[CASE STUDY] Chatbots for financial inclusion

  • Christophe BRETAGNOLLE, PCES


The use of chatbots in the banking sector has been rising consistently in recent years and PCES is one of the providers of chatbot services. Christophe BRETAGNOLLE of PCES started explaining this development by providing data on the current accessibility of mobile services in the world. These data show that 67.1% of the global population uses mobile phones and that 28.5% of internet users aged between 16 and 64 use online financial services.

With these data in mind, chatbots can provide an effective and cost-efficient tool to increase client reach and to widen the available digital financial services of financial service providers to their existing customer base. Compared to mobile apps, chatbots offer a number of advantages. The first is that chatbots require less maintenance by the financial service provider, as the provider of the mobile platform such as Facebook manages the platform. The second is the accessibility for customers who have less familiarity with mobile apps. Since the interaction with customers is based on dialogue, customers themselves do not need to know much about technology and will find the experience easy and personal. This makes chatbots an instrument for financial inclusion.

The third advantage of chatbots compared to many mobile apps is that they offer real-time customer support. When customers use mobile apps and have to call for customer support, they must switch between their dialogue with customer support and the mobile app. Chatbots allow customers to focus only on their dialogue with customer support.

The fourth advantage of chatbots is fast product implementation. Mobile apps and Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) require more work on development and maintenance. Chatbots are immediately ready for implementation. Financial service providers only need to open an account on a mobile platform and can start providing mobile services.

Compared to non-digital banking, automation of chat banking is a major benefit of chatbots. When a customer is registered in a database, chatbots can reply to their questions based on certain patterns and even contact them for specific products of their interest. Automated chatbots allow customers to contact their financial service provider at any time and can facilitate financial service providers to reduce staff time for performing simple operations. A coordinator can simply validate automated messages and assign staff when needed. This allows financial service providers to help more clients with the same amount of staff and further improve cost-efficiency to enable more people to access financial services.

There are two types of usage for chatbots: client operations (e.g. account inquiry, transfers, loan operations, bill payments) and internal processes. Chatbots for internal processes are particularly interesting for agency banking (e.g. customer onboarding and loan assessment). Agents in the field often use computers or tablets which require a lot of maintenance. Chatbots are accessible through mobile phones, which are usually cheaper, require far less maintenance and are more practical to use.

To illustrate the process of developing a chatbot, Bretagnolle showcased a chatbot for a financial service provider in Central Africa. The first step was development of a chatbot that could perform simple operations such as balance inquiry. Later on they added more complex operations such as payment services followed by loan applications. Finally, they added a client onboarding service including the possibility for customers to add photos of themselves and their ID. A major benefit experienced by the financial service provider is that the chatbot allows staff to take more time for internal processes before responding to a client. While waiting for a response, the client can continue with other activities. This also works the other way around. While waiting for a response by the client, staff can take up other activities. Another benefit experienced by the financial service provider is the practicality of using chatbots and the flexibility for modifying internal processes based on customer needs. Finally, chatbots allow for easy product testing and marketing. Based on these benefits, Bretagnolle predicts that chatbots will become a central element in digital strategies of financial service providers.


One audience member asked for an explanation about integration of chatbots with secure payment platforms, such as Whatsapp Pay. Bretagnolle explained that different payment platforms are available for integration. An API allows the chatbot software to communicate with these payment platforms.

Another question from the audience related to the demand for chatbots to improve financial literacy. Bretagnolle had not yet received such requests and was excited to hear about such potential.