Transforming financial services – the history of chatbots

No longer the new kid on the block; chatbots are now coming of age in the financial services industry

We live in an age of fretful customer expectation. Consumers desire a perfect balance between swift transaction, and rich interaction. Historically it’s been difficult for these two outcomes to coexist, but the introduction of financial technology such as chatbots has begun to bridge the gap. So what is a chat bot anyway? And how long have they been on the scene? Well, let’s start with the basics:

What is a chatbot?

Chatbot: an artificial intelligence (AI) program that simulates interactive human conversation by using pre-calculated user phrases and auditory or text-based signals.


Chatbots are usually used for rudimentary customer service and marketing enquiries, displayed as social media interactions or instant messaging.

How long have chatbots been around?

Despite only now becoming commonplace in CRM, finance, and marketing systems, chatbots have actually been around since the 1960s! The first mainstream chatbot was called ELIZA, and it was developed by MIT professor, Joseph Weizenbaum. Its purpose was to mimic the behaviour of a therapist. It was cutting edge at the time, but as you can imagine, the technology and algorithms have come a long way since then.

What are chatbots used for now?

As the level of complexity has risen over the years, both in terms of the level of expectation from consumers, and the capacity of the technology itself, chatbots have become a facet of many a forward-thinking ecommerce or customer service journey. Broadly speaking, chatbots are designed to replace the requirement for human customer support, so as to solve for simple queries by guiding the user to a piece of information, or to confirm a detail of a product/service.

In theory, any business which receives a steady volume of queries about their products or services could develop a chatbot to alleviate the strain on their customer service resource. All chatbots need to be bespoke to the business they serve if they are to be beneficial from a productivity and customer service perspective. In order to achieve this, an initial research phase is required to ascertain which queries come up repeatedly. If a standard response applicable to everyone who asks that question can be created and validated, then this could be built into the rules engine of a chatbot. Naturally, every business is different, so the queries could vary from something as simple as “what time do you open on a Saturday?” to “what’s the value limit on my public liability insurance”; but regardless of level of complexity, a chatbot can still support to some extent. Even in cases where the query is highly complex, a chatbot could be used to direct a user to a longer piece of content on your website, or even to arrange a call back to speak to a customer service representative, either on the phone or over live chat.

Aside from freeing up customer service resource, chatbots are advantageous for businesses in several other ways. (3) With more than half of people now expecting their query to be answered any time (day or night), and 83% of people expecting the option of support at all stages in an online purchase, a chatbot can be a crucial support source. While human interactions are unlikely to be eradicated completely, it easy to understand how businesses use chatbots to provide support at unsociable hours. A chatbot is never sick, or late, and doesn’t need holidays; it’s a resource that a business can always count on.

Chatbots for financial services

Chatbots are working their way into all corners of online business, with 80% of businesses in the UK expected to have a chatbot solution by 2020. The financial services industry in particular has been taking huge strides towards chatbot integration, as the efficiencies gained by their introduction can be lucrative in that market.

Traditional financial service businesses have long been held back by the complexities and intricate details of the products they sell, as well as laborious application processes. Chatbots are now often used to give immediate, specific, and accurate stock responses to would be customers in order to assuage any concerns they may have over the purchase. The more advanced chatbots even assist with the application process, automating sequential questions and prompting for information at relevant times in the sales journey.   

What next for chatbots?

They’ve come a long way thus far, and there’s still some distance to go. The level of advancement since they were first conceived in the mid-1960s is impressive. In less than 60 years, they’ve gone from a loosely conversational and one dimensional text program, to a thriving technological integration that’s expected to be worth $1.34 billion by 2024. The level of expectation from consumers will continue to rise, which will drive the innovation needed for chatbots to leap forward again in technological advancement.

The convergence and integration of software features is resplendent in the tech we use, so it would be expected that chatbots begin to add features that originate elsewhere. Primarily an online text based service at present, perhaps the next phase of chatbots will involve sound or image integration. The level of realism was kicked up a notch by Apple’s Siri, and Amazon’s Alexa, so there’s a clear appetite to develop the chatbot platform further. While the immediate next steps may not be abundantly clear at present to the end user, you can bet that the advancement of chatbots will continue to push technological boundaries, which will ultimately benefit businesses who are smart enough to invest in them.


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