When I was in my 20s, people would say to me that I was too young. Then all of a sudden, one day, someone told me I was too old. When did I get so old? I've still got it right? All birthdays with zeroes after them tend to stop us in our tracks and cause us to reflect. In the past I have breezed through these birthdays fairly easily, but this year, turning 50 hit me like a brick wall. I know I am blessed and I thank God every day for these blessings. But like many of my other friends, I was unconsciously aging – slowly disconnecting from the reality of change and believing things hadn’t really changed so much over the last few years.
And in some ways, things haven’t changed. To be honest, I feel embarrassed. Embarrassed about the amount of debt that I have. Too embarrassed to tell even my family and friends. It would be nice to pose questions to, but who do I ask?
There is something I didn’t realize when I was younger that I do now. Things have changed. And so have I. It is only now that I suddenly I realize that I am out of touch.
Primary question and idea
Through frequent and regular contact, chatbots can provide those 50 and older with a renewed sense of security and control over their future financial situation.
The idea explained - Using chatbots to help provide support
People aged 50 and older often feel a sense of uncertainty and insecurity about their financial situation, as these are often periods that correspond to significant lifestyle changes. Even if they had taken the time to properly plan for retirement, individuals going through this period often try to reach for things to provide comfort. They want to plan, they want reassurances, they want to make sure they have set goals and are able to meet them.
I believe support and comfort can be provided simply and easily in an unsophisticated way.
By proactively reaching out and providing individuals with the opportunity to ask questions or to get more information about their financial situation, they will feel a greater sense of security and control over their situation, and the changing market environment - even when they don't need to change anything.
There is an opportunity for chatbots to fill the gaps where professional advisers cannot. Chatbots can be a means for financial institutions to frequently, and proactively reach out to individuals about their finances. Chatbots are an ideal solution as for most people, seeking professional advice is costly, and visits to their advisers are few and far between - they may get advice once per year: if lucky. In between that time, life is constantly changing, markets are moving, and they have many questions left unasked and unanswered.
For example, chatbots can be used as simple tools to:
MARY'S STORY - Who are we looking to help?
I live on a small square in north-west Boston. The houses cleave together like books crammed along a shelf, each relying on its neighbour to prop it up, and there isn’t a wall that lies straight. I am among those women for whom home is self-defining, and I like the fact that this home of mine has weathered the years, holding up in spite of its hobbling features. It is how I feel myself these days, now that I have passed 50. The transition from youth to middle age should be governed by a smoothly unfolding process; but this has not been my experience. Only a before and after.
Sometimes I wonder if my husband, a couple of years older than me, feels similarly. At 52, he is trim, he goes to the gym, watches his diet, and gets as much reward out of being a dad as he does from his work. What he mainly feels, he tells me, is a sense of urgency about his productive life potentially running out when there are still so many things he wants to accomplish. Unlike me, he doesn’t seem beset by fears of stagnation.
“If you could stop the clock anywhere, where would it be?” It was my daughter who put the question to me, recently, catching me on the hop. So I told her “now”. But that wasn’t entirely true. “Before” would have been truer. But one cannot apprehend the high-water mark of one’s life until it has passed. It happened in the middle of the night when I woke up wanting to go to the bathroom. I swung out of bed to stand up in the dark, took a single step in the right direction then fell to the floor like a plank. I remember thinking: this is the kind of game-changing fall that happens to old people, not to women in their late 40s.
I also try to picture myself at 60. Of all the curve balls that midlife has thrown me, the least anticipated has been the feeling of inertia when it came to my finances and being able to be support myself and my family. I used to think that I could go anywhere I wanted to on life’s stage; but now those lofty heights seem unreachable. I feel like those hapless disagreeable characters from The Muppets. And although I care less about material things, I am still holding onto the hope that my financial peak is yet to come.
Mary's worries and concerns
Desires, goals, and needs
- Medium technological 'intelligence', still willing to adopt new technologies, but may have a learning curve
- Still highly mobile, and willing to physically seek out resources
- Willing to reach out to other people similarly going through this period of change
- Wants to contribute and give back to the community in any way possible
--- Will using chatbots be able to nudge Mary into a place of comfort? ---
Credit for photo and story: The 'middlepause': what no one tells you about turning 50 (note: original story was modified).
A simple user experience
Link to larger version: Here
Prototyping - What are we prototyping and what are we looking to answer?
Does contact with a chatbot give customers a greater sense of security and control? If yes, which type of messages/communications are most effective?
The ideal prototype would involve testing different types of messages with a group of customers that have agreed to participate. Messages and questions can be sent and answered manually to customers using a script in lieu of developing the software behind the chabot to conduct the prototype test. This allows the concept to be quickly tested, and feedback to be gathered quickly at relatively low cost.
As it was not practicable to prototype in the above way, due to a lack of customer information and details, two alternative experiments were devised as described following.
Prototype A: Explicit survey
50 individuals were asked through a survey using Amazon's Mechanical Turk to provide feedback on the concept. These individuals were asked to think about their financial situation and then provide feedback on the selected text messages that they would find useful from their current financial institution. They were also asked whether receiving the text message would make them feel more secure about their future financial circumstances.
Click here for specific details on survey.
Prototype B: Behavioral test
As this concept relies on a behavioral response from the customer, it may be difficult for individuals to predict their hypothetical emotional response and behavior. Therefore, to supplement the experiment above, a behavioral experiment was devised to test their immediate response to a hypothetical chatbot message.
50 individuals were asked using Amazon's Mechanical Turk to think about their current financial situation and their feelings about their financial future. They were then asked to click on a link which showed them a random hypothetical text message from their financial institution (the same messages as in the survey above). Individuals were then asked about their immediate emotional response and whether it changed their feelings about their financial future.
Click here for specific details on survey.
Results of the prototypes
Apparently, 40% of customers are irritated if they don’t speak to a real person immediately when calling their financial institution …
… but our testing shows that 90% of respondents would value pro-active communications with their institution…
… and 69% felt an emotional response in a blind experiment when shown random messages from robot
In the explicit survey, almost all individuals said they would find it valuable in having text messaging communications with their financial institution [Yes: 77%, Maybe: 13%]
Individuals noted that they felt an affinity to the following questions the most:
- 39% of responses: A good rule of thumb is to put away 10% savings of pay for retirement per year, it looks like you need to put away 2% more per year
- 25% of responses: You are ontrack with your goal to travel next year - you earned a 3% return last quarter compared to the benchmark return of 2.75%.
As expected, there was a noted difference in the results of the behavioral test. In the behavioral test, 31% felt better about their financial situation, 31% felt worse, and 38% felt no change. Note that as questions were displayed randomly in the behavioral test, emotional responses were dependent on the question they were shown:
- 65% of people who felt worse about their financial future were shown the question: "Your current spend on restaurants is $569 per month"
- 50% of people who felt better about their financial future were shown the question: "You are ontrack with your goal to travel next year - you earned a 3% return last quarter compared to the benchmark return of 2.75%."
- There was no discernable pattern for people who felt no change.
Learnings from the prototypes
- Chatbot messages are likely to have an influence on the sense of security of customers over their financial future
- The type of messaging and wording may have a large influence on whether the customer feels better or worse about their financial future
- The current state of their financial affairs may also have a large influence on whether the customer feels better or worse about their financial future, depending on whether they feel empowered to take action, or disempowered about their situation
- How can we further refine or identify the types of questions that is likely to make customers feel more assured? Which ones will likely trigger a positive emotional response?
- What questions should we ask? Which questions should be avoided completely?
- How would people react to receiving 'too personal' of messages? Would they see it as an invasion of privacy?
- What should the persona of the chatbot be? Should it be made human like? Or should it be obvious that it is a robot and be kept neutral? Would it make a difference?
- What would be the security and privacy considerations if we are thinking about aggregating customer information to run analytics?
- Would we be able to move this onto other platforms besides text messaging? Such as private message on Facebook?
- What is the expected uptake rate? How can we improve it by making customers more comfortable with talking with a bot over text?