Chatbots: Helping Your Finances or Up-selling?

Financial technology, or fin-tech, has come a long way. Much more than just a budgeting app, now you can do your banking, money management, investing and even borrowing, online. In addition to apps, fin-tech companies are following the chatbot trend. I talk with Alan Whitton, who has spent 35 years working in the tech industry, about whether chatbots are good for us financially and security issues around fin-tech in general.

Alan interestingly points out that there isn’t a lot of fin-tech companies helping people get out of debt. Most fin-tech companies go where the big money is – and that’s selling new stuff.  There are very few apps that tell you to prioritize savings, create an emergency fund, or pay off debt.  Instead, we hear about robo-investors and companies like Borrowell that make a lot of money offering ‘free’ credit scores to entice you to borrow more.

Chatbots: Customer Service or Sales?

Chatbots are simply intelligent software that can answer standard questions from people. Think of it as an interactive FAQ section.

The more sophisticated the chatbot, the more complicated questions they can address, but artificial intelligence stands to make chatbots excellent salespeople as well.

Targeted sales pitches. Unlike a human, a machine can recall a lot more information about your purchase history. It can also store all the possible offers the company wants to sell you. A human might only remember two or three. Chatbots can become very effective in up-selling you on a product, encouraging you to spend more than you planned.

A lack of empathy. A chatbot is designed to follow precise commands. It’s not meant to give you a personalized solution to your problems. Unlike a human being, it won’t take the time to determine whether or not you’ve been a loyal and timely customer. If you are having an issue like being behind on your bill payments, a company is unlikely to program a chatbot with the ability to be lenient or forgiving when offering a solution.

Waiting for another day. Because they aren’t programmed with emotions, chatbots have unlimited patience. Even if you don’t buy today, they know you’ll be back again for a sales pitch another day.

Online Security Tips

In addition to talking about chatbots, Alan offers these practical tips when it comes to using technology in general:

  1. Never use public Wi-Fi. It’s safer to stick to the data you have on your phone.
  2. Avoid clicking on links in emails from people you don’t know.
  3. Use antivirus software for your home computer.
  4. Don’t browse random sites on your phone.
  5. Look for the address to start with “https.” The “s” in the “http” indicates that the website is secured and safe to use.

While technological advancements in personal finance and customer service seem convenient, we need to be very careful in our reliance and approach when using them.

For more details on the impact of fin-tech on your money, tune in to today’s podcast or read the complete transcription below.

Additional Resources

FULL TRANSCRIPT – SHOW 224 Chatbots: Helping Your Finances or Upselling?

Chatbots- Helping your Finances or Upselling?

Doug Hoyes:    Many people will tell you it’s a great time to be actively managing your finances because financial technology – or fintech – makes it so much easier to manage your money better. Fintech used to just be about online banking but now it includes any new technology that’s used in the world of banking, borrowing, money-management and investing. Remember when you used to go into a bank and talk to a real person? Not anymore. Thanks to fintech, everything is online or done through an app on your phone, which is great for the bank because they need fewer branches and fewer employees so they save a lot of money.

But do these savings get passed on to you? And how many websites use chatbots, a computer program designed to simulate a conversation with humans? You can ask it questions and it will give you pre-programmed answers, all without a human being at the other end. That’s great, but will the chatbot give me as good a deal as a human? And just how secure and private is all this new technology?

Lots of questions, so today to get some answers I am joined once again by the big Cajun man, Alan Whitton, who was a guest back on Episode 160 – one of our most popular shows – where he talked about how he survived a layoff after 20 years at what was then Canada’s biggest company. He also returned on Episode 165 to talk about one of his areas of interest, RDSPs. And he is the man behind the Canadian Personal Finance Blog, one of Canada’s oldest and best personal finance blogs. And he’s spent 35 years in the tech world, so he’s the perfect guest to talk about fintech.

So let’s get started. Alan, welcome back.

Alan Whitton:   Well, after that introduction, oh my goodness, 35 years? Yeah, that sounds about right.

Doug Hoyes:    So that makes you an old hack then, right?

Alan Whitton:   A very old hack, that’s for sure. In a positive way though.

Doug Hoyes:    Absolutely, I am using it as a term of endearment. And we are here in Ottawa, which is where you are based, here in my Ottawa office to talk about this. So I want, on today’s show, to have the old hack tell us what impact fintech will have on people in debt. And then we’ll talk about a bunch of other issues as well. So I get the concept of fintech, at least I think I do. So for example, if I am an investor I can buy an ETF which is a fund created by a computer, I think of that as fintech. Or a robo-advisor, maybe is a better example, where the robot, the computer, figures out how it all works and as a result I save fees, so instead of paying 2% on the fund I am paying half of 1% or something like that. So that all sounds good. Is there any application for fintech in the world of debt?

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, I mean things like Quicken and Mint and Excel, if you really want to go down to barebones and have an Excel spreadsheet with all of your stuff in there. I haven’t really seen any debt-specific tools on how to help you, other than budgeting tools.

Doug Hoyes:    So why is that?

Alan Whitton:   Well, okay in your business there’s a lot of money in debt, but in technology is very much the: How much money can I make? Now, the people at Intuit – who are no longer the owners so I guess it’s not Quicken – they’re trying to find their niche and they’re having a hard time trying to keep the business rolling I think, so helping people budget, helping people save money, eh … I don’t know, I just don’t feel that the technology is there yet.

Doug Hoyes:    So is it as simple as, there’s no money to be made in that and therefore nobody is devoting a whole lot of energy to coming up with some fancy way to do it?

Alan Whitton:   I don’t think it’s no money, I just think there’s not enough money. Whereas in banking, and in investing, and robo-advisors, and things like that it’s sexy, it’s money. The banks are going to want to buy you. I mean banks invest in things that make them money, so if you get people to invest and things like that, great. Having people pay off their debts…

Doug Hoyes:    Well, in fact it’s the opposite of making money. If I pay off my mortgage with the bank, the bank’s not making any money on me.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah. And I don’t mean to make banks sound like dark, nasty things – which they might be – but …

Doug Hoyes:    So I can quote you: They’re dark, nasty things. Okay, continue, cool.

Alan Whitton:   Evil.

Doug Hoyes:    Evil. Okay, yes, there you go. Cool.

Alan Whitton:   I won’t say who I bank with, although if you read enough of my articles you’ll know exactly who I bank with. Yeah, so I’m not making friends there but … You know, as we were talking about previously, where is the money coming from?

Doug Hoyes:    Follow the money.

Alan Whitton:   Exactly. And I mean if there is money to be made people are going to make things happen that way. And I have had a few people approach me with budgeting ideas and financial planning ideas, software they are looking for money to be put in – And you’re not getting any money from because I’m a government employee, I don’t make money – and also they want me to try things out and I’m going: “Well, you know, if you want me to hack it around or smash it up, sure, I can test it for you”. There are more people that are offering me, you know, cryptocurrency, “we’ll make a billion dollars off cryptocurrency doing this fantastic thing”.

Doug Hoyes:    2018 hasn’t been a great year for that but, I don’t know, maybe next year or the year after will be where it turns around.

Alan Whitton:   Below 5,000 now?

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, yeah.

Alan Whitton:   Today anyways.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, and if you watch this video ten seconds from now the number will be different, so don’t be quoting us on it.

Alan Whitton:   True.

Doug Hoyes:    So okay, there’s not a whole lot of money in fintech as it relates to debt, because the big players aren’t interested in you paying off your debt, I guess you’ve got to do it yourself is really what it come down to?

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, and I mean there’s a lot of ways of doing it. I mean you can look at Kerry – Squawkfox’s – she’s got a bunch of Excel spreadsheets, if you really want to go barebones and you don’t want to pay money for budgeting and that kind of stuff. You can buy Quicken, you can run things on Mint that’ll help you do that. Some of the banks are offering graphing things, to show you graphically where you’re spending your money, which is always helpful as well, just to see that you’re spending that much money on pennywhistles and moon pies or whatever, whatever you’re spending money on.

Doug Hoyes:    Well, okay, we have a script here which —

Alan Whitton:   We never follow, whenever I’m around.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, we’re just going to forget about it.

Alan Whitton:   Script? What’s that?

Doug Hoyes:    I’ll just leave it down here then. So you just mentioned things like Mint and some of these other software programs.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah. All have clouds.

Doug Hoyes:    They’re all in the cloud?

Alan Whitton:   Yeah.

Doug Hoyes:    So as I understand it, the cloud thing is taking my information and putting it in the cloud and sending it back to me. How secure is this?

Alan Whitton:   Well, I mean someone described the cloud once as: “You’re just putting your stuff on somebody else’s computer”, which is true. Where is that computer? Well, that’s an important thing to know. Quicken’s cloud I believe is in the United States, although it may also be in other parts of the world. Mint’s is definitely in the United States. So your banking information is now down there, all of your information. And I mean this isn’t just, you know, like someone stealing my SIN number, this is knowing exactly how much money I’m spending, where it’s going, how much money- you know, can I move stuff around in it?

So the banking laws are different down there too, and the security laws, and the privacy laws are all different down there too.

Doug Hoyes:    So should I be concerned if I’m using one of these apps on my phone or computer that has access to all this?

Alan Whitton:   Okay, so if you’re using your phone for this kind of stuff – I’m sorry, I’m shilling for Apple here – never use public Wi-Fi, never, don’t do anything on public Wi-Fi. That is just saying, here, Mr nasty person, take all my money.

Doug Hoyes:    And so when you say public Wi-Fi, you mean I go to the coffee shop and log in in their Wi-Fi, that sort of thing?

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, McDonalds, Starbucks.

Doug Hoyes:    Okay.

Alan Whitton:   Don’t use that. If you’re going to do stuff like that at least use the data on your cellphone. If you’ve got a Rogers account or a Bell account, do it on that, if you have to do it when you’re mobile. If you’re doing it using your home Wi-Fi, eh, you should be okay, as long as your neighbour …

Doug Hoyes:    Isn’t hacking into you?

Alan Whitton:   Well, it does happen.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah?

Alan Whitton:   It does happen.

Doug Hoyes:    What’s your password at home? You’re not going to tell us? You’re not going to tell us.

Alan Whitton:   Although I did have a Wi-Fi place that was called Bugger Off.

Doug Hoyes:    Oh, okay. That’s good.

Alan Whitton:   I like the one that was the NSA truck.

Doug Hoyes:    That’s what I would go for, yeah. CSIS or something would probably be good. Okay, so from a security point of view then there’s the access issue, so don’t be using public Wi-Fi to be getting your banking information or all the other stuff.

Alan Whitton:   Absolutely.

Doug Hoyes:    And do you have any issues with the software itself, or are you not as concerned about that?

Alan Whitton:   The software itself, who wrote it? Like where are they based, are they to be trusted, have they had data breaches? I mean, if …

Doug Hoyes:    Well, everyone’s had a data breach. I mean Equifax had a huge data breach.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, so if Equifax – and they’re supposed to be protecting you – got broken into …

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, wow. I don’t know if that’s their business model or not, but yes, I get what you’re saying.

Alan Whitton:   You know, they’re supposed to be secure; I mean that was one of the things they were selling themselves on. Everybody else is, you know- And if I put everything in one place, that’s where everyone’s going to look. And I mean, my silly little website is under constant attack, for some bizarre reason.

Doug Hoyes:    It’s not me doing it, it’s not.

Alan Whitton:   Well, there’s people in Germany, in Russia, in China, that I’m going …

Doug Hoyes:    So you just said something: If you put everything in one place that’s where they’re going to go.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah.

Doug Hoyes:    Well, isn’t that the old joke? “Why do you rob banks? Because that’s where the money is”.

Alan Whitton:   Exactly.

Doug Hoyes:    And so I guess, if I am a hacker, rather than trying to hack into somebody’s individual computer, or phone or whatever, if I can go to the place where it’s all stored that would be way better, wouldn’t it?

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, but the individual computers are always fun to break into as well. So you’ve got things, like I’ve talked about phishing before, and spear phishing which is —

Doug Hoyes:    And phishing is spelt with a p-h.

Alan Whitton:   Yes.

Doug Hoyes:    We don’t know why, but it just is?

Alan Whitton:   Well, technology people love misspelling things, it’s one of those fun things we do. Yeah, nobody knows why it’s just the way it is. We’re an odd crowd. But yeah, I mean if you get an email and it says “Your RBC account is overdrafted, please click here” … don’t click here. Even if you have an RBC account, don’t. Like the CRA sent me an email a couple of days ago saying that their review of my taxes last year were in, and it was all over it saying “There is nothing here you should click. If you see anything here that you should click, don’t click it”.

Doug Hoyes:    Don’t click it.

Alan Whitton:   Right. “Go to our website, log in using our clear login”, and just don’t click on anything. Don’t click on most things. On my website there are a lot of links, I try to make sure they’re clean, I run software to make sure they’re clean, but you know, things happen. As soon as you click anything there’s a danger, you’re going somewhere where you don’t think you’re going.

Doug Hoyes:    There you go. And that all makes sense to me. So, okay, now I want to talk about – and I mentioned it in the introduction – chatbots.

Alan Whitton:   Right.

Doug Hoyes:    Okay, so first of all, what is a chatbot? What am I talking about here?

Alan Whitton:   Well, it’s a cool piece of software. Some call it artificial intelligence. It’s more just an ability to answer questions, standard questions from people. And some of them have voice interfaces as well. But if you’re on a website and someone says, “Hi, I’m Bob, can I help you?” sometimes that is an actual person, like there are call centres in Kitchener around that have people that do answer that stuff. But in a lot of cases it’s a piece of software that has, you know, hundreds of standard answers to questions, and the software, you know if I type in my bank account, “Where did my money go?” they’ll try to parse something out of that and say, “Okay, you seem to be having a problem here, can you tell me specifically what the problem is?”

This software has become much more sophisticated than when I was going to the University of Waterloo in 1980 many years ago.

Doug Hoyes:    Some years ago, yes. Hey, I went to university in the 80s, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, you know.

Alan Whitton:   Well, luckily we didn’t have the internet or digital cameras.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, I know.

Alan Whitton:   But that’s another podcast.

Doug Hoyes:    It’s was a different world back then. So these chatbots are getting more sophisticated?

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, and they’re kind of neat you know, because nobody likes to read those frequently asked questions thing, pages. You go, “Oh… yeah”. I don’t want to go through 400 standard answers. So if I can go to a thing online and type in a bunch of silly questions, they go “Oh yeah, we do this, we do that. You can have this kind of account; you can have that kind of account. Our interest rate is this. Et cetera, et cetera”.

They’re all canned answers, so as long as you’re sort of on the main street asking main street kind of questions the chatbot will work fine for you.

Doug Hoyes:    Now, you have a website.

Alan Whitton:   I’ve heard.

Doug Hoyes:    Canajunfinances dot com is what it’s called. C-a-n-a-j-u-n. I’m not sure if that’s how you spell the word or not, but it is on your website, Canajunfinances dot com.

Alan Whitton:   Right.

Doug Hoyes:    And you wrote a blog post, or an article – and I’ll link to it in the show notes which people can get over at Hoyes dot com if you didn’t write down Canajunfinances dot com – and you gave an example of a chatbot. So this is an example of what would happen. So exactly as you were describing, I go onto the computer and the little thing pops up the corner if I’m on my desktop, I guess it does the same on my phone, and the computer – the chatbot – says, “Can I help with your banking?”

Alan Whitton:   Yeah.

Doug Hoyes:    Okay, a nice, open-ended question, which I guess is what would happen if I phoned a human being too. And so you type in – well not you, because this wouldn’t happen to you, but you know – “I was late paying my credit card bill this month, what can you do for me?” Okay, simple question. Actually that’s probably a pretty complicated question. So the chatbot, as you said, has a list of standard answers in that particular case, so it comes back and says, “Well, your late payment has been noted, or late charges not withstanding on your account”. Okay, because that’s kind of an A or B thing, right?

Now if I’m talking to a real person- And what you did in this example was you went back and said, “Well, I realized I was late, but this is the first time I’m late, can you give me a break?” Now, if I’m talking to a human being, versus talking to a chatbot, what do you see as the differences there?

Alan Whitton:   Well, and this actually did happen to me a couple of weeks ago. I had missed when I was supposed to put my payment in by a day. And I spoke to a person on the phone, and the person on the phone just went, “Oh, okay, well let me go see. Oh yeah, we see your payment was a day late, and it was over a weekend, et cetera, et cetera. And you’ve been a good customer, you haven’t done this before, let’s see what I can do”. And of course the old used car salesman thing: “Let me go ask my –“

Doug Hoyes:    “Let me go talk to my manager”.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, and see if you’re allowed to do this. Now, it’s a standard thing, and chatbots may be able to do this sometime in the future. But I doubt – if you’re running a chatbot – you’re going to be wanting to give a lot of people a lot of breaks. So is it going to go: “Oh, yeah, I see that you’re a good customer. You were only a day late, you haven’t done this much before, so we’ll forgive it this time and let you get away with it, but don’t do it again type of thing”. I don’t … I haven’t seen an instance where a chatbot or a piece of AI would do that.

Now if you’re dealing with an actual person who is on the other end typing with you, yeah, it’ll be like me being on the phone. But the chatbot is going to be very much A or B. Is there some fuzziness in there? Maybe. Maybe they’ve been doing lookups and they see that you’re a good customer and they’re going to try to give you a break in some fashion, but have they invested enough money in the software to be able to do that? Eh … not really.

Doug Hoyes:    I have never worked at a bank so I don’t know, but I mean I meet with clients all the time and I’ve been dealing with people for years and years, and if someone I’m meeting with has – You know, like in your example, I was late a day with my payment. Well, if I can look you in the eye and I can go, “Yeah, you know what, we all make mistakes, I understand”, I can go in and I can reverse the charge, there’s a personal connection there. How do they program that personal connection into software?

Alan Whitton:   It’s not as hard as you’d think. I mean they’re going to bring up your profile anyway, because if they know who you are. If you’ve logged in, they’ll have brought up your profile.

Doug Hoyes:    They know everything about you.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, well, and whoever was watching you log in does as well, but that’s just me being paranoid. Did I leave my tinfoil hat around here anywhere? Anyway, so the software itself can be relatively sophisticated, it depends on how much money someone wants to pay to do that. Like if they want people to … You know, they want to get as much money as possible, not giving someone that option is perfectly simple, just don’t offer it.

Doug Hoyes:    You don’t give it to them. But can you program in empathy? Because when I go to the bank after having messed up, and the customer service person looks at me and goes, “Well, okay, I can see that you feel bad”.

Alan Whitton:   “You’re a wonderful person”.

Doug Hoyes:    “You’re a wonderful person”. And they don’t have to look at my entire profile and see how long I’ve been a customer, I mean I guess they can, it’s right on the computer, but it’s really a personal decision that they’re making.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah.

Doug Hoyes:    Is that …?

Alan Whitton:   That’s all doable. It’s whether the bank really wants to do that or not. Are you going to get that kind of deal? I have not heard of a situation where you’re going to get a deal, where you know- Like my Bell internet is about to expire, that great deal I got two years ago, if I call and I get a chatbot, or I go online and get a chatbot, I want the great deal that I got two years ago, is it going to go: “Oh, yeah, he’s a wonderful person”, or, “I don’t know, we got him two years ago, and next month it’s going to double in cost”.

Doug Hoyes:    Well, so you raise another issue, and that is sales pitches.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah.

Doug Hoyes:    So when you got that great deal two years ago it was a sales pitch.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, it was someone at my front door. And Rogers had upset me enough that I just went, you know …

Doug Hoyes:    Hmm, argh. So can a chatbot do the same thing?

Alan Whitton:   Absolutely. Ramming sales stuff down your throat is something chatbots will do absolutely. You just mention any topic and they will start slamming stuff down your throat, and start selling to you if they want to, depending on how you program it.

Doug Hoyes:    So that’s easy. Do you think chatbots will be different than human beings? Will they be more high-pressure sales? Less high-pressure sales? Will they know every trick in the book?

Alan Whitton:   Well, you know, they’re getting programmed, they’re going to deal with salespeople, the people that program it are going to learn from those people. So yeah, they’re going to … I don’t know if they’ll pull dirty tricks but they’ll certainly use all the high-pressure sales tactics they can, talking about: “Oh look, your chequing account, you have $3,000 in there, you shouldn’t have $3,000 in there, you should be taking $2,000 out and buying this wonderful mutual fund that has, you know, a four or five percent management fee on it”.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, and that’s where I see the biggest danger. When I am talking to a salesperson they’ve got limited information in their head, that’s all they know. And yes, they’ve got computers but it takes time to look up this, that, and the other thing; whereas the computer can know everything instantly about me.

Alan Whitton:   It can certainly do a quick lookup. And more likely than not there’s been some background work going, hey …

Doug Hoyes:    Already been done, yeah.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, someone’s already done this, so the next time we talk to them try this, try that.

Doug Hoyes:    Well, I suspect if my credit card is delinquent, and I phone the credit card company, I’m getting routed through to different department than if I’m the best customer ever.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah.

Doug Hoyes:    Because this one, I’m getting a sales pitch; this one, I’m getting a collection type call. So the computer knows everything there is to know.

Alan Whitton:   Pretty much, pretty much.

Doug Hoyes:    And so does that not make it easier to pick the exact offer to sell me, you know, to pick the hot buttons? “As a home owner, here’s the offer we’ve got for you”.

Alan Whitton:   Or, we noticed that you don’t have insurance with us.

Doug Hoyes:    Ah, that’s a good one.

Alan Whitton:   You know, start upselling all of the stuff that banks sell now, which …

Doug Hoyes:    Is everything.

Alan Whitton:   They don’t sell water … well, not yet.

Doug Hoyes:    Ah, I don’t know if that’s true or not, but let’s assume that’s probably true.

Alan Whitton:   But upsell is the big thing these days, I mean you can’t even go to a 7-11 without someone upselling you something. So I mean a chatbot would be the ultimate upsell point.

Doug Hoyes:    Well and even if you go to a human being at the bank, they’ve got three things on their screen when you put your card in, right? And it’s like you say, “Oh, you don’t have insurance. Oh, I see you’ve got money over here; we could put it in a mutual fund over there. You qualify for a bigger limit on your credit card, would you like a line of credit?”

My worry with the chatbots – which is really just the front end of a big, huge computer – is they’ve got every single possible offer and they’ve got a huge history for someone who’s very much like you, here’s the sales pitch that’s going to work, because we get to test it out on two million customers every month.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, and I think that’s where we’re heading, definitely, as you take the human factor out of things there’ll be a lot more of the aimed upsell, for lack of a better term.

Doug Hoyes:    Aimed upsell. So, okay, practical advice then, I am a human being, and I know when I’m dealing with a salesperson because this is something we’ve been doing our whole lives, right. When a salesperson comes to my door I know they’re a salesperson. When I go to the mall and walk into a store I understand that the person greeting me is a salesperson. When I go buy a car I understand what the nature of the relationship is. But when I’m talking to a chatbot, because I logged into my bank account and it said, “Hey, can we help you?” is my spidey sense tingling when I’m talking to a chatbot?

Alan Whitton:   It depends on your age, I think. I think someone our age might be a little less likely to —

Doug Hoyes:    35?

Alan Whitton:   Yeah. Sure. If you buy that I do have a [bridge] for sale. But I think younger folk would be more likely to think, “Yeah, this is a sales pitch as well”, because they’re understanding the technology. Older folk, a little less, they might be thinking, “Oh, this is trying to help me”.

Doug Hoyes:    So millennials are actually better equipped to deal with this than old hacks?

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, maybe, maybe not. I mean this is only an opinion on my part, there’s no great study that I have read of —

Doug Hoyes:    Have you done a great study on this?

Alan Whitton:   [Laughs] No.

Doug Hoyes:    That’s what we need, a great study. Well, and I can see how it could go either way. Someone who is younger has been using technology their whole life, whereas when we were kids, like you said, there was no internet so it …

Alan Whitton:   There was, but it really could stink.

Doug Hoyes:    Well we couldn’t get to it. So, whereas the flipside is, we’ve been dealing with people our whole lives, and so we’re probably a little more leery or sceptical, we’ve had more life experience to get burned.

Alan Whitton:   And skepticism is something that comes with age, I find.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah.

Alan Whitton:   And like I’m just sceptical of everything. Everyone’s trying to sell me something, that’s my point of view.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, well that’s my point and it’s probably true too.

Alan Whitton:   And if you go in there, and we’re trying to sell you something too. I don’t know what I’m selling, but I know what you’re selling.

Doug Hoyes:    Exactly.

Alan Whitton:   I don’t have a book.

Doug Hoyes:    You should write a book and then you can put it on [the screen] too.

Alan Whitton:   I’ve been told I should write a book, but anyway.

Doug Hoyes:    It’s not happening? Okay, so practical advice then, number one: Be sceptical. And so what else? How can I recognize, when I’m talking to a computer that I’m actually getting a sales pitch?

Alan Whitton:   If you’re hearing a voice you’re getting a sales pitch.

Doug Hoyes:    Oh, there you go. If you’re hearing a voice you’re getting a sales pitch.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, I just assume that. I mean all the algorithms in the back end have biases. No matter how you write programs, there’s biases in there. If I write it I have my own bias on how things are going. So assume there’s bias, assume they’re trying to sell you something. If it’s something you need then fine, okay, try to get the best deal; and if you can’t get the best deal, walk away. But this is the same stuff we tell people [if] they are going to an insurance office, or they were going into the Bell office or something like that, get the best deal you can and be ready to walk away from it.

Chatbots will gladly let you walk away, but they know [when] you’ll come back.

Doug Hoyes:    Mmm. So chatbots will let you walk away but they know you will come back?

Alan Whitton:   They won’t do the old used car salesman, as you’re walking to the door: “Wait a minute, I’ve got one more thing here for you”, the chatbots are not going to do that, but they know you’re going to come back somewhere along the way.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, and I guess with the chatbot there is no emotion, there is no …

Alan Whitton:   No, it’s very much just a set of decision points.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, they’re not offended that you didn’t buy today, so that’s …

Alan Whitton:   You might be back later to buy it.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, so that’s not a big thing. So do you think, being a technology guy, that …

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, guy.

Doug Hoyes:    A guy. That’s an official term, I think you have a designation that says that. Will chatbots cost people jobs?

Alan Whitton:   Yeah. Well, I mean tellers are going to lose jobs because of this, people in call centres are going to lose jobs. The standard, you know, the people that would be answering the phones are going to lose the jobs. Will back end people, sales people like that, lose jobs? I don’t know, they could. As you build more AI into the system you need less human thought going on in it. But definitely, the standard tellers, there’ll be a lot less brick and mortar banks and outlets like that; you’ll be dealing online with everything.

I mean, as we’re taping this we’re coming up on Black Friday, the greatest orgy of spending, and I mean it’s all going to be done online. I don’t even know if Cyber Monday is a thing anymore,

Doug Hoyes:    Oh, I’m sure it is.

Alan Whitton:   I think it’s just Black Friday just runs on for about a month.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, it’s a whole thing. So again, you’ve got to realize you’re getting a sales pitch, be sceptical, and try to get the best deal that you can.

Alan Whitton:   Right.

Doug Hoyes:    And if you’re looking for a job, probably a bank teller is not a good career choice?

Alan Whitton:   Well, no. No, I don’t think so. There’s a lot of jobs that were around when we were younger that are definitely not going to be around for much longer.

Doug Hoyes:    Well, I mean it used to be somebody else pumped the gas into your car, that’s not a thing anymore. There used to be cashiers at the grocery store, that’s not a thing- Well, they’re still there but now there’s all these go-through-and-beep-it-yourself kind of a thing, and that’s all computer-driven, well maybe not the gas pumping, but certainly the other thing. So, okay, there’s going to be some jobs lost there.

So I think that’s some good practical advice on the chatbots. Is there anything else on the security piece then that we haven’t touched on? Are there any security implications with the chatbots as well?

Alan Whitton:   Well, with the chatbots themselves, not as much. Just make sure that when you’re connected to them, you’re connected to them, and you haven’t been somehow relayed into some other weird world where you’re talking to something that has nothing to do with the bank, that you thought you were talking to but you’re talking to something else. Finding that out is not going to be as easy as you think.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, how are you going to know that?

Alan Whitton:   Just be aware that that’s possible, and keep track of whatever conversations you’ve had. Or whatever transactions you do, make sure you write them down or you keep track of what you’ve done in those situations.

Doug Hoyes:    So would you recommend I talk to someone on the phone and not talk with chatbots, or is that the way the world’s going?

Alan Whitton:   That’s the way the world’s going is really one of the ways I’ve got- I mean I like talking to people on the phone because I think I can, you know, schmooze them into giving me a better deal.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, get a better deal.

Alan Whitton:   Now I’m sure they laugh at me, ganging up on the old guy who thought he was getting a great when he didn’t get the great deal. And that’s fine, but the security aspect of all of this is really, really important, I mean your home computer is your fintech centre of the world for a lot of people, your phone is definitely it. These things have to be secured, you’ve got to put your antivirus software on there, you’ve got to make sure that these things are clean. If you’re doing money transactions on your phone, how safe is your phone?

Doug Hoyes:    And so how do I know if my phone is clean?

Alan Whitton:   It’s not as easy. Like on a PC you’ve got antivirus software, you can get Malwarebytes, you can get a whole bunch of other things. Norton is finally getting into the business of trying to put those kinds of agents on your phones itself. But once your phone is compromised, a lot of times you’re not going to know that it’s been compromised.

Doug Hoyes:    Do you do banking on your phone?

Alan Whitton:   I try not to. The only problem I’ve got is that if- Like I hate going into banks to put cheques in, but due to my life I get cheques.

Doug Hoyes:    Now a cheque is that piece of paper that has- It’s money, right?

Alan Whitton:   Right.

Doug Hoyes:    Okay, I’ve heard of these things. Yeah, yeah.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, so the only way to really do that is to use your phone, you’re taking pictures of the cheques, right.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah.

Alan Whitton:   Well, so I’m using the banking for that, so I have all these pictures of cheques and I have all these cheques with things written on it saying, “deposited yesterday” kind of thing. So I’m kind of forced – well not forced – but the convenience of not going to a bank lends me to use my phone for that. Well, you know, if my phone’s been comprised, what happens then?

Doug Hoyes:    You’ve got a problem. Yeah, and there’s fewer and fewer branches.

Alan Whitton:   Yes.

Doug Hoyes:    Because they’re all closing. And because of- You know, there’s now fintech and AI and chatbots and all the rest of it —

Alan Whitton:   Right.

Doug Hoyes:    And so, yeah, I used to have to go to the bank to deposit a cheque, now I can take a picture with my phone, well it’s way more convenient, it takes 12 seconds instead of 45 minutes. So, I’d like to have the security of going to a physical branch and talking to a human being face-to-face, but practically-speaking I guess this is where we’re at. So what should I be doing then? Just hoping for the best? Like with my phone?

Alan Whitton:   Practice safe stuff on your phone. Do not go browsing through weird sites online. Weird emails, do not click on weird things like that. It doesn’t take much – as we saw in the last U.S. election – to have your phone compromised. Clicking on one link and suddenly everybody knows everything, or at least a whole bunch of nasty people know a whole bunch of stuff about you.

And if you’ve got all your banking information on here, suddenly it’s available.

Doug Hoyes:    Somebody else has it.

Alan Whitton:   And it’s going to get sold to someone else, because again, follow the money.

Doug Hoyes:    So practical advice then is kind of the same as what you do on a desktop computer?

Alan Whitton:   Exactly.

Doug Hoyes:    Know what you’re clicking on. And I guess we have to keep an eye out, as they upgrade antivirus and malware and all those sorts of things which are lagging on mobile devices as compared to what you get on a desktop.

Alan Whitton:   Definitely on android devices. It’s a lot more wild west. It’s getting better, but it … Apple claims that all the applications in there – iTunes Store and all that – are clean. You can read articles that state otherwise, so make sure that you’re safe with this, you’re safe with your PC at home. Do not use public Wi-Fi, I mean I don’t know what you can use it for other than maybe ordering a coffee, and even then, once you connect there, they have access to your phone.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah.

Alan Whitton:   Don’t use that.

Doug Hoyes:    So, well there’s a good place to end it then, don’t use public Wi-Fi. Is there any other advice or anything else you want to tell our listeners?

Alan Whitton:   Fintech can be something good. It’s not going to be something that’s going to save you a lot of money, the banks are going to make a lot of money on this, because they wouldn’t think it was a good idea unless it was going to make them a lot of money. Investment firms, same thing, they’re going to have high-speed trading, they’re going to do all the good stuff they want to do. Is that stuff going to trickle down to you me? Ah, maybe. Maybe. But not as much as you hoped. It’ll be there, but not what you want.

Doug Hoyes:    So it’s for the benefit of the banks and the big companies, not so much you and me?

Alan Whitton:   No. Oh, and for shareholders too.

Doug Hoyes:    Yeah, so I guess there you go.

Alan Whitton:   Oh, I’m a shareholder of banks, so …

Doug Hoyes:    So maybe that’s how you’d take advantage of it. And this is not stock advice, if there were any lawyers listening here.

Alan Whitton:   Good God, no. Do not buy stock on the basis of anything I said. I held Nortel for a long enough that I’m an idiot.

Doug Hoyes:    And you can go back and listen to Episode 160 if you don’t know what Nortel was.

Alan Whitton:   Yes.

Doug Hoyes:    So how can listeners find you?

Alan Whitton:   So I’m on Twitter as @bigcajunman. You’ll see a lot of the older stuff on there, and some rude commentary by me on various things, I’m surprised I haven’t been banned yet. The website is https … secure.

Doug Hoyes:    Ooh, S.

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, uses SSL certificates, so it’s very important. Slash, Canajunfinances. C-a-n-a-j-u-n finances dot com. I am also pretty much everywhere else. I’m on Facebook.

Doug Hoyes:    Facebook?

Alan Whitton:   Yeah, I’m that old, I still have Facebook.

Doug Hoyes:    Wow. And MySpace?

Alan Whitton:   I was on MySpace. I forgot my password.

Doug Hoyes:    And what’s your AOL account?

Alan Whitton:   Ah, I had … I actually still have an AOL account that I get email from occasionally.

Doug Hoyes:    There you go. We won’t be publishing those, so I will put all of those links in the show notes so people can track you down. Thanks for being on the show.

Alan Whitton:   Well, thanks for having me. And thanks for coming to the beautiful wintery capital of Canada.

Doug Hoyes:    Yes. I didn’t realize that the snow started basically after Labour Day here, but hey, it’s been fun. I got no complaints. So that’s our show for today. Full show notes including a full transcript and links to everything we discussed today can be found at Hoyes dot com, and yes in fact we are also https.

Alan Whitton:   Absolutely. Don’t go to any website that is not https, and your browser will tell you if it isn’t.

Doug Hoyes:    It a secure site, so we’ve got that as well. So that’s H-o-y-e-s dot com, Hoyes dot com. Thanks for listening. Until next week, I’m Doug Hoyes, that was Debt Free in 30.

Alan Whitton:   Good job.

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