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FinTech Chatbots – The Millennial Command Line

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By Chris Gledhill for Finextra

I have a confession to make – I’m not really a millennial! Despite my liberal use of emojis in my tweets and the word ‘awesome’, the fact of the matter is I missed out on the crucial millennial cutoff point by a few months. I’m Generation X. The good part about being a generational inbetweener is that I remember a time before smartphones, a time before social networks and a time before the internet. I’ve had the pleasure of a front row seat witnessing the greatest period of technological change in human history and I’ve loved every bit of it! 

When I started out with computers, the interfaces were mostly command prompts with very basic graphical user interfaces (GUIs) coming later. Command lines were a pain to begin with but very efficient once one becomes accustomed to them. GUIs were designed to overcome that learning curve and open up computing to the masses but still, under all the flashy windows and wallpaper of a modern OS, there is a command line/shell lurking somewhere. I think we’re on the verge of a common line renaissance! Let me explain…

In my role as CEO of Secco I’ve been thinking a lot of thought about future banking interfaces. Banks have churned through a good few channels recently: Mail, Branch, ATM, SMS, Telephony, Web, Mobile App. Most big banks are still juggling all these channels but it’s fair to say the Mobile App currently rules supreme. Mobile apps went mainstream in 2008 when the iPhone App Store opened up to 3rd party apps, however it wasn’t until about 2011 that banking apps started to appear and it took another 5 years for them to gain mass-adoption. Banks are now feeling rather smug about their apps, blissfully unaware the wind is about to change on customer UX.

There are a few contenders for the next bank channel of choice. There’s been a lot written this year about Pokemon Go and the prospect of mainstream Augmented Reality interfaces and the Internet of Virtual Things (IoVT) and that is a very real prospect but likely the next #1 customer touchpoint for the majority of incumbent banks will be chatbots. These will take the form of existing social chat channels (WeChat, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, SnapChat etc) or OS-level smart assistants (Apple Siri, Google Now, Amazon Alex etc). Banks and other industry vertical players will toy with their own chatbots but they will ultimately fail as the best bots will be multi-disciplined.

This is not the end of the app-age. The way I see it there are transactional apps and experience apps. Transactional apps (order pizza, pay a bill, call a cab, look up train time etc) will be consumed by chatbots over the next few years as bots mature. Experience apps (games, entertainment, education etc) will last longer until AR/VR take them out. I guess the bad news for incumbent banks is they tend to fall in the transactional camp. Their way out, assuming they still want to ‘own the customer’, is to either become an experience app (not easy but it’s something we’re trying) or to go bot-free and play towards to sizeable segment of customers who will find chatbots as frustrating to deal with as telephony.

This change is not far off. Banks won’t have the time to adjust like they did will apps and the impact of losing the customer will be huge for the incumbent banks that don’t adapt. The good news belongs to the customer. Switching between apps for different operations will seen archaic quite soon. Having one intelligent and context aware command line bot will simplify interactions and I expect will bring the exciting concept of botscripting, like ShellScripts in the command line world, a kind of programmatic life hack! Quite frankly, any bank that doesn’t have a Chatbot API division on par with their mobile division is already lagging!

First appeared at Finextra

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