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For the past couple of years, financial institutions have explored how AI can help them in several areas, such as reducing costs, enhancing revenue, eliminating fraud and improving the customer experience.

One of the most recent AI efforts is Bank of America’s Erica, a virtual assistant focused on the customer experience when launched three months ago. The financial services player claims it is the first widely available AI-driven virtual assistant of its kind in the industry.

The bank recently announced 1 million mobile banking users have accessed Erica’s features to search for transactions, view balance information and bills, get their credit scores and their account numbers.

While that figure represents only 4 percent of the bank’s 25 million-plus mobile banking clients, at least one industry analyst deemed it as progress from Bank of America.

“Give the staggered rollout and passive nature of Erica — sitting idle, waiting to be called upon — one million users is decent adoption so far,” Emmett Higdon, director of the digital banking practice for Javelin Strategy & Research, told Mobile Payments Today in an email. “The real question remains, how many of those customers will be repeat users? Were they satisfied with the experience? Did they get what they need?”

Bank of America could not provide specific details about how customers use Erica, but a spokeswoman did share some insights with Mobile Payments Today.

“So far, clients have been tapping [to interact with Erica] the most,” according to the spokeswoman. “Talking and texting are used about equally after tapping/gesture.”

Erica (a play on the last five letters of the bank’s name) “appears” as a small, circular icon in the bottom, right corner of any page a user visits within the mobile banking app. Customers activate her by pressing the icon.

The spokeswoman said it was too early to determine the average time users spent with Erica, or if they’re using the mobile app more as a result. But the bank is more than pleased about the early numbers.

“It just goes to show how quickly we can grow, and we expect the numbers to continue to grow,” the spokeswoman said.

The bank said customers did not specifically ask for an AI-driven assistant, but it created Erica as a way to anticipate future needs.

“Our clients are increasingly asking for mobile services that make their lives easier, and Erica is becoming a growing choice for its convenience and personal solutions,” Michelle Moore, head of digital banking at Bank of America, said in a press release about the milestone. “As we continue to advance our work on AI-driven developments, it is important that we listen to our users today and further enhance Erica to align to client feedback to better meet and anticipate needs.”

Bank of America might be on to something with Erica in terms of the customer experience and what consumers want from their most trusted brands.

Higdon shared a Javelin survey data point that found “mobile banking users are interested in voice control as a way to simplify and streamline interactions.”

In a survey last year, half of all mobile banking users said they were interested in voice controls. And that is not just limited to the millennial demographic as 58 percent of users between the ages of 35 and 44 are interested in voice controls.

“Erica has been programmed to help customers with the most common features and functions in the app — many of which the customer may not even be aware of,” Higdon said. “When customers ask Erica for their routing number, it’s likely they do not know where to find it in the app.”

Bank of America is adding more features to Erica that are intended to help customers with beefier tasks such as mobile onboarding and the ability to instantly add a newly-approved credit card to a digital wallet.

Another new feature puts a human touch within reach with a chat option that connects a user to a specialist to help with a checking or savings account application within the mobile banking app. Such a feature addresses a major pain point consumers have experienced with mobile banking in the past with incomplete applications, which then forces them into a branch to address such tasks.

How often customers use the new features remains to be seen. The bigger question might be whether Erica can eventually answer why something is good for a customer.

“The bigger challenge with more advanced functionality like digital wallets is in helping customers understand the value proposition, not with onboarding,” he said. “‘Erica, why do I need a mobile wallet?’ serves more customers’ needs than ‘Erica, add my debit card to Apple Pay.'”

Image courtesy of Bank of America.
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