Wells Fargo is developing a virtual assistant to convert more residential customers into digital users, CNBC learned.
The assistant, named Fargo, will be able to perform tasks like paying bills, sending money, and providing transaction details and budget advice, according to Michelle Moore, the bank’s digital director for consumers. It is expected to come out next year after the bank released a revamped mobile app and website in early 2022, she said.
The move of Wells Fargo, a consumer banking giant with more branches than any lender except JPMorgan Chase, is part of a broader technology overhaul under CEO Charles Scharf. Updating the bank’s aging systems has been a priority for Scharf since he took office two years ago and an important part of the turnaround required after the bank’s 2016 fake account scandal. Last month, Wells Fargo announced a decade-long plan to move computing to Google and Microsoft cloud servers.
“Everyone lives off their phone, and there is an expectation of how things should work,” Moore said in a Zoom interview. “Our customers have told us that our app is not easy to use, is not intuitive, there are too many dead ends and customers get stuck.”
While Wells Fargo had the largest brick-and-mortar presence of any US bank in years and was only dwarfed by JPMorgan in the number of branches in the last quarter, Wells Fargo is lagging behind its rivals when it comes to digital adoption. Regulators have criticized the company’s technology systems, and a 2019 mishap at a Minnesota data center paralyzed customers’ mobile and web access for hours.
Its 27 million active mobile users are fewer than JPMorgan and Bank of America's. Despite the boost the coronavirus pandemic has given everything digital, Wells Fargo's 4.2% user growth last year is less than half the growth of JPMorgan. Studies have shown that digital users are generally more satisfied with their banks, are cheaper to use and change providers less often.
That's probably why Wells Fargo recruited Moore late last year. She is a technology veteran at Bank of America who helped develop the company's own virtual assistant, Erica. This artificial intelligence-based service saw usage spike during the pandemic, tripling the number of interactions to 104.6 million in the past year, Bank of America said this month.
Earlier this year, Wells Fargo began investigating why customers are calling hotlines and where the bank's app failed them, Moore said. She added that the redesigned app has easier sign-in and consolidates payment options while previously they were scattered all over the place. Moore also said future versions will be more powerful as part of the company's new digital-first efforts.
"We can help our customers really live their lives and be more than just checking balances and moving money," said Moore. "We want to be integrated and help our 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 personality here," she said. "You can do a lot with 'Fargo'. Turn the word around, you can 'go far'. Let Fargo take you far."