Chatbots to save banks billions, unless they don’t

Image credit: Besjunior /

When I read that chatbots will save banks billions I am afraid I just laughed. A study from Juniper Research has predicted that operational cost savings by banks using chatbots will reach $7.3 billion globally by 2023. This represents a saving of 3,400%. And just in case you were in any doubt about the SAVINGS, they add that this also represents half a million man years’ in work.

While the research is interesting from the point of view of the savings (did I mention savings?) that are possible through the use of technology it also raises both smiles and questions.

Smiles mainly because recent personal experience of chatbots nearly lost a certain US delivery company a customer. No-one was home when a delivery was attempted last week and about an hour was completely wasted trying to track where the parcel had gone and how, where and when it might be redelivered.

The identification number that they requested I use to ‘expedite’ this was not on the email they sent. It was also impossible to complete the sign-up process to become a member which would ‘expedite’ things even more. Why? Because unless you lived in the US you simply couldn’t. The drop down menu of country options remained obstinately greyed out.

The point is not that places outside the US do not exist. The point is that you cannot talk to a person (there was no phone number anywhere) you have ‘talk’ to a chatbot. And the chatbots this company uses are useless. Multiple attempts at telling it/them that it is impossible to sign up to their club because I do not live in the US met with increasingly frustrating and irrelevant answers, normally followed by a little box that asked whether the increasingly frustrating and irrelevant answers had resolved my issue.

Towards the end it was just as well I was trying to communicate with a machine not a human.

Even when humans answer the phone (if you can find a phone number) the scripts that Customer Service Representatives have to use are eye wateringly patronising. The other day I rang my phone company (it takes me about three days to pluck up courage and find enough time to do this) to ask a simple question, why was my bill a hundred pounds more than I expected. It took over 20 minutes to answer this question and make sure it didn’t happen again, most of the time spent validating my identity and explaining what a gigabyte is. (So much for a certain phone company beginning with V and ending in Odafone making use of data usage alerts, and don’t get me started on what they charge for overage).

You can only imagine that the scripts and information that the chatbots will be armed with will be more complex and patronising than if it was left to mere humans.

The real point is that to make the kind of savings that Juniper’s research points to, banks must be intending to throw out millions of humans and replace them with millions of mindless robots.

They might well save millions of man years but they will also unleash millions more man years of frustration, anger and wasted time upon the population who will have to take two patience pills every time they try and interact with their bank. The prospect is deeply depressing.

This whole thing smacks of cutting costs because you can and not realising that the result of mindless cost cutting and use of automation will probably result in losing millions of customers, opening the door even further for disruptive FinTech start ups.

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