The ‘most helpful banking assistant’ on Facebook

The most helpful ‘banking assistant’ on Facebook

Wells Fargo has received industrywide attention as the first U.S. bank to pilot an artificial intelligence chatbot on Facebook Messenger.

July 26, 2017

After a few taps and clicks and a quick search on Facebook Messenger, customers can use the interactive chat to meet up with Wells Fargo’s helpful virtual banking assistant.

“Hi there, how can I help you today?” the cordial assistant asks in the Messenger box.

After a simple registration, customers can ask for their account balance, most recent transactions, how much they spent on food last week, and the location of the nearest ATM, among other things. Request by request, the information quickly appears.

“Very happy to help,” the assistant says at the end of the chat.

That’s Wells Fargo’s Bot for Messenger, the company’s latest effort to engage and serve customers directly on social media — via desktop, smartphone, and other mobile devices — through an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot.

The pilot, which launched for up to 5,000 customers and team members earlier this year, was a starting point for Wells Fargo to determine whether artificial intelligence is a viable way to interact with customers on Messenger and make banking more convenient for them.

Using the virtual assistant for the first time was like an “aha! moment,” said Kristin Deegan, a manager on Wells Fargo’s Virtual Channels team and a co-leader of the chatbot program.

“When I asked it questions about my account and saw the right answers come back to me, that was a really cool moment,” said Deegan, who tested the chatbot ahead of the pilot. “After all the work we had done, it was very exciting to see the chatbot responding to us.”

Wells Fargo has received industrywide attention as the first U.S. bank to pilot an artificial intelligence chatbot on Facebook Messenger.
Wells Fargo's Bot for Facebook Messenger can provide account balances, transactions, ATM locations, and more.

Delivering information ‘in the moment’

“Our goal is to deliver information ‘in the moment’ to help all customers make better informed financial decisions,” said Steve Ellis, head of Wells Fargo’s Innovation Group.

Developing chatbots and other artificial intelligence systems has become one of Wells Fargo’s top priorities in the past couple of years, said Ellis, who formed the company’s Artificial Intelligence Enterprise Solutions team in February. It is especially critical for reaching and serving banking customers in the tech-savvy millennial generation and future generations, he said.

“AI technology allows us to simply have a conversation in the chat environment rather than clicking on a website,” said Ellis. “That’s a huge time-saving convenience for busy customers who are already frequent users of Messenger.”

From 1-800-Flowers to fintech companies, many brands are developing chatbots on the fast-growing Messenger platform, which topped 1.2 billion users in April, according to Facebook.

For users in the pilot, Wells Fargo’s Facebook chatbot currently responds to basic questions about deposit and credit card accounts, transactions, and branch or ATM locations — which helps free up bankers to handle more complex tasks, Ellis noted. Over time, the chatbot becomes more conversational in its responses as it recognizes repeated words, phrases, and contextual cues. It will ultimately be able to transition more intricate conversations to a banker for a seamless customer experience.

“If done right, what’s next is even more exciting: revolutionizing the customer experience from start to finish,” he said. “With the right data and analytics, we shift from the mindset of ‘people like you tend to do this’ to an experience based on who you are and what you want.” Ellis noted that the team is evaluating how to incorporate chatbots into other platforms, including Wells Fargo’s website and mobile app.

The company’s chatbot service and other artificial intelligence work such as predictive banking has caught the attention of the industry and the press, including coverage by American Banker, Reuters, TechEmergence, and other outlets.

Wells Fargo is one of a handful of firms implementing new technologies aimed at allowing customers to conduct online transactions as securely and conveniently as possible from anywhere, said Dan Miller, founder and lead analyst for Opus Research, a tech consulting firm based in San Francisco.

“That means incorporating simpler authentication,” he said. “Wells Fargo is certainly among the leaders in evaluating all the options out there, making authentication both easy and secure, and developing things like artificial intelligence to help people carry out their financial activities.”

‘There was something very special about this project’

Uma Meyyappan, the other program co-leader in Wells Fargo’s Innovation Group, pointed out that the collaboration of team members from various groups was a key component to success.

Despite technical challenges and high-pressure deadlines, said Meyyappan, the chatbot project group of more than 50 team members across the U.S. worked with extraordinary unity to get the job done in only six months and become the first large U.S. bank to offer a chatbot on Messenger.

“There was something very special about this project,” she said. “It brought people together in such a unifying way. When there was a need, we responded immediately to meet that need. They went above and beyond to get the work done and get it done fast.”

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