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Not so long ago, chatbots were the most talked about new tech on the block. It was believed that soon we would be able to conduct conversations with digital assistants as easily as we could with our PAs.
Well, things haven’t quite turned out that way. Microsoft’s attempt to launch a “twitter bot” in 2016, known as Tay, was nothing short of disastrous, Hackers were quickly able to disrupt and distort the bot’s conversational gambits until Tay began to spout offensive gibberish.
Nobody likes a racist, genocidal robot. Not even bankers ; )
But the story of new inventions is really the story of failure upon failure leading to success, and firms today, especially within the financial technology or “fintech” sector, are as determined as ever to make the chatbot work.
Standard Chartered is one such firm. The global bank announced last week that it plans to deploy a chatbot across its online and mobile banking platforms and websites. In order to make sure the bot does not fall into the Tay trap, Standard Chartered have enlisted the help a chatbot specialist firm, Kalisto.
Kalisto’s AI driven conversational platform for the financial sector is known as KAI banking, and in reality, its scope is somewhat more limited than Microsoft’s Tay, which ironically makes it the right choice for a progressive firm trying to find new ways to makes its client’s lives easier, whilst saving itself 1,000s of man hours at the same time.
Subject to regulatory approval, the bot is scheduled to launch in Hong Kong next year, and should it prove successful, will slowly be phased into other regions.
“We are taking disruptive technology and using it to design a client experience that is not just convenient and personal – it’s a whole new banking experience”, says Standard Chartered’s Global Head of Design and Client Experience Deniz Güven.
“Looking at how quickly our clients are embracing digital, I expect our chatbot will become a popular way to connect with us anytime, anywhere.”
Whilst Standard Chartered should be commended for their efforts to put chatbots front and centre of their digital strategy, it is a risky move, for two reasons.
The first is obvious; what if it goes wrong? Hell hath no fury like a busy banker trying to perform a simple task that an ambitious yet limited piece of technology cannot complete for them.
It is ten times worse than an incompetent member of staff at a local branch – there is no manager ready and waiting to step in and resolve an awkward situation, plus any mistakes that the chatbot makes will be magnified one thousand-fold as soon as the negative feedback begins to find its way onto social media. Never has it been easier to express dissatisfaction with a product or service than in today’s connected age.
It used to be said that if a customer has a positive experience using a product or service, they are likely to tell 2 people, but if they have a negative experience, they are likely to tell 10. Thanks to Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and a myriad of other digital platforms, we can now add several zeros to those two figures.
The second reason is to do with managing expectations. Yes, the idea of a chatbot that can converse in a sophisticated manner and carry out instructions sounds futuristic, convenient, and cool, but if, in the rush to stay one step ahead of the competition, the end product is not quite what it is cracked up to be – then the results could be nothing short of disastrous.
Every time a chatbot is released by a high-profile firm, it will face the same inquisition – is this helpful, or an irritant? Why has the firm done this – to help customers, or to save money?
One failed chatbot could set a firm back a decade or more. It’s a question of timing – is it better to stay patient and wait until the technology is ready? Or to jump the gun and pray the tech does what it says on the tin, and customers are suitably wowed?
Standard Chartered are clearly confident that they have a product that can deliver the desired experiences, but the firm are also being careful not to over-promote it, soft launching in Hong Kong before rolling out the service elsewhere.
In Kasisto, they have a partner with a solid reputation that clearly believe they have cracked it. Standard Chartered describe Kasisto as a partner with a “proven track record of delivering bots that engage customers in ‘human-like’ conversations.”
Kasisto’s CEO, Zor Gorelov, says that “KAI is already a banking expert and once it’s trained on Standard Chartered products and services, it will serve as a powerful AI brain ready to meet their clients in the channel they prefer. It has the know-how to fulfil client requests, make recommendations and solve problems – while delivering banking with a human touch. The KAI-powered bot can handle all of the unique ways people communicate.”
Standard Chartered say that their chatbot will help clients “manage money, make payments and analyse their spending in a split-second, via natural conversations in English and other languages.”
But perhaps the important phrase to note is Mr Gorelov’s observation that “when there is a need to talk to a human, the bot can seamlessly hand off to a Standard Chartered banking professional.”
This is a good hedge. If the chatbot is struggling, unlike Microsoft’s supposedly all singing, all dancing, proto-human, Kasisto’s bot quite sensibly reaches out immediately for human help.
Chatbot’s that are as intelligent at making conversation as humans simply don’t exist yet, but banks don’t want their customers to think they are not trying, or that another bank has found the magic formula.
Standard Chartered’s new bot sounds like a small step, rather than a giant leap for mankind’s finances, and for that, at this stage of an ultimately commendable process – the automation of tedious banking procedures and super-speedy, insightful product recommendations, we can be grateful.
Don’t expect to debate Fermat’s last theorem with KAI Banking, but if it does help us bank better, it will be a pleasant surprise and a big win for the firm.