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Fintech 23 Apr 2019

How a bank designs a virtual assistant that helps you understand your finances

“Hello! Finally, we meet! I have been specifically designed to help you better understand the ins and outs of your daily finances.  I am always available and crunching the numbers is one of my favorite tasks.”

This could be the start of a friendship, a virtual friendship, because the virtual assistant is a “bot” enabled in BBVA’s app whose express mission is to better control customer finances. “We call it a  ‘pseudo-bot’ … initially resembling conversational interfaces,” explains Sergio Ruiz Navarro, who is responsible for the design/UX of this endearing creature whose mission is to understand if customers do a good job (or not) of managing their money.

A bot is a computer program that automatically carries out repetitive tasks and is used to communicate with the user. The virtual assistant’s creators don’t think of it as a bot in the strictest sense of the word because it doesn’t use the standard technology to respond to the end user’s closed questions.

In the analogue world, it would be comparable to a choose-your-own adventure finance book where users can jump from page to page depending on what story they would like to hear from their financial situation. “As it’s a limited model, it’s like a sketch or outline where users can see a series of highly impressive and complex stories in order. These stories are connected to their financial situation at very specific points in time. The beginning of the month is not the same as the end of the month. The primary task given to the design team was to help users find out how they are doing this month, and how they will be doing,” say Iván Leal, the Head of Narrative UX, the company in charge of ensuring that the virtual assistant has a personality in its responses and becomes part of the Narrative team.

After introducing itself, the virtual assistant gives the user instructions: “Depending on where we are in the month, I’ll give you forecasts of your income and expenses, I’ll let you know about account activity when it occurs and I’ll show you information that might help you better understand how your finances are evolving. Next month could be better for us than this month. I’m here to help!”

A lifeguard in the pool of data

The virtual assistant’s greatest challenge is data personalization and synthesis capabilities to assist customers. “One analysis is that that there are many users who may feel like they’re in a pool of data and don’t respond well to that. That’s why Bibot speaks like a friend who knows about banks and explains everything in a very simple manner,” says Sergio Ruiz, who emphasizes the virtual assistant’s unique personality.

However, this willingness to engage in a personal relationship with the user is not incompatible with accuracy: “It is still a technical project. If the tool weren’t precise it would be a failure,” maintains Iván Leal. In fact, Bibot is based on the same sources as Bconomy, the feature in BBVA’s app that allows customers to find out the status of their financial health.

Designers have integrated feedback from users since the project first began in August 2017. It was initially tested for employees in early 2018 and last summer was introduced to all users. Throughout the entire period the virtual assistant’s behavior has improved: the answers have become shorter and other parameters are taken into account that improve the quality of conversations with users.

The virtual assistant is constantly evolving and the designers do not rule out one day giving the tool a voice. “Our users are asking for this update and we would like to be able to offer it to them in the future. We will need technology that is slightly more mature in order to replicate the current level of experience with a voice assistant,” concludes Iván Leal.

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