The mad sprint to banking chatbots has begun

By  for VentureBeat

Apple announcements are like holidays in our office and the new iOS release in September was no exception. Since then, AI assistant news has moved at warp speed. Every Alexa update is a new opportunity for fintech integration. With their latest releases, Google also is now in the running.

Add to this Bank of America’s launch of their new AI chatbot Erica on at Money 20/20 in Las Vegas and the bank bot race is on. John Sculley, the former CEO at Apple, shared his insights with financial institutions at the conference that amounted to this: plan for radical change or prepare for obsolescence.

So let’s break down the specifics around what’s getting us excited:

3 things about the new Apple iOS we love

  • Texting now looks more like messaging: This update felt inevitable on our end and we’re glad finally it’s here. Texting is now going to look, and act, more like instant messaging with gifs, static images, embeddable media, and quick reply buttons (i.e., with a GUI). Plain text hasn’t been a great experience for business services in general and now opportunities live in the availability of rich media in texting.
  • Bots (apps) are live in iMessage: This means banks can now be in iMessage. The same bots that live on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Kik, and others can now live on iMessage, expanding the reach and multi-channel opportunity to connect with consumers on their preferred device or service. We expect the ability to do this on android devices in the future, as well.
  • Bots are live in Siri: This opens Siri up to look more like Alexa where consumers can interact with a voice-controlled personal assistant. Texting is easier than making a phone call, however, and directing bots with your voice is the easiest of all. Bots rolling out in Siri will help make the platform interactive at a personal level.

3 things about the new Google Assistant we love

  • Conversation Actions: Many users already are familiar with the concept of “direct actions”. This could be anything from, “What is the time in [insert time zone],” to, “Play song [insert song title].” What’s more exciting is “conversation actions” where a user asks a less direct — or not completely structured — question and back-and-forth ensues to confirm the question being asked and find an appropriate answer. This is especially exciting for the prospect of machine learning kicking in to continuously improve the consumer experience for banking and elsewhere.
  • Google Assistant SDK: Opening up to partners is what will drive innovation in conversation actions, so the launch of the Assistant SDK and the launch of conversation actions are inextricably linked. As we saw with Facebook opening the bot marketplace to developers and how that spurned incredible growth in participation, so will the opening of the Google Assistant SDK, further accelerating the creation and adoption of consumer facing bots.
  • Competition in the marketplace: Alexa, Siri, Viv, Cortana, Facebook Messenger and others compete in the automated or voice-activated assistant space. Google joining them adds fuel to the fire to develop more competitively and garner adoption more quickly. Consumers will be interacting with bots at a far accelerated pace than originally conceived.

Bots are moving incredibly fast

These announcements indicate how rapidly the space is evolving and we expect to see wide consumer adoption in months, not years. Remember the days when you needed to build across iOS, Android, Blackberry and a multitude of other platforms? Those days are over as bots quickly replace the standard mobile app. A huge factor in who will “win” in the bot and AI assistant space will be hardware. All these bot powered assistants need to live on a ‘surface’ somewhere so the battle for mobile, desktop, refrigerator, automobile, smart home, and other kinds of integration will be key.

Users are flocking to bots. Between the 800 million people who use iMessage and the three billion people who use Android devices, the marketplace is ripe for entry. The increasing announcements and launches in the AI assistant space are only accelerating a dramatic increase in bot adoption.

The unknown in the space is how will banks adapt to this AI world? Their services will look increasingly conversational across services like Google Home and Amazon Echo. They will have to intelligently integrate with Siri, Google Assistant and Cortana. As in days of yore with launching mobile applications, these new AI applications inevitably will have a learning curve. Those who enter the space early will have the advantage of learning and improving on the fly while slower moving organizations try to make sense of the inevitable trend.

For us, this means we’re riding the crest of an incredible wave in mobile banking. We know we need to help banks activate across all these new, and potentially scary, surfaces and to take the obstacles and mystery out of launching new, consumer friendly bot integrations.

Our ongoing challenge, and passion, is to keep up with this breakneck speed.

First appeared at VB