Wanted: A Slackbot for Banking

bank_slackSlack is great for messaging, sharing documents, and annoying coworkers with unnecessary emojis — but how about taking care of the odd financial transaction?

Nearly 2.5 million people (and, as of this week, including the Bank Innovation team) spend a significant portion of their day on the team collaboration tool Slack, and that number is growing rapidly, with the Slackbot as the prime driver for orientation on the messaging platform. Some Slack watchers estimate 10 million users by the end of 2016. But is it right for banking?

Dan Kimerling, head of research & development at Silicon Valley Bank, floated the idea at Bank Innovation 2016 in Seattle this year. A Slackbot (Bankbot?) could operate in a banking app to help users get oriented, get advice, and complete tasks. If you’re familiar with Slack, it’s easy to see how this could work. Within the safe walls of a bank, such a system could be useful, and even fun.

To flesh this out, most mobile banking apps offer a search bar. Chase.com has one, for example, and it is located at the top, prime position on the page. This “search” bar gets users help information, such as an FAQ on how to transfer funds between accounts. But this information bar can be a “Slackbot” that returns information driven by artificial intelligence. So, instead of “how do I transfer funds between accounts?”, the user can type “transfer $100 from my savings to my checking account,” and — here’s the key — the “Slackbot” can respond, “sure, I’ll do that, but maybe you should transfer $150 because you have a $125 check that needs to get paid tomorrow.” Now that would be cool.

But it’s on the Slack platform itself where the real energy is. (“As an Entrepreneur, Should You Jump in the SlackBot Fun Train?”) There are at least 64 Slackbots listed on Product Hunt for use in customizing the Slack experience. They can be integrated into a Slack channel to make phone calls from within Slack, post to social media, create a newsletter from the day’s relevant Slack content, and much more. There’s Tacobot, for ordering from Taco Bell, and even one for having funnier conversations with The Slackbot — we hope Slackbot has better controls in place than Microsoft’s ill-fated AI product Tay. A bank Slackbot could be highly useful, particularly if the bank served the client-company using a Slack channel.

Another way it could work, however, is through Slack’s ecosystem of nearly 300 apps, including apps from the payment processor Stripe, the built-for-bitcoin gift company ChangeTip, and more. Why not Venmo, to pay a coworker back for that lunch he bought you?

When you think about it, the vast majority of banking is nothing more than messaging. Heck, SWIFT is simply a messaging agent. With that in mind, it can be fair to say that a universal “Slack” messaging platform for banking would likely have tremendous utility. Of course, there are always security and privacy factors to consider, but Slack (just like SWIFT) is a closed platform. There’s a whole world of messaging opportunities that Slack suggests. To which the BankBot would no doubt respond: “Let me take care of that for you.”

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