Corporate Insight tracks how virtual assistants transform the mobile user experience across financial services. Virtual assistants (VAs) are a rapidly developing technology that, if implemented correctly, can save financial institutions time and money while alleviating client pain points.

Mobile-based VAs are an efficient and cost-effective strategy for resolving simple inquiries like account information, transaction capabilities, investment research and account servicing requests, thereby freeing human customer service representatives (CSRs) to assist clients with complex needs. Generative AI promises new, potentially more advanced VAs that can handle a wider range of requests—upwards of 89% customer requests, according to some firms—although the previous generation of machine-learning VAs performed well in our recent Virtual Assistant report. VAs still have room to grow however: Corporate Insight surveys find that users still prefer live chat with a human over any chat with a robot.

As such, Bank of America’s VA, Erica, now facilitates in-assistant live chat. The VA has long been a standout among virtual assistants both within and outside of the financial services industry. It offers seamless money movement actions, personalized insights, a full suite of account information displays and redirects that support users in navigating the firm’s relatively large app. In July 2023, Bank of America reported that Erica surpassed 1.5 billion client interactions from 37 million clients. To put that in perspective, the firm states that it serves about 69 million consumer and small business clients.

Although Bank of America announced live chat for Erica in 2022, Corporate Insight has not observed the feature until recently. Clients can access the new functionality by requesting to speak with an agent or entering the VA through the Contact Us link. After selecting a topic, clients are automatically connected to a representative. The move follows Erica integration with the Merrill Edge and Merrill Lynch apps. During testing, though, live chat was an option but not functioning in the Merrill app. Previously, the Bank of America and Merrill apps app did not support live chat, instead offering up customer service phone numbers upon request.

Even with a slew of recent breakthroughs in generative AI—which Bank of America is actively researching—Erica outpaced financial services competitors in our recent Virtual Assistants report (subscription required), placing first and beating Wells Fargo’s Fargo and U.S. Bank’s Smart Assistant, which came in second and third, respectively. Erica reigns as the best VA in the coverage set for providing in-assistant responses for 60% of the capabilities we evaluated, offering a full suite of account information displays, personalized insights, transaction capabilities, some account servicing features and Merrill investment account compatibility.

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Bank of America Live Chat

As the competition works to catch up with Erica, Bank of America may be looking to align its virtual assistant more with industry standards and consumer expectations

Bank of America joins a handful of other VAs that can transfer users to a customer service representative. Fifteen firms in Mobile Monitor’s 23-firm coverage set offer a chatbot, and 11 of those chatbots can connect users to live chat. Most chatbots in Mobile Monitor’s coverage set suffer from limitations in either comprehension, capability, or both. In these instances, the chatbot functions more like a funnel—or worst-case scenario, a hinderance—to reach an agent rather than a quick way to resolve queries or bypass app architecture.

Despite the push for AI-driven customer service, survey data indicates a preference for live agents, or at least the option to connect with one. In our recent survey, 66% of respondents reported that they have disconnected or ended a support chat because they realized they were not talking to a real person, while another CI survey found that 35% of respondents reported using a VA to specifically reach a CSR. And CI’s credit card customer survey found that only 28% of respondents rated access to chatbots as “extremely” or “very” important, compared to the 59% who said the same of live chat.

While mass market firms like Bank of America or Chase benefit from a full-service VA, other firms like American Express may opt for a more white-glove service, using VAs to quickly route clients to CSRs as part of their business model. Therefore, only a handful of coverage set firms with leading VAs—Charles Schwab and U.S. Bank—also facilitate live chat.

  • In early 2024, Schwab incorporated live chat into its VA, Schwab Assistant, which stands out for its range of multi-media outputs including graphs and podcasts in addition to being a strong directory
  • U.S. Bank’s best-in-class VA, Smart Assistant, combines strong language comprehension with standout account information displays—including personalized spending insights—and in-assistant money movement journeys, supplementing an already robust experience with access to live chat.
  • Alternatively, Capital One’s Eno—another notable VA in Mobile Monitor’s coverage set—frustratingly offers to redirect users to public site help pages when users request to speak with a representative.

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As an increasing number of fintechs launch gen AI-powered VAs—several of which also feature live chat functionality—Bank of America may see the need to keep pace with new industry standards set by these gen-AI chatbots.

  • Credit Karma recently integrated its new VA, Intuit Assist, built on the firm’s proprietary gen-AI technology. The VA can handle a range of account servicing and financial wellness inquiries but redirects to a separate interface for live chat.
  • In February 2024, Klarna launched its Open-AI powered VA, AI Assistant, which the firm claims does the work of 700 customer service representatives and handled two-thirds of customer service chats in its first month. AI Assistant usefully redirects users to live chat with a CSR when it is unable to complete a request.
    • Klarna recently announced plans to leverage the chatbot to provide real-time data on BNPL payment schedules and outstanding balances.
    • Klarna is selling virtual shopping platform Hero, which connects shoppers to product experts via text, chat and video, suggesting the firm is moving away from other live customer service channels
  • Fintech Dave claims that its VA, DaveGPT, created with gen AI company Aisera, provides an 89% resolution rate, higher than its previous chatbot iterations. The VA connects users to a live agent after some back and forth.

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Bank of America may be seeking to differentiate itself from Wells Fargo’s new virtual assistant, Fargo, which was built using generative AI but lacks live chat

Bank of America may also be looking for ways to distinguish itself from the competition. Since its 2022 debut, Wells Fargo’s generative AI-powered Fargo has proven a viable competitor for Bank of America. Wells Fargo recently announced that has handled 20 million interactions since it was launched last March.

Wells Fargo partners with Google to use its Cloud AI technology in creating Fargo, which can address a range of requests, encompassing account information and servicing as well as in-assistant Zelle payments. Since launch, Wells Fargo has already moved to improve Fargo, integrating an identical Spanish-language experience, improving money movement redirects and adding insight summaries.

While other leading VAs like Erica and U.S. Bank’s Smart Assistant can complete more advanced money movement requests like transfers and bill payments, Fargo stands out for its sleek user interface and standout language comprehension at launch.

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Learn more about how virtual assistants transform the mobile user experience

Our recent Mobile Monitor report on virtual assistants (subscription required) covers other recommendations for an optimal user experience in financial services, such as embedding resources and redirecting to in-app interfaces, leveraging all of the available forms of interaction available on smartphones and incorporating personalized insights. Learn more about our Mobile Monitor subscription research, and be sure to check out our Insights section for more of the latest trends from across financial services and healthcare.