Innovation

Text As Context For Banking In The Digital Age

Finding the message behind the messenger bot isn’t hard, with intelligent assistants such as Capital One’s Eno giving consumers choice in how they manage banking activities. Ken Dodelin, Vice President, Conversational AI Products at Capital One, discusses the context behind the texts.

wThink of bots and you think of chats – but bots and banking also go hand in hand. Today, Capital One announced that Eno – the first text-based chatbot from a U.S. bank – is now widely available to millions of Capital One customers.

Launched in pilot earlier this year, Capital One’s Eno finds its footing purely through SMS – through natural language settings that use, among other things, emojis and shorthand texting to bring customers together with their account data.

PYMNTS’ Karen Webster caught up with Ken Dodelin, vice president of conversational AI products at Capital One, who said that Capital One has been “aggressively pursuing new products” in the artificial intelligence space for several years, with a focus on “the evolution of how customers interact with brands and how they interact with their money.” The advantages of machine learning and AI can help those relationships evolve in a proactive way.

There seems to be a bifurcation in interacting with interfaces, such as Amazon’s ubiquitous Alexa. The bifurcation hinges on whether the user is seeking or receiving information. As Dodelin noted, the fastest way to spur an interactive assistant is to ask it something via voice query, while the fastest way to consume the response is by reading. Capital One has skills for Alexa and Echo Show, providing great insights and experiences along the way.

“The ability to have a screen involved” – even with the voice interface – means that the screen is driving the efficiency of relaying information to the user through images and graphics. And when it comes to financial information, let’s just say that giving voice to dollars and cents can be a bit of a quandary. “Talking about your money in a room full of people is off-putting for some folks,” said Dodelin.

He told Webster that the precedent for using Eno and its text context has already been set forth by Capital One. There is a two-way SMS alert related to fraud, as per a lot of banks, bringing suspicious activity to the attention of consumers. Those SMS messages prompt users to choose what to do about that activity, giving them the final say on what is kosher and what isn’t as they can “type back the words confirm or deny,” Dodelin said.

But here’s a wrinkle of sorts: In examining Capital One’s logs on such queries, as Dodelin noted, 30 percent of responses were neither “confirm” nor “deny.” At times, he added, banking customers sent back relatively lengthy responses that in essence explained the transactions or asked questions.

The emergence of Eno, said Dodelin, means that Capital One’s banking customers can simply text Eno to stay on top of their Capital One accounts. For example, say their bill is due and they need to make a payment. The command might be, “pay my statement balance on my card.” And, in today’s shortened parlance of natural language, a thumbs-up emoji to confirm the transaction will do the trick.

“This is a wonderful example of [what happens] when you take friction out of the process,” said Dodelin, “and the customer doesn’t have to go put this on a to-do list.”

Given that there is diversity in the way people interact with their devices, Dodelin offered some examples of how texting can be tailored to the users’ preferences. Dollar sign in, answer back, he said, as a quick and straightforward way of inquiring about account balances. Other people chat using nouns, pronouns and complete paragraphs. Account balances, he said, remain at the top of the list as the number one inbound request. Number three on that same inbound list likely comes as a surprise, he said – it’s comprised of thank yous and appreciations of the bot rendered by users.

“And that is stunning,” he said, because there is “no reason to thank a robot. It is happy for the response,” he said, tongue in cheek. “Folks appreciate [Eno] and project their own human, interactional style” onto the device, while at the same time “there is an evolution here of the connection they have with the brand” and the technology in place with Capital One.

Asked by Webster as to how Eno and Alexa coexist, Dodelin said, “swimmingly,” elaborating that “I describe them as a parent AI and a child AI.” In a continuum, users can have Alexa (via Echo or Echo Show) ask Capital One “what is the balance on the Venture card,” and once they state a four-digit security code, they can transact.

“It’s about customer choice,” he said of the continuum between using voice or text across activities that manage Capital One accounts.

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