Banking bots highlight conversational commerce trend

Clint Boulton

A new generation of consumers connecting with their friends via messaging platforms expects the same conversational tools from their favorite brands. Financial services firms are giving it to them.

Western Union joined MasterCard and Wells Fargo among the financial services leaders to announce chatbots for Facebook Messenger at the social network giant's F8 Facebook developer conference last month. The company's money transfer bot allows Facebook Messenger users in the U.S. to digitally wire money to more than 200 countries and territories using 130 currencies.

In embracing Messenger, Western Union hopes to capitalize on the broad exposure afforded by the ubiquitous messaging platform, which has 1.2 billion monthly users, says Khalid Fellahi, senior vice president and general manager of Western Union's Digital Ventures unit. "We just want to ensure that [consumers] have access to this information and present it with simple menus that allow them to get the information literally in seconds," says Fellahi.

Banks have long used virtual agents as early chatbots to assist retail customers. Driven by improvements that allow computers to better understand natural human language, companies are building chatbots for tasks as basic as ordering food to more sophisticated chores, including provisioning more servers in IT departments, a key element of the so-called chatops trend.


Money transfers go through Messenger

For Western Union the calculus to leverage Messenger was simple. More than 50 percent of Western Union’s current users -- as well as those the company is targeting -- are millennials. And even those users who aren't millennials mirror a millennial mindset.

Many of those users and younger consumers aged 16 to 20 prefer to conduct chat sessions and exchange text messages in familiar platforms rather than downloading applications to access digital services, says Fellahi. Western Union has enabled such a service by embedding its cross-border money transfer platform inside Messenger.

wu on messenger 
Western Union has embedded its cross-border money transfer platform inside Facebook Messenger. Credit: Western Union. (Click for larger image)

"Conversation through chat or texting is how they prefer things and that's what we're giving them," Kellahi says.

You access the money transfer bot by searching for Western Union in Messenger, then starting a conversation with the company's bot by selecting "Get Started." Options will appear prompting you to send money, track transfer status or check real-time exchange rates in the software's drop-down menu.

If you need more sophisticated transactions you can select customer service to chat with a human agent through Messenger. You can elect to send funds to any of billions of bank accounts around the world or in cash at half a million global retail locations.

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