US Bank deploys smart assistant to boost digital banking

By David Jones

As the COVID-19 lockdown has forced major banking companies to transition from branch-based retail operations to mobile and drive thru, U.S. Bank has launched a service called the U.S. Bank Smart Assistant, marking the latest financial institution to incorporate AI-based voice commands into its mobile banking app.

The Minneapolis-based bank has made a number of changes to its mobile banking app due to the COVID-19 crisis, and the Smart Assistant uses natural language processing to give customers the ability to conduct a range of banking transactions and get account information by asking simple conversational questions.

Customers can use the mobile app to do anything from mobile check deposit to get information on mortgage forbearances and auto loan information. The Smart Assistant is helping customers conduct many routine transactions like bill payment, funds transfers, account information and spending transactions faster, frictionless and allowing customers to remain socially distant.

“We are balancing those immediate needs with developing capabilities that further help our customers,” Ankit Bhatt, senior vice president and chief digital officer for consumer at U.S. Bank, told Mobile Payments Today via email. “Our Smart Assistant has been under development for 18 months — with the goal of continuing pushing our customer experience forward so our customers can bank where and how they want.”

“Our studies with low vision and blind users provided insight into creating a simplified user interface that is clean and minimal, which provides the user experience for non-tech-savvy users and those with diminishing eyesight, like aging populations,” Carissa Merrill, senior experience architect at U.S. Bank, said via email. “For those staying home due to the pandemic, the Smart Assistant will be able to help take care of common tasks without going to the bank.”

Digital has become increasingly important at U.S. Bank, accounting for three-fourths of service transactions and 46% of loan sales.

Colin Whitmore, a senior analyst at Aite Group, said that traditional banks have been moving more and more of their retail business to mobile banking channels and the COVID-19 pandemic forced an acceleration of that trend.

“The use of accurate and intuitive AI-based voice assistants within mobile apps is an enabler,” he said, “It is one of many technologies that are bringing banking services to customers through their mobile devices.”

Whitmore said that concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic have made branch banking and cash handling an experience that consumers are increasingly trying to avoid. He expects that after the pandemic, many customers will continue using mobile apps for many routine transactions.

“For the FIs it not only reduces costs as they move away from expensive ‘bricks and mortar,’ but they are able to provide services through a channel their customers have adopted and embraced.”

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