By Robert McGarvey
Bank of America dropped the bomb in a recent press release that announced the debut of Erica, which it described as “the first widely available AI-driven virtual assistant of its kind in financial services.”
Not sure what B of A means by “of its kind” because Erica seems spawned from the same genes as Alexa, the Amazon voice driven assistant (with roughly 31 million units sold). There are maybe a few dozen financial institutions live in Alexa, but I can think of many more that say they are in an Amazon approval queue. Expect there to be nearing 100 live by year end and, yes, most will be very large institutions but already around a dozen credit unions claim to have some sort of Alexa skill.
Even better, Amazon has announced tools that will lead to wider integration of Alexa into PCs, meaning that a standalone Alexa device will not be essential for much longer. That should spur broader adoption.
Google, meantime, has its standalone device for voice driven AI – but it also makes its Google Assistant available on smartphones and some Chromebooks.
Bottomline: AI is about to explode and that can’t be ignored in financial services.
Back to why B of A thinks its Erica matters: “Everything we do is based on what we hear from our clients: how they want to interact with us and how we can make their financial lives better,” said Michelle Moore, head of digital banking at Bank of America, in a press statement. “Erica delivers on this in many ways, from making it easy for clients to find what they are looking for to providing new and interactive ways to do their banking using voice, text or gesture.”
Erica, understand, has an advantage. It’s purpose built to do financial services – where Amazon, if anything, seems to see Alexa has a shopping aid and Google sees its Assistant as an adjunct to its search engine – and it is much robust than the Alexa banking skills I’ve looked at.
It is not available across the country yet but B of A said it’s getting there.
As for what Erica, which will be built into the B of A mobile banking app, can do, B of A offered this roundup: Currently, clients can ask Erica to:
- Search for past transactions, such as checks written or shopping activity.
- Increase awareness about credit scores.
- Navigate the app and access key information, such as routing numbers or the closest ATM or financial center.
- Schedule face-to-face meetings with specialists in our financial centers.
- View bills and schedule payments.
- Lock and unlock debit cards.
- Transfer money between accounts or send money to friends and family with Zelle.
Nothing very exciting but – still – these tasks represent a lot of what we do in mobile banking apps.
B of A also promised a further build out: “In the coming months, Erica will be able to tackle more complex tasks, such as:
- Sending proactive notifications to clients about upcoming bills and payments.
- Displaying key client spending and budgeting information and advice on ways to save.
- Identifying ways for clients to save more.
- Managing credit and debit cards to help notify clients of card changes.
- Showing upcoming subscription charges and monitoring transaction history and changes.”
Assume there will be a broad marketing/advertising blitz to support Erica, much as we are seeing an avalanche of ads for Zelle, and that means members will be asking: when can we get Erica?
The bad news is that they can’t. Unless they switch financial institutions.
For credit unions the takeaway is this: expect spiking interest in AI powered banking. So get busy building, or buying, your own AI skills, probably Alexa, possibly Google powered and that way stay swinging in the ring.
This is a fight where credit unions can hold their own because the biggest fintechs – Google and Amazon – are standing by ready and eager to help.
Meantime, MasterCard has said it wants to build its payment tech into the Amazon and Google tools which means easy paying with voice is coming fast.
You may not be able to beat B of A on your own.
But with Amazon and Google as your best buddies you sure have an excellent chance.