By Duke BevardPeople issuing commands to chat bots and virtual AI

If you have an Amazon Echo or Google Home sitting on your table at home, or an iPhone or Android phone in your pocket or purse, you’ve used a chatbot and may not even have realized it. Chatbots have become much more common over the past couple of years, and you’ll soon be seeing them used in a variety of ways to provide quicker, faster service.


Chatbots are computer programs designed to interact and respond in a natural, conversational manner, much like speaking to a human, and they’re often referred to as “conversational interfaces.” Chatbots can respond through voice or text depending on which method you’re using. Chatbots are typically able to respond to “single turn” interactions: you ask the chatbot a question or make one request, and it responds with the answer to that question or completes a single action. In other words, the interaction is typically in a Q&A or request/response format.

The chatbot’s big cousin, the virtual assistant, is like a chatbot but has much greater intelligence and cognitive awareness. “Cognitive” means the virtual assistant is able to perceive and discern context at a higher level. A virtual assistant is able to respond to “multiturn” interactions, whereby it’s able to keep track of several requests at the same time. For example, you might tell a virtual assistant to “Tell me my BB&T checking and savings balances, and give me the last five transactions on my investment account.” The virtual assistant understands those are three separate requests and is able to respond to each one in turn. ”Your checking account balance is $1,000, your savings account balance is $5,000, and your last five investment account transactions are…” You get the idea. Virtual assistants can also maintain the context of a conversation, so if you respond with, “Actually, I wanted the last 10 transactions,” it knows you’re referring to your investment account since that was the context with which the transaction request was associated.


Virtual assistants are also frequently able to take complex actions on behalf of a user in association with a request. An example might be if you lose your wallet or your purse is stolen. After verifying your identity, a virtual assistant would be aware you have both a BB&T debit card and BB&T credit card, cancel both cards, and offer to send replacement cards. It could also ask if you had your checkbook with you and offer to stop payment on the checks remaining in your checkbook.

So why are chatbots and virtual assistants important? From a servicing standpoint in financial services, chatbots and virtual assistants are available 24/7, and they’re able to respond to spikes in incoming volumes immediately. They’re capable of responding to many routine inquiries and problems, which allow human call center agents to handle more complex issues. And if they can’t resolve your problem, they’ll transfer you to a live agent for further assistance.


In the future, chatbots and virtual assistants are expected to transform how we interact with many types of devices in a wide variety of places. Our homes are expected to become more automated through chatbots and devices made by Apple, Google and Amazon to name a few. You or some of your family members may have already purchased thermostats, light switches, garage doors or other home devices that can be controlled through Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home. Several automobile manufacturers are also working with these major consumer chatbot providers to incorporate voice into their vehicles’ interactive entertainment systems. Large companies like BB&T will employ systems with much deeper capabilities than these consumer grade chatbots. Siri, Google Assistant and others will more often be the front door of the chatbot experience, with the magic happening “behind the curtain” through orchestration of systems and business workflows.

BB&T is currently evaluating how these new technologies will best deliver the Perfect Client Experience to our clients. While it may be several years until something like Jarvis (Iron Man’s faithful AI assistant) becomes reality, chatbots and virtual assistants are sure to be at the forefront of future interactions in financial services and other industries.

About the Author

Duke Bevard

Duke Bevard

Vice President, BB&T Enterprise Digital Strategy

With 20 years in banking, Duke has served in a diverse set of roles including ATMs, card payments, online and mobile banking, mobile payments and digital strategy. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University and is a Distinguished Graduate of the BB&T Banking School at Wake Forest University.