Virtual assistant

Wells Fargo has a new virtual assistant in the works named Fargo

A Wells Fargo logo is seen at the SIBOS banking and finance conference in Toronto

Chris Helgren | Reuters

Wells Fargo is developing a virtual assistant to help it convert more retail banking customers into digital users, CNBC has learned.

The assistant, named Fargo, will be able to perform tasks such as paying bills, sending money and offering transaction details and budget advice, according to Michelle Moore, head of consumer digital form the bank. It is expected to be released next year after the bank releases a revamped mobile app and website in early 2022, she said.

The move by Wells Fargo, a consumer banking giant with more branches than any lender except JPMorgan Chase, is part of a larger technology overhaul under CEO Charles Scharf. Updating the bank’s aging systems has been a priority for Scharf since becoming chief executive two years ago, as well as a key part of the turnaround needed after the bank’s fake accounts scandal in 2016. Last month, Wells Fargo announced a decade plan to move computing to Google and Microsoft cloud servers.

Michelle Moore is Head of Consumer Digital at Wells Fargo

Source: Wells Fargo

“Everyone lives on their phone, and things are expected to work,” Moore said in a Zoom interview. “Our customers were telling us that our app wasn’t easy to use, it wasn’t intuitive, there were too many dead ends, and customers were stuck.”

Although it had the most extensive physical presence of any US bank for years, it was only eclipsed in branch count last time around. trimester by JPMorgan, Wells Fargo trails rivals in digital adoption. Regulators have critical company’s technology systems and a 2019 incident at a Minnesota data center disrupted customers’ mobile and web access for hours.

Its 27 million active mobile users are lower than those of JPMorgan and Bank of America. Despite the boost the coronavirus pandemic has given all things digital, Wells Fargo’s 4.2% user growth over the past year is less than half of JPMorgan’s earnings. Studies have shown that digital users are generally more satisfied with their banks, cheaper to serve and less likely to switch providers.

That’s probably why Wells Fargo recruited Moore at the end of last year. She’s a Bank of America tech veteran who helped develop the company’s own virtual assistant, known as Erica. This artificial intelligence-based service has seen a surge in usage during the pandemic, tripling the number of interactions to 104.6 million last year, Bank of America noted this month.

Earlier this year, Wells Fargo began investigating why customers were using hotlines and where the bank’s app had failed them, Moore said. She added that the redesigned app has an easier connection and consolidates payment options, where before they were scattered. Moore also said that future releases will perform better, as part of the company’s new digital efforts.

Wells Fargo has revamped the banking app.

Source: Wells Fargo

“We can help customers really live their lives and do more than check balances and transfer money,” Moore said. “We want to be integrated and we want to help customers make their investments or buy their first home.”

As for the name of the bank’s virtual assistant, Moore said it was an obvious choice.

“We weren’t trying to create a new brand or a new character here,” she said. “There’s a lot you can do with ‘Fargo.’ Flip the word, you can “Go Far. Let Fargo take you far.”