. At the recent Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas the institution introduced the world to Erica — a personal finance digital assistant.

According to Harriet Taylor at CNBC Erica — a name derived from the last five letters of the bank’s moniker — will be available to Bank of America customers next year as part of the company’s app. To interact with her users can either use their voice or text. So what will Erica be able to do? That’s the best part.

Erica is built to not only assist users in making payments or checking their balances but is also programmed to help them improve their finances. For example the AI bot might assess a user’s spending habits and inform that they could save money in interest if they put an extra $50 a month towards their credit card. Additionally Erica’s creators say she will also prompt customers to check out their credit scores and point them towards educational content.

As we’ve heard time and time again the biggest challenge to FinTech innovations like Erica is customer security. In fact it wasn’t too long ago that Forrester released a report saying that secure banking chatbots could be one to two years off. However Daniel Latimore of Celent told CNBC that, while customers may still have concerns about security, they’re more interested in a positive user experience. “The whole notion of customer experience for banks is so, so critical right now. They have challenges like security and being bulletproof — but consumers don’t care about all the constraints. They just know they can get great experiences elsewhere and they want it from their bank too,” he said.

Unfortunately there is also some concern that Bank of America’s plan could actually backfire if the technology isn’t up to snuff. Forrester analyst Peter Wannemacher wonders if Erica will be able to deliver a consistent and impressive experience, saying “It is not a foregone conclusion that this will work the way everyone thinks it will. The big question is whether Bank of America can and will react appropriately to customers use of and engagement with their digital offerings.” Of course the bank is also aware that the technology they’re employing for Erica is still in its relative infancy. With that in mind Michelle Moore, BofA’s head of digital banking, says that programmers will constantly be looking to make the bot smarter and allow her to offer more features in the future.  

Lastly Bank of America insists that their interest in artificial intelligence has more to do with their customers and less to do with their workers. Although another Forrester report suggests that 6% of jobs in the U.S. will be lost to AI by 2021, Moore refutes the idea that Erica is meant to be a job stealer. Instead she says the bot is simply meant to “streamline the banking process.”

It was only a matter of time before chatbots and artificial intelligence made their way into the banking sector. However it may surprise some that a too-big-to-fail institution like Bank of America and not a FinTech startup is one of the first out of the gate with a finance-minded digital assistant product. That being said it will be interesting to see how Erica holds up in deployment and what competition comes to greet her when she makes her debut.


Jonathan Dyer

I'm a small town guy living in Los Angeles looking to make solid financial decisions. I write for a number of finance websites, including HuffingtonPost and Business2Community. I founded in 2015 to focus on personal finance and the emerging FinTech markets.

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