Wells Fargo will use Google technology in launching a new virtual assistant set to roll out to customers in the coming months. The service, called Fargo, will be similar to Erica, the virtual assistant at Bank of America. It will use Dialogflow, Google Cloud’s conversational AI platform to provide a more personalized, convenient, and simple banking experience, primarily for mobile users
“As mobile banking has become Wells Fargo customers’ most preferred way to bank, we will continue to innovate in collaboration with strategic partners like Google Cloud to build customer experiences that motivate and support them on their financial journeys,” said Michelle Moore, head of digital for consumer and wealth & investment management at Wells Fargo. “This partnership will expand our customers’ digital financial support network by enabling meaningful money conversations conveniently from their mobile device.”
Some of the functionality is pretty underwhelming, such as the ability to turn debit cards off and on — something Simple offered through a mobile phone several years ago, and other banks and card providers have long made available to their users.
A study that Ipsos conducted for Wells Fargo this summer found widespread acceptance of virtual assistants. It reported that nearly two thirds (65%) of millennials and Gen Z respondents prefer to use a virtual assistant for customer service needs rather than waiting for a customer service representative on the phone.
“Most (84%) who have used virtual assistants reported a favorable experience and 70% cited ‘saving time’ as a top benefit” the same as two years ago. The survey also asked about why uses might prefer a real person on the call.
“The perceived strengths of human representatives is: they understand the customer’s emotions (62%), handle complex questions (58%), answer questions accurately (46%), provide peace of mind (45%).” Thirty-eight percent noted that talking to a person gives the customer control over their service experience, a point apt to resonate with people who have found themselves shouting in frustration at an automated virtual assistant that can’t understand even a simple request.
The bank appears to be starting small with plans to evolve to more sophisticated services. Initially Fargo will let users check credit limits and search for specific transactions by date, amount or type. Fargo will access a user’s bank data including a customer’s credit card, checking, savings and lending (home, auto and personal loan) accounts. In the future, Fargo will expand to other products and services, a spokesperson said. Fargo will also draw on insights gleaned from its conversations with a customer, in addition to a customer’s spending patterns and behaviors, she added.
“Next year, Fargo will offer Spanish language capabilities. It will also take a more proactive role in guiding customers toward financial wellness by leveraging predictive analytics to enable meaningful conversations that learn and adapt to each individual customer,” the banks announcement said.
Fargo will also simplify budgeting by calculating how much someone can safely spend, again, something the mobile phone based banking apps Simple and Moven offered years ago. Fargo will also be able to make suggestions to customers about how much they could save by consolidating debt or improve their finances by moving extra cash to investments. Financial firms have a mixed record when offering financial advice, sometimes directing customers to a firm’s own products that are higher cost and/or lower performing than products offered elsewhere.