Back in 2019, I wrote a piece for Wired making the rather obvious prediction that in time robots would take over from people in banking just as they have done in manufacturing. Was I predicting that you would be served by an android when you go into your local bank branch a decade from now? Of course not. That would be ridiculous. For one thing, you won’t be going to a bank ten years from now under any circumstances — whether in the metaverse or the universe — and nor will anyone else.

(You’ll be explaining “going to” do banking to baffled youngsters just as you were explaining “dialling” a phone to the first generation of internet children ten years ago.)

Going to a bank? Hilarious. No way. That is just the sort of tedious and time-consuming thing that robots should be doing instead of people, which is why I said that the big change in financial services will come not when banks are using AI, but when customers are.

Last year here on Forbes I doubled down on this view of the future of financial services, saying the that the battle for future businesses will take place in a landscape across which customers’ bots will roam to negotiate with their counterparts (ie, other bots at regulated financial institutions) to obtain the best possible product for their “owners”. At the time, I thought this was a 3-5 year trend and I was using it in workshops with advisory clients and boards to help set the outlines for medium-term strategy in the sector.

That was before ChatGPT.

A joke about chatbots at Christmas.
Naughty.© HELEN HOLMES (2022).

with kind permission of Helen Holmes (CC-BY-ND 4.0)

Unless you’ve already started hibernating for the winter you will have noticed that ChatGPT (GPT stands for “generative pre-trained transformer”) has blown up. It got its first million users signed up in five days!

An open-source, end-to-end dialogue system built on top of the GPT-3 language model, it is designed to enable developers to quickly build and deploy conversational AI agents for chatbots, virtual assistants, and other interactive applications. It is so named because it is powered by the GPT-3 language model, which is a powerful natural language processing (NLP) model that can generate human-like text from a few words of input.

(Fortunately, for me at least, ChatGPT told the BBC that it would not take over the work of human writers, but would help them by providing suggestions and ideas leaving the human writer to create the final product. As an experiment to test this, I wrote one of the paragraphs for this article using ChatGPT. I’ll tell you which one at the end.)

Robot Lawyers

Now I see on Twitter that donotpay, “the world’s first robot lawyer”, which was created by Stanford University student Joshua Browder to help people to contest parking tickets, is about to launch a browser extension where customers can type something line “negotiate my cable bill down” and have a GPT-powered bot engage with their cable provider on their behalf.

Something that I thought was a couple of years away is happening right now and it is absolutely fascinating!

Mr. Browder notes that the cable providers will also be using GPT and its ilk, so the inevitable trajectory is indeed bots negotiating with each other! This will certainly level the playing field between the data rich supplier trying to optimise pricing and the customers sharing anonymised data to negotiate services. I can easily imagine (indeed, I would pay for) a bot that could continually discuss the availability of frequent flier reward seats with British Airways and who wouldn’t want a bot to exploit account-opening incentives to switch savings across institutions.

In this kind of environment, the key decision for customers to make will be which bot they want to provide financial health, not which bank.

My view, and I have to say that it is a tangential and uninformed view since I know almost nothing about marketing and even less about artificial general intelligence, is that people will tend to choose bots on the basis of moral and ethical frameworks. We will see Green Bots, Christian Bots, Pro-Choice Bots and who knows what other kinds of bots capable to informing choices within such frameworks. I used the examples of the AARP Automaton, the Buffett Bot and the Megatron Musk, all of which sounded plausible to me!

Once customers have chosen their bots, why would they risk making suboptimal choices around their financial health by interfering in the artificial brain’s decisions? Think about it. As things stand, I am required to make decisions about my financial health while I am the least qualified entity in the loop!

Here is an obvious case study. Like most middle-class fintech bloggers, my pensions are by far and away the most important financial product in my life. I am also a reasonably intelligent person, yet in any conversation with my financial advisor, I very quickly sink into a miasma of government rules about pensions, complex taxation arrangements and risk-related investment decisions. I have absolutely no reason to believe that I can make the right decisions about such important financial matters and I would much prefer a super-intelligent bot to work with my financial advisor (well, my financial advisor’s bot) to plot the correct course through the choppy financial waters ahead of us.

Retail Financial Transactions

I got a letter from the tax authorities a few days ago. It is about an overdue payment of a couple of thousand dollars. I was due to pay it on 16th November, but I forgot all about it. The tax calculation is complicated, so I have no idea whether it is correct or not. I just assume that QuickBooks fed in the right figures. The tax payment is boring, since I have to go to web site and log in to do it, and I’m busy. I wish that my financial advisor bot could check the calculation and pay it for me. Human beings should be required to go through these calculations and then log into their bank to send the money.

I got another letter from a parking enforcement company because I’d parked at a nearby railway station and had not paid, so I was being fined. I was enraged. My phone was smart enough to know that I had parked my car and it knew where I was parked but it was not smart enough to pay for the parking and since payments and parking are both so boring I can scarcely bring myself to write about them, and I was thinking about more important things such as work, I had forgotten to use my phone app to pay. Why didn’t the a supercomputer at the other end of my phone do it for me? Human beings should not be required to think about paying for parking.

It seems to me these examples illustrate my theory that in day-to-day life there are only two categories of retail financial transactions. There are the transactions that are too boring for people to do and transactions that are too complicated for people to understand. In both cases, the bots stand ready to help and given the rapid advances in technology, I don’t think I’ll have to wait too much longer before I can stop thinking about transactions completely.

(If you are curious, by the way, I used ChatGPT to write the paragraph describing what ChatGPT is. We are down the rabbit hole, for sure!)

Categories: Writing

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