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Chatbots that focus on reassuring customers, allowing them to regain a sense of control over their future - [1/18: completed idea]

Reach out frequently to customers going through this period of uncertainty, with simple yet reassuring messages over their financial future

Photo of Geoffrey Lew
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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:

  • Let them know that they are on track with their financial goals and objectives (e.g. when they may have seen in the news that there is significant market volatility)
  • Provide them with reminders to re-visit their financial circumstances, or inform them of the need to consider upcoming changes
  • Pre-emptively letting them know the questions they should be asking themselves about their financial situation
  • Provide simple information about their account (along with the context about those numbers)
  • Perform simple calculations on their behalf (e.g. savings required per month for that next holiday)
  • Providing them with 'nudges' about their financial habits in relation to their financial goals (e.g. if a high amount of spend is noted in their account)
  • Providing them with the opportunity to see a professional about more complicated questions

MARY'S STORY - Who are we looking to help? 

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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

  • What will Mary do after retirement? With the extra time she will have in her life?
  • How will Mary relate to her husband and children going forward given that she feels like she is on a different path, different wavelength?
  • How will she maintain a balance in her sense of independence, and sense of curiosity going forward, when she feels reluctant and hesitant to seek help?
  • Will Mary be able to find people that understand what she is going through? A support network?
  • How will Mary's relationship with money change after she retires if she loses her source of income? Will she have to rely on her husband, her family, or the government?

Desires, goals, and needs

  • May want to save some emergency funds to support family and children if required - such as helping them to buy a home
  • Thinking about taking up new hobbies and interests but wants a capital buffer before committing
  • Maintaining physical and mental health top of mind as she goes through period of transition
  • Thinking about retirement in the short to medium term, thinking about her investments and what kind of lifestyle she can afford once required
  • Wants to make sure she is debt free, as debt feels like an ongoing burden


  • 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

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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

User Feedback

  • 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?

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Companies can easily push messages out to clients manually, to see whether they feel more secure with more frequent information about whether they are on track.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

How else could we give them a sense of comfort? What information could we provide to them? What information are they likely to ask?

Tell us about your work experience:

I have worked in design and financial services as a consultant for over a decade.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

How would you describe this idea while in an elevator with someone?

People think transitioning to 50 is gradual. But it actually feels like it happens all at once. Suddenly you are confused about your life and financial circumstances. You feel embarrassed and unsure of who to turn to for financial assurance. Chatbots that proactively send helping messages, can help individuals reach out again. Show that it is OK to ask questions. Nudge them in the right direction.

How might your idea be transferable to a large number of people?

Chatbots are an easily scalable technology. Once developed, there are very few costs for adding additional customers to the technology should they choose to opt-in. Starting local can be powerful in testing and refining the messages that work. The technology will also benefit from a large number of users/customers, as the data will help either build the analytics capabilities, or the bank of questions and information that is likely to be asked by other customers in the future.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

Measures could include: - Increased number of customers reaching out to the financial institution - Development of new products and services that more meet the needs of these individuals - Increased use of mobile or web banking technologies - Direct customer feedback - Increased reach to less mobile or remote customers - Efficiencies and cost reduction from less staff having to answer simple questions

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

Build a bank of initial messages that can be prototyped with customers. Find a group of customers that would be interested in piloting the idea, getting their permission particularly from a privacy and security perspective. Set up designated number that can be used to start contacting customers (initially manually to prove the concept).


Join the conversation:

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on this being today's Featured Contribution!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Geoffrey!
Happy New Year!I really like the way this idea is developing. Have you seen @Bo Li idea here - @Monitor family member life event changes and recommend financial management actions based on AI. ? What sort of early stage feedback could you undertake? Would you be able to describe the user journey for me?Some of the following might be useful to the development of your idea:

Photo of Geoffrey Lew

Awesome thanks - will take a look.

Photo of Gianni Giacomelli

very interesting and with the potential to be combined with the idea of "virtual assistants" that I posted...

Photo of Geoffrey Lew

Thanks Gianni - it's interesting that your idea is premised around what to -spend- money on instead of how much to save. Financial services I would say usually focuses on the latter rather than the former - usually thinking in terms of how far people are away from their budgets and goals.

I often think a powerful enough 'nudge' is showing people how their spend/saving profile compares to peers - something like "25% of peers save $150 dollars more per week". Or, "You spend $20 more per meal than others people around you". This could be something simple your personal assistant could do I suspect to help improve or direct spend.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Welcome to the Refinement phase Geoffrey and team! We've added new Refinement questions to your original submission that we'd love for you to answer. Please check out the Refinement Phase Toolkit for instructions on how to answer the new questions and other recommendations we encourage all idea teams to consider in the upcoming weeks.

Refinement Phase Toolkit:

Lastly, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 12/21" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Geoffrey!

I look forward to seeing how your idea develops in the refinement phase.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Geoffrey!

Thank you for your post. I like the fact that you have chosen something that fits into everyday life and is a gentle reminder to this age group (50-65).

How would you maintain a personalised response for the customers and ensure the messages are secure?

Photo of Kate Rushton

There are a few posts in the research phase that might be able to help you:

Interview With A 50+ Private Banker 
Interview with the CEO of a Credit Union UX Retirement Research