Business Banking Startup Qonto to Launch Virtual Assistant Next Year

Running a business is hard enough without dealing with all of the pitfalls of legacy banking, which is why Qonto is building a virtual assistant for its business banking service.

The French startup will be adding this capability next year to the current account offering it launched earlier this month. The service charges users €9 per month for mobile and online access to a French current account with an IBAN and a Mastercard-powered debit card.

Virtual assistants are nothing new in banking — Facebook Messenger is swimming with them, including Wells Fargo’s so-far unnamed test bot. Qonto’s assistant is more ambitious than a customer service channel — it will be central to managing one’s account. Qonto appears to be building the service in-house.

“The idea is that you do all of your banking on the fly so you don’t have to spend hours, or in some cases days, to do your bookkeeping.” Alexandre Prot, CEO and founder of Qonto, told Bank Innovation. “We are preparing a virtual finance assistant, [as] for all small businesses managing cash and burn rate is key, but to track it is actually difficult.”

A company manager, bookkeeper, and assistant can all have access to one Qonto account, with their own separate debit cards, though Qonto charges a €2 fee per additional card, and each employee’s transactions are neatly logged.

Using a virtual assistant to keep up with cash flow would be a natural tie-in for that product, which is currently only available to French companies. Users of the product are also unable to use credit and cannot deposit cash or checks, but that capability is on its way, said Prot. The assistant will help manage the cash position of the business through data aggregation and analytics.

“Your balance has to be positive, or you can’t transfer money or make payments,” said Prot. “We spent the last year building the foundation; the big difference [with Qonto] is that it is 100% live, it’s real-time.”

Qonto will be expanding to other European countries also starting in 2018. The virtual assistant should be ready for internal testing by the end of this year, according to Prot, but the company will have its public release at the beginning of 2018.

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