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Mastercard, BofA Employing Bots to Enhance Customer Service

cell phone man suitThe rise of chat bots in financial services and payments continues with announcements this week from Mastercard and Bank of America that each company will be introducing similar technology. Mastercard is launching a bot for client banks’ and merchants’ customers and BofA’s bot, which it says is more of an “assistant” will service its banking customers. Chat bots are automated computer programs that simulate conversations with humans.

Mastercard said its bot for banks initially will be available on Facebook Messenger. Facebook announced Sept. 12 it had updated its Messenger platform enabling chat bots to accept payments from users within Messenger threads. Mastercard currently is testing the bot on Messenger to provide customers with financial information, such as purchase history, spend monitoring and financial history as well as enabling consumers to ask it questions about their accounts.

Mastercard’s bot for merchants, which will run on various messaging platforms, will enable consumers to converse with merchants, shop and make purchases using Masterpass. Mastercard is planning to accelerate development of the bot with its merchant partners by opening its experimental bot commerce API later this year, according to the company.

Bank of America says its service is less a bot and more a “virtual assistant,” named Erica, that will use predictive analytics to do more than provide information, but offer suggestions on “her” own without being prompted by a customer question. Erica might recommend ways to improve users’ credit ratings, suggest customers make a higher monthly payment on a credit card or caution users if they’re in danger of overdrawing an account. Erica will be introduced late next year and will be able to communicate by text or voice.

In other Mastercard news, the payments network has partnered with Fit Pay Inc. to integrate Fit Pay’s platform with the MasterCard Digital Enablement Service (MDES) to work with companies like smart watch manufacturer Wearatec and similar manufacturers, providing Mastercard customers with a variety of contactless payments-enabled devices. Fit Pay’s platform reduces the time-to-market, cost and complexity of payment and authentication services for wearable device manufacturers, according to a Mastercard announcement.

Increasing interactions with customers is taking many forms in addition to chat bots. For example, some retailers are using augmented reality to, for example, superimpose graphics and audio over a real-world environment, using a smartphone, tablet or dedicated AR station. Furniture retailers were early adopters, enabling prospective buyers to browse catalogs on a smartphone and then hold the mobile device up to see what a couch or desk would look like in the home. “Online retailers are taking examples from other industries that have begun leveraging AR, such as the travel and real estate industries, and are now introducing these novel and enhanced customer experiences in store environments or in their apps,” said Amy Parsons, vice president and head of global commerce, Discover Financial Services.

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