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By Alexandra Mondalek
October 26, 2016

If you spent any time on instant messaging platforms like American Online Instant Messenger in the early 2000s, you might fondly remember “chatbots” like SmarterChild, the artificial intelligence systems that were programmed to respond to all of your inane questions with answers pulled from the world wide web. Or, you used it as your own personal punching bag from whom you could expect insults to be hurled right back to you.

Bots have grown up since the start of the millennium and are now being coded to help you manage your financial life. MasterCard is the latest player to enter the arena.

Early next year, MasterCard is launching its own banking bot, in partnership with the artificial intelligence company Kasisto, that will allow users to interact with a chatting robot via Facebook messenger.

A MasterCard press release says the bot, though still in “testing phase,” will eventually allow users to review their accounts and purchase history, monitor spending levels, and get help with financial literacy.

For example, you should be able to ask the bot how much you spent on a specific category like “restaurants,” or ask how much you spent at a specific restaurant, and the bot will pull the information from your bank statements. The point of this is to relieve you of the time suck that is scanning your financial statements yourself.

The company behind the technology, Kasisto, has its own personal finance chatbot called MyKai. It functions much the same as does the MasterCard bot, though you can also send SMS text messages to MyKai with queries about your bank accounts and spending.

Of course, data privacy and security is a major concern when it comes to linking your personal financial information to outside systems. According to Kasisto’s CEO Zor Gorelov, neither Kasisto nor Facebook hold any of users’ financial data or manage privacy, since the data is “encrypted,” meaning it can only be accessed by authorized parties.

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These aren’t the only chatbots out there aimed at helping users with personal finance issues. The Trim app, launched in 2015, uses a similar messaging platform to cancel those pesky monthly subscriptions you no longer want. You can also set spending levels and check your account balances, and the bot will even automatically fight fees for overdrafts and late payments.

Trim’s CEO Thomas Smyth says his goal for the service is to help people proactively make financial decisions without creating more work for users. For example, Smyth explains that the four primary alerts you might get on any bank’s smart phone app have to do with late fees, overdraft protection, or pay days. But Smyth wants Trim to not only tell you that you’re at risk of incurring an overdraft fee, but to also make the process of adding funds to your account to avoid those fees seamless.

“People say to me, why can’t banks do this. Why wouldn’t Wells Fargo do this? Well, they love when you have overdraft fees on a credit card, they make millions of dollars,” Smyth said. “This is an opportunity for chat bot agents to play more of a consumer advocacy role than banks ever could.”

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