By Anthony O’Brien, Professional Planner, August 2, 2018

If you’re one of the 62 per cent of Australians purchasing online, you may have noticed a trend in the last few years. I saw it recently when booking flights with one major Australian airline.

During the process of, I was asked numerous times if I wanted help along the way, with a chat window appearing in the top left corner of the screen. It was made clear that ‘Jess’ was here to help me, and that if I had any questions, I could ask.

‘Jess’, of course, is not a real person and is a chatbot. It’s an example of how artificial intelligence (AI) is changing marketing and client services. This technology is already being used in financial services, and could be a core tool for planners.

Chatbots that save money and can engage like a human

It may seem slightly Red Dwarf-ish, but businesses are using technology such as chatbots all over the world. Simply put, a chatbot is a software program, powered by AI, that provides human-like interactions through various platforms, such as social media or a website. It essentially mimics our behaviour and learns over time.

From a technology standpoint, many businesses are now able to provide website services using chatbots – and the coding work isn’t as expensive as you may think. Mimicking human interactions, dealing with logical questions from clients, and providing a more human experience are possible.

While some may believe the ethical issues of using AI-powered chatbots require more thought, the horse has bolted. If you want to see the next evolution, check out Google’s recent advances in AI. Google, through its bot Google Assistant, can book a haircut or restaurant, and adapt in real time as the human on the other end of the phone poses questions or challenges to it. It’s easy to see how this is exciting and alarming at the same time – come on down James Cameron’s Skynet.

Uses in financial services

Jokes aside, marketing and customer service functions in financial services are already using this technology. A recent Deloitte report spelled out how.

From a marketing perspective, the speed of AI represents its actual benefit. Even routine requests can often take a reasonable amount of time. For instance, Nerida Cole, managing director, head of advice at Dixon Advisory, told the Financial Services Council Summit in Melbourne last week that: “When you’re giving advice, you can spend three hours on the phone trying to get the various information together.”

A chatbot dramatically speeds up the response to a client. There’s no waiting for a human to respond and clients can receive answers instantaneously. There are also the cost benefits. A chatbot works 24/7, and it never sleeps or requires a break. For this reason, some are concerned with the ethical dilemmas this type of technology creates.

Will it last?

I’m a believer that humans will always require interactions with other people. Communicating with computers will never replace this contact. Will it stay this way? Only time will tell. The rise of the machines is already here, though, and we’ve only scratched the surface in respect to the way we work and market our businesses.