Are chatbots the future of banking?

Why Canadian financial institutions should start looking to AI-powered chat as the next frontier of fintech.
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Thinking Capital, a lender for small- and medium-sized businesses, has launched a new chatbot for customers.

Developed by Vancouver-based Finn.ai, “Lucy” is a chatbot that current and potential Thinking Capital customers can ask questions, ask to be connected to human customer support staff and apply for loans.

Currently working within Facebook Messenger, the company is looking at ways Lucy could potentially be used in other environments – be it through things like SMS or other chat apps like WhatsApp – as well as ways it could add further functionality, like voice chat, increasing its knowledge so it doesn’t have to “hand off” a conversation to a human or allowing customers to do more transactions, beyond applying for a loan.

Anthony Lipschitz, chief strategy officer at Thinking Capital, says investing in a chatbot is a way to extend its existing customer service offering into a new platform, but also one that its consumers are already active and comfortable with.

“We’re seeing a large portion of our traffic going to mobile anyway, which lends itself to chat and those kinds of experiences, and we know our consumer is already spending a lot of time on chat platforms,” he says. “We think of our customers as being ‘Main Street,’ common consumers who happen to spend a lot of time thinking about running their business. It’s a good opportunity to serve them through a utility that is there 24/7 and gives them an opportunity to interact with us quickly and naturally and not have to go into an environment they’re not active in.”

While most tend to think of new payment methods when they think of fintech, there are other elements of the banking and financial experience that new tech can be applied to.

Finn.ai was previously known as Payso and offered one of the first peer-to-peer payment platforms in Canada, but it shut down those services earlier this year and rebranded, focusing on developing things like chatbots for banks and other financial institutions. Since then, Finn.ai has also developed chatbots for consumer-focused banks, like Alberta’s ATB Financial.

Jake Tyler, co-founder and CEO of Finn.ai, says while there are some differences between Lucy and the kinds of bots the company creates for retail banks, most of the ways a customer interacts with them and the needs it serves are similar whether its a business owner or a consumer checking their balance.

“Increasingly, we expect to be able to talk to businesses and brands in online platforms,” Tyler says. “It’s becoming an increasingly prevalent way to receive customer service.”

Tyler compares AI and the impact it will have on our interactions with brands and business through the internet to the impact that mobile and apps had in 2008. While that provided greater access to a company’s services, it was a uniform, one-size-fits all experience. What AI can offer is an experience that is more tailored to a user’s needs, offering a personalized experience that they have access to even if they aren’t in a branch.

“About once every decade, there’s a paradigm shift in how people access the internet,” Tyler says. “We’re at the start of the next paradigm shift, which is AI. It’s the kind of thing that will be complimentary to a branch, the same way mobile compliments web, but an AI platform will be a place people bank regularly and that will change the way we think about the banking experience. It’s still early days, but most Silicon Valley firms have bet the farm on this happening, and we’re excited about exploring it here.”