DBS Bank Takes Stake in the ‘Siri for Banking,’ Kasisto

The Development Bank of Singapore Ltd. has taken a minority stake in Kasisto, a personal assistant that helps customers with their banking.

Kasisto, a spinoff of the creator of Apple’s Siri personal assistant, SRI International, aims to help consumers with complex banking tasks. The assistant aims to make it much easier to bank on mobile phones, allowing people to ask questions or give commands in natural language.

The strategic investment comes after several large technology companies such as Facebook Inc. and Microsoft Corp. have signaled they think artificially intelligent bots present the future of customer service.

Kasisto aims to specialize in financial services, and Chief Executive Zor Gorelov said the company has seen more interest from banks, which know they have to provide service on these platforms.

But the chatbot rollout hasn’t gone smoothly. Microsoft Inc. had to halt its teen-girl chat bot Tay after it offended users. The early chatbots on Facebook Messenger are limited, and users have complained they cannot actually respond to simple, natural language commands.

“I think those doubts are justified,” Mr. Gorelov said. “There are smart bots and dumb bots.”

Facebook Inc. didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Gorelov said to make smart bots that can carry out complex tasks, the bot makers need to focus on specific verticals.

Along with the investment from DBS Bank, Kasisto announced it would power digibank, a mobile-only bank in India owned by DBS Bank. Using Kasisto’s technology, digibank allows people to set up an account at any DBS partner cafe. The app then can anticipate banking questions people might have.

Though this is Kasisto’s first public customer, Mr. Gorelov said the company is working with many financial institutions in North America. Previously the company raised $2.25 million in seed funding led by New York Angels with participation from Two Sigma Ventures, the Partnership Fund for New York City, the Wells FargoStartup Accelerator, Harvard Business School Alumni Angels of New York and others.

First appeared at WSJ Venture Capital