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We had the chance to meet Niall Bellabarba, Co-founder of chatbot Ernest, about the role of robotization and artificial intelligence in personal finance management.

Niall believes chatbots can help people achieve better financial wellbeing by offering support in a fast, accurate and intuitive manner. That is why him and his team created Ernest, a financial coach which uses AI and natural language processing to answer people’s financial queries.

When working at Blackrock, Niall realized that most wealth and asset management firms only provide solutions for a very niche market. “Return on investment is a nice problem to have, when you have money to put out on investment,” he noted. This motivated him to produce a product addressing people’s common day-to-day finance management problems.

The team at Ernest chose the format of a conservational UI over an application because they believe “there is an app-fatigue and people don’t want to download another app”.  Currently, Ernest lives only on Facebook Messenger “where the conversations are already happening”. As Niall highlighted, there are already more than 33,000 chatbots on Messenger for all kinds of purposes and the mass market is gradually adopting this form of interaction with their services.

The start-up is also looking to scale-up by implementing their chatbot in other messaging apps (Telegram, WeChat, etc.). Their ambition is to appeal not only to geeks and early adopters but to the wider audience by addressing very common and relatable issues.  Furthermore, Ernest will soon speak multiple languages therefore appealing to a bigger user-base.

Ernest's founding team

Ernest’s creators

In terms of positioning, Ernest doesn’t play in the big boys’ ballpark with the likes of Siri, Cortana and Alexa. Niall explained these are horizontal bots that try to answer a much wider range of requests, whilst theirs is a vertical bot focused on a particular subject. However, Niall sees a future where these horizontal and vertical bots will communicate with each other to give people more accurate answers.

Regarding the future of fintech, Niall foresees a growing implementation of blockchain technology. In 2017, he also expects important changes in the peer to peer sector as interest rates are likely to rise and these platforms will have to adapt to a new financial environment.

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