American Express Adds Its Bot to the Party

  • Philip Ryan
  • September 21, 2016
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© Can Stock Photo Inc. / davinciEarlier this month, American Express launched a bot on Facebook Messenger as an additional channel to interact with its customers.

When Facebook Messenger launched five (!) years ago this month, it was not immediately clear why or what it might do — messages already existed within Facebook, everyone was texting madly already, so why launch a whole new app?

But this year we know. The platform has more than a billion users, and a wildly proliferating number of bots that engage with consumers on behalf of brands, financial institutions among them.

A Forrester report in August warned banks off bots. Today’s bots are not ready for regulated industries that demand a certain level of user experience, said the report’s lead author Pete Wannemacher. He illustrated his point with many examples of #botfail — weather bots spouting incoherent nonsense when asked the temperature, shopping bots that didn’t understand simple queries about sale items, and on and on.

But the warning came too late — banks embraced bots, and a whole host of bots were wheeled out at Finovate. Perhaps most significantly, Kore (from the guys that brought you Kony) introduced its Smart Bot platform for banks to build their own bots. (In response to Kore’s demo a few fintech watchers at the show tweeted various versions of, “Uh oh.”)

Amex’s bot is simpler than those that can be built with Kore’s platform, which uses machine learning to help the bot improve over time. As to whether it will end up Wannemacher’s next report, time will tell. Matthew Sueoka, vice president of digital partnerships & development at American Express, answered a few email questions from Bank Innovation about the bot.

What artificial intelligence backs up the bot?
American Express worked closely with the Facebook team to build the Amex bot for Messenger, developing rules to power the bot functionality. The Amex bot for Messenger is not powered by artificial intelligence or machine learning. Card Members can now connect with the American Express bot via Facebook Messenger to receive automated real-time purchase notifications and related benefit reminders.

Where if anywhere do humans enter into conversations?
At this time, there is no point where humans enter into conversations with Amex Card Members using the Amex bot for Messenger. That said, the platform is an entry point for Card Members to engage with American Express. If a Card Member would like to engage with a Customer Care Representative, they should call the number on the back of their Card.

How does Amex see the bot being used today, and a year or two from now?
The scale and flexibility of the Messenger platform makes it a powerful channel for us to explore new ways to connect with our Card Members. The bot can currently provide Members who opt in purchase notifications as well as select benefit reminders specific to their Card, introducing a new opportunity to be a part of a Card Member’s journey at every step of the way.

The recent launch of the Amex bot for Messenger will allow the team to evaluate how and when the experience provides substantial value to Card Members who opt in. There are a lot of possibilities in terms of what we can build on top of Messenger, and our team is thinking through the opportunities and is excited to test out these new concepts with our Card Members.

To learn more about chatbots and artificial intelligence, join us in Tel Aviv this November for Bank Innovation Israel. Register here.

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Philip Ryan is Senior Editor of Bank Innovation and Senior Director of INV Fintech. He began covering financial services in 2012 and has more than 15 years' experience in online journalism. He can be reached at

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