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June 2019

Erica - Bank of America Voice Assistant

A Voice Success Story: Erica from Bank of America

By Digital Assistants No Comments

It’s no secret that a growing number of companies are recognizing the opportunities for new, branded experiences presented by voice interfaces powered by AI. In fact, Gartner predicts that 25 percent of digital workers will use virtual assistants daily by 2021, and brands already using chatbots have seen the number of leads they collect increase by as much as 600 percent over traditional lead generation methods.

These AI-driven voice assistants and chatbots have also become useful cost-cutting tools for companies with large subscriber bases – banks, insurance companies, and mobile phone operators, to name a few. A 2017 Juniper Research report calculates that, for every inquiry handled by a chatbot, banks save four minutes of an agent’s time, which translates to a cost saving of $0.70 per query. These platforms are expected to save banks an estimated $7.3 billion in operational costs by 2023. 

The real opportunity presented by voice assistants is in delighting the customer and strengthening brand loyalty, which inevitably drives revenue. We’re entering an exciting time where voice has the ability to redefine the relationship that consumers have with their technology and open up aspects or functionality that the user didn’t previously know — or know they even cared –about. 

A 2017 PwC report described chatbots as adding “a new dimension to the power of ‘personal touch’ and massively [enhancing] customer delight and loyalty.” 

In my own life, I can’t think of a better example of this than Erica, Bank of America’s AI-driven virtual financial assistant. Working in and following the space for a few years, I am really impressed with what Bank of America has built for its customers in Erica.

Erica caters to the bank’s customer service requirements in a number of ways: sending notifications to customers, providing balance information, sharing money-saving tips, providing credit report updates, facilitating bill payments, and helping customers with simple transactions. Recently, BofA expanded Erica’s capabilities to help clients make smarter financial decisions by providing them with personalized, proactive insight. 

For me, instead of calling the BofA customer service 800 number and spending 20 to 30 minutes navigating menus, waiting on hold, or being transferred and repeating the process all over again, I can talk to Erica and quickly complete transactions. Erica averages a mere three minutes time-to-resolution via voice within the app. Think about all the things you could get done in those saved minutes instead, not to mention a break on your blood-pressure medicine.

Another aspect where Erica shines for me is in exposing capabilities within the app that aren’t obvious or are buried deep in the menu structure. One feature I use all the time is the ability to put an international travel notice on my card before I leave the country (so my credit card works overseas) — sometimes I even use it standing in the TSA security line. Another feature I love is being able to find my routing and account numbers quickly and easily by simply asking Erica. Who hasn’t spent valuable time on a fishing expedition in their banking app while hoping the webpage (waiting for automatic payment information) doesn’t time-out first?

The proof of the value of Erica’s voice interface is in the user adoption numbers:  just over a year after introduction, Erica has surpassed 7 million users and has handled more than 50 million client requests. And since launching Erica’s proactive insights in late 2018, daily client engagement with Erica has more than doubled. In an interview with American Banker, BofA’s head of digital banking attributes Erica’s strong adoption to its easy-to-use transaction-search functions and financial advice, two areas where the bank continues to focus on harnessing the power of voice to delight its customers.

Thing is, for all of Erica’s benefits for both consumers and BofA, building this kind of voice-activated assistance in-house — from scratch — isn’t fast, easy, or cheap. The Erica development team boasted 100 people in 2017 — before introduction — and has surely grown by now, given her success. And it took those 100 people nearly two years to get Erica ready for prime time, at a cost estimated at $30 million dollars. Why so expensive? As one BofA VP noted, during development, the bank “learned [that] there are over 2,000 different ways to ask us to move money.” 

At Aiqudo, we’ve figured out — and operationalized — the technical heavy lifting needed to create a voice assistant: NLU, intent detection, action execution, multiple languages, the analytics platform; there’s no reason for partners to reinvent the wheel. We provide partners with a turnkey voice capability in their app. Developers retain control of this critical new Voice UI (and all of their users’ data) rather than surrendering the direct relationship with their users to voice platforms. Until now, developers have been required to create skills for each voice platform, which risks commoditizing the app and losing the brand they have worked so hard to develop. In contrast, Aiqudo offers a cost-effective solution that allows developers to focus on adding value to their app rather than on customizing for voice.

Disclaimer: Bank of America developed their voice technology without the assistance or use of Aiqudo technology.