Remember back when the original iPhone came out and the app store launched? The gold rush started, and ‘there’s an app for that’ happened. The app world has cooled off considerably, as the winners have consolidated their positions, with overwhelming competition making it very difficult to make money. Just like in the hardware market right now, aspiring and seasoned developers alike have been searching for that next gold rush market, and I think it’s fair to say they’ve found it in 2016. Chatbots are ready to rise.
Earlier this month we saw a beauty advisor chatbot from ModiFace, and now we’re seeing one for banking. And, while the ins and outs of this one might give you some pause, it sounds like MyKAI could become pretty useful in the near future.
The chatbot, which can be contacted through Facebook Messenger, Slack, or text, can help make some financial management tasks a little easier. Users can connect their bank and Venmo accounts to the MyKAI, then ask conversational questions about their accounts. It sounds a bit silly, and it’s something that can be done without a chatbot, but what MyKAI is offering is speed. Unless you’ve already been keeping track, it would take a long time to go through your bank accounts to calculate exactly how much you spent on gas or eating out in a month or year. More reliably, the chatbot can also tell you how much you’ve spent on any given day, or how many payments you made over a certain amount of money. By just asking a question to MyKAI, you can get that information within a minute.
But, MyKAI is, for now, doomed to be an informal novelty. While it could be enlightening to be more aware of spending habits (perhaps changing them as a result), some of the best use cases require MyKAI to be far more accurate than it is right now — and for trust to develop. Something like MyKAI could be a huge help during tax season, if nothing else as a quick way to see whether or not it’s worth trying to deduct a certain category of expenses. For that to happen, MyKAI will need to get better at identifying restaurants, gas stations, and the like.
Until then, MyKAI is also useful as a gateway to financial advice. The chatbot has been programmed to know well over 1,000 banking terms, and can define those terms when asked. Is that more useful than a Google search? That depends on the quality of MyKAI’s answers (which will no doubt improve over time) — if you have to use Google after asking MyKAI anyway, there’s no need for the bot.
Besides getting information, the only action you can take is to initiate a Venmo transaction. By telling the chatbot to pay one of your contacts, that transaction will happen without ever needing to open the Venmo app. Granted, Venmo’s app is excellent and initiating transactions takes very little time as it is, but that might be besides the point. Kasisto, the company behind MyKAI, is thinking long-term — that chatbots in general will replace apps as the primary way people get stuff done. We’re a ways off from that future, but if it’s going to happen, it has to start somewhere.
Kasisto comprises alums from SRI international. Neither name is household, but the latter holds weight — chatbots need to excel at processing natural language, and SRI international is the research lab where Siri was created. Granted, Siri isn’t exactly the best example of machine learning, but it’s safe to say the developers at Kasisto at least have a lot of experience making conversational interaction between man and machine work on some level. MyKAI already works pretty well, even for complex queries like, say, seeing how much you spent at Walgreens in the last month.
The worrisome part about MyKAI is that it needs access to your bank and Venmo accounts. There will rightly by security concerns, although Kasisto says they don’t store any user names or passwords. In fact, they don’t do security at all — they’ve contracted that out to another firm that specializes in data security, which is something we’d like to see a lot more startups do instead of trying (or not trying) to do it themselves.
MyKAI launched this week, and if you’re one of those brave early chatbot 2.0 adopters, you can check it out here.