"I don't think the bots are coming to take the jobs. I think the bots are coming to make us superheroes.” -Blair Gatchel

Artificial intelligence has gained a reputation as an evil force that threatens to take your job. But some companies are embracing the good side of AI, using technology to solve some of the world’s most confounding problems. Perhaps AI offers the superpowers we’ve always wanted.

That’s the topic of a discussion between James Robert Lay, host of the Banking on Digital Growth Podcast, and Blair Gatchel, VP of sales and growth at BOND.AI, a human-centered AI financial platform that uses its proprietary empathy engine to support personal financial wellness.

Two Versions of AI

Working in people-focused AI, Blair has come to believe that there are two visions of AI. In one, robots are going to take over the world. This is the version where AI emerges to snatch away everyone’s jobs and ruin the future.

In an alternate vision, bots are a positive force in society. They contribute to tech by elevating the scope of human potential. They allow us to have superpowers that genuinely make the world a better place.

In his work at BOND.AI, Blair prefers to focus on the latter vision - the one where technology helps people accomplish things that are difficult and impactful. This is known as human-centered design and it focuses on human needs as its central and driving force.

James Robert points out that this allows us to benefit from automation in terms of freeing ourselves from repetitive and mundane tasks. Hasn’t that always been the dream? AI can empower people to learn more, do more, and lift us out of human struggle.

Alleviating Financial Anxiety

Financial stress is taking a toll on our society. Although 85% of Americans feel some level of financial stress, it’s a silent epidemic that isn’t always obvious from the outside. Even as it erodes our health and wellbeing, most of us march onward and avoid talking about our financial woes.

This creates an enormous opportunity to help people alleviate their stress and anxiety regarding money. In an America where two-thirds of people live paycheck to paycheck, there has to be a way to use technology to ease financial stress.

Blair credits the financial industry for adding an enormous amount of personalization and individuality to banking interactions in the past decade or so. Unfortunately, many traditional financial institutions still aren’t working to address money anxiety. They’re ignoring their customers’ #1 financial concern, which is simply not having enough money.

Instead, many companies are focusing on efficiency issues like creating faster transactions or making it easier to move money from place to place. What about all the customers who just feel like they’re squeezing every penny?

Blair refers to a survey that showed two-thirds of all Americans don’t see a benefit from their relationship with their primary financial institution. This could be a major factor in the rise of neobanks that help people locate more money and reduce their money-related stress.

Empowerment and Empathy in Financial Transactions

This is where BOND.AI comes in. When someone is at a critical financial turning point, the technology helps them problem-solve their way to success. If someone needs a new refrigerator, they can ask, “How should I pay for this new fridge?” BOND.AI provides data, shows cash flows, and helps you determine the best path to resolving this dilemma.

Notice how this provides an automatic way to avoid many common financial traps. The customer is empowered to evaluate their financing, adjust their budget, arrange payments, trigger reminders, and essentially set themselves up for success rather than failure with money. It’s a more positive and productive way of managing one’s finances.

Plus, it acknowledges that no two customers are alike. This isn’t a new concept, but successful financial brands understand just how drastically different one customer is from another.

For example, consider someone who loves to run. They run so frequently and conquer so much rough terrain, they need new running shoes every 90 days. Good running shoes are expensive, so this creates a rather large line item in their quarterly budget of $300 every 3 months.

Now consider someone else who isn’t a runner. The example above is completely foreign to them. Spending $1,200 a year on running shoes? That’s crazy! But this person loves trying new foods and easily spends $1,200 per year on home-delivered food services like Uber Eats and Hello Fresh.

Each of these customers has a unique need for financial management, but in many ways, they’re not so different. They both need empathy and understanding about their hobbies and related expenses. Neither of them wants to stress about their money and prefers to focus on their favorite things.

Putting the “Service” Back in Financial Services

In an industry known for financial services, it could be argued that some institutions have actually lost their focus on service. As Blair says, “A service is a helpful act.”

While so many financial brands are diligently pursuing personalization, they’re mostly using it to push more products rather than offering their customers more helpful services. That’s simply not what today’s savvy, tech-enabled consumers want.

What people want is help. They want some empathy when it comes to managing their money. Blair says he uses the word “empathy” so much, that he sometimes wonders if people are Googling it after he leaves.

Empathy in the financial world is important because most people don’t view the world in purely monetary terms. They view money as a means to an end. In other words, it’s a hassle to arrange the money to buy a refrigerator, but it’s fun to own a refrigerator you love.

When a financial brand views this situation with empathy, it’s clear that there has to be a way to make the customer’s experience more enjoyable. The human-centered design keeps their needs and desires at the center of the consumer journey, showing empathy for their struggles during the voyage.

Is Your Financial Brand Helping People “Level Up”?

Here’s another common mistake among financial brands. They gather a massive amount of information about their customers yet they end up doing very little with it. Even worse, they make bad assumptions about what the data means and sometimes do more harm than good!

Blair says the biggest error they’re making is forgetting about the human element of data gathering and analysis. It’s not just important to know which of your products people are using. It’s important to know how and why. What matters to each person?

This is one of the reasons why BOND.AI’s empathy engine is so revolutionary. It arranges data in an intelligent way that makes sense and helps people. It addresses issues like anxiety and financial literacy by helping people connect with exactly what they need at the precise moment they need it.

Moreover, it takes financial literacy to a whole new level. As Blair puts it, “If you’re in a financial hole, you don’t necessarily need a class. You need a stepladder.” When a service can help someone feel better about managing $1, suddenly they feel more confident managing $20, then $200, and more. Now they’re finally on track to break through their financial anxiety.

James Robert points out that this dovetails with the “Atomic Habits” theory of being 1% better every day and seeing the compounding effects as the days go by. Suddenly 1% plus 1% equals not 2%, but 11%. Positive impacts stack on top of positive impacts, leading to highly positive long-term results.

Blair’s team is helping people “level up,” to put it in video game terms. When someone is empowered to make better financial decisions over and over again, they see bigger benefits and gain even more motivation to continue their journey toward financial wellness.