Bank of America’s newest tech: Siri-like service for mobile customers

Pedestrians pass in front of a Bank of America branch in New York on Oct. 12, 2016.
Pedestrians pass in front of a Bank of America branch in New York on Oct. 12, 2016. Bloomberg

Bank of America unveiled on Monday a Siri-like “virtual assistant” for smartphones, the latest example of the industry’s deepening push into mobile banking.

The Charlotte-based bank said the feature, called Erica, will allow its customers to perform transactions 24 hours a day, seven days a week using their voice. The technology, unveiled at a payments industry conference in Las Vegas, works similar to other smartphone virtual assistants such as iPhone’s Siri.

Bank of America, the nation’s second-largest bank by assets, said it becomes the first among its competitors to offer the feature. The bank unveiled other new mobile-banking technology Monday, including upcoming access to a person-to-person payment service meant to compete with Venmo and other popular money-transfer apps.

The announcements come as banks everywhere are under pressure to improve their mobile apps. Banks’ customers are flocking to smartphones to conduct transactions they used to rely on branches for. Also, mobile transactions can cost a bank less than the same transactions performed in a branch, increasing the attractiveness of the technology as banks seek to lower overall expenses.

Bank of America said Erica, a play on the “America” in the bank’s name, will be available late next year.

In addition to taking voice commands, the service will use artificial intelligence to offer customers financial advice. For example, customers might receive a text from Erica when their spending patterns warrant the need to transfer money into their checking account to avoid a low balance.

Michelle Moore, Charlotte-based head of digital banking for Bank of America, said Erica comes at a time when customers are telling Moore they “want a bank that has (their) back.”

“The power of what Erica will bring is the predictive nature, the ability to provide you useful and helpful content,” Moore said.

Also Monday, Bank of America said it will be the first U.S. bank to offer customers features of Zelle, a person-to-person mobile payments app that next year replaces an existing industry venture known as clearXchange.

Zelle will allow customers to use smartphones to transfer money from their bank or credit union accounts to accounts at other financial institutions within minutes. The app is designed for the nation’s biggest banks to take on the likes of the popular PayPal-owned Venmo, which lets users split a dinner bill or pay the babysitter with the tap of a finger.

Bank of America also announced on Monday new capabilities for its automated teller machines.

Those include the ability for customers to start an ATM withdrawal or cash deposit on their smartphones and finish it at the machine, a feature expected to be available next year. Also next year, the bank plans to roll out new ATMs allowing customers to schedule appointments to meet with bankers in branches.

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts