There’s an entire financial chatbot ecosystem emerging in the artificial intelligence space.
Chatbots, designed to simulate conversations with human users, have existed for a long time. Now, with so many millennial consumers who prefer digital interactions for accessing and managing their financial services, chatbot popularity has erupted.
Kasisto, which calls its MyKAI chatbot a “Siri for financial services,” is one of the most well-funded, having just closed a $9.2 million Series A round in January. It gives consumers a conversational platform over which they can ask about their bank account activity and allows them to link their Venmo or Facebook Messenger accounts to make payments initiated through KAI. It also works with banks to allow them to create their own conversational experiences with customers. The company was part of the inaugural class of Wells Fargo’s accelerator program and was originally a spin-off venture of SRI International. Incidentally, Siri was too before it was acquired by Apple in 2010.
Digiday spoke with Dror Oren, cofounder and VP of product at Kasisto, about how it separates itself from chatbot hype, how it’s adapted to technology changes in banking, the company’s long and short term goals.
How do you avoid bot fatigue?
The way we view ourselves isn’t as a bot company. We’re a conversational AI platform. We enable conversations on different channels, which can be chatbots on messaging but can also be conversations on mobile applications, on the web, through Alexa – we’re across channels.
The second difference is that we’re a platform. Yes, we have our own MyKAI bot but we really enable banks to build their own bots.
The third thing is, not all bots are created equal. There are dumb bots and smart bots. It’s easy to build a bot that demos well, it’s hard to build a bot that answers the questions you want and can deploy in an enterprise environment where you can train, retrain, scale, add more capabilities and have it run in a banking environment.
How has Kasisto’s vision of itself changed since 2013 given how much fintech and banking have changed in that time?
The value proposition around conversation for finance and redefining the way people interact with banks has been a consistent focus from the very beginning. When we were raising money, no one believed conversation would be the modality people interact with. Now we don’t need to convince people about conversation, but the conversation is a little different. Voice had higher appeal back in the day; we see it less today. Now the focus seems to be more on written conversation — messaging and chat interactions.
We’re also seeing an extension of use cases. It used to be about proving the ROI — how you justify the deployment of these systems. Now it’s about customer support messaging and banks are looking at more opportunities to extend their reach.
Won’t voice make a comeback?
We don’t see much demand coming from the market. One exception would be Alexa and the success of Echo. We’re piloting an integration with them so we know there are interesting use cases there. I don’t think standalone speech solutions add much value to your bank applications but adding a conversational element to devices that already do speech is probably something we’ll see develop.
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It seems like every fintech company is touting an AI component now.
Yes, AI has become a buzzword. It’s everywhere but not clear where and in what contexts. We’re using AI in training our models, training a system that doesn’t already know the banking system. We’re also using it in run time; you ask a question to the bot and the system decides what the right answer is, what the “intent” is, what it is you’re really trying to do when you ask “how much have I spent on Uber between March and August?”
What is the future of MyKAI?
In the next couple years, we will see live deployments with banks solving simple but real problems around customer support, helping you understand your transactions, personal finance management; but also actual actions, like making payments, asking about reducing a fee, buying overdraft protection. Every bank and company will find their own valuable use cases and will double down on those. We’re lucky to be live early in the process because we already have a lot of data to help us look at what people are asking for and doubling down on those things.
How much does customer trust or distrust play into the evolution of the chatbot ecosystem?
There’s no real reason when you apply for loan or mortgage you’d wouldn’t want to with a bot. It’s only a matter of filling out a bunch of forms but right now people don’t do it. As time goes by we’ll see trust move to virtual conversations and away from live conversations.
And channel maturation?
We think a conversation can be cross-channel and blur the lines of how you think of the channel. If a user is going to a bank’s website on their mobile is that the mobile channel or the web? At the end of the day the consumers don’t care [about the channel]. They want a consistent experience across all the touchpoints.