Why Digit is over chatbots

Register now

Digit launched in 2015 to help young adults get in the habit of automatically saving money through a chatbot and some emojis and GIFs at a time when banking was just beginning to become bullish on how such technology would reshape the financial services experience.

Now, Ethan Bloch, founder and CEO of the San Francisco startup, believes his company has been offering the wrong primary user interface. “We think [chatbots] haven’t lived up to their promise,” he said. “So we are done believing they will.”

The decision to pedal away from a messaging-first interface on a popular app comes as banks are just now wading into the personal finance management technology.

While the premise of Digit is still the same — use the service to automatically transfer funds from checking to savings every few days in amounts its algorithms believe a person can afford — Bloch believed the chatbot model is terribly flawed in its inefficiency to find out information.

For instance, Bloch had the idea to remove the balance at the top of the app so that Digit users would have to message the chatbot to find out that number. Then, customers wouldn’t stop telling the company how bad that decision was. “I take full credit for the blunder,” said Bloch.

But as he sees it, the upside for Digit is that its users have found so much utility in effortlessly improving their financial health that they endured what Bloch refers to as a “suboptimal interface.”

With a new vision, Digit has already relaunched its iOS app, while its Android app update is coming soon. In the design overhaul, the emphasis is on tapping on graphical interfaces to get information rather than forcing people to type in queries, although chat is not completely eliminated. Users, for example, click on cards for information related to their PFM goal or any earned savings bonus, among others.

Bloch likens the switch as a less extreme version of going from folk to rock such as Bob Dylan did — but without all the controversy. “It’s not messaging that defines us,” he said.

Rather, it’s helping to put people on the path to financial health. The design overhaul marks one of the big bets the startup has recently made. The other publicized move was Digit’s decision to charge users for the service.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Apps PFM Mobile technology Fintech Client retention