It’s like Siri for your bank account

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If it walks like Siri and talks like Siri, it must be Siri, correct?

Kasisto, a spin-off firm from the company that created the eponymous “virtual assistant” on your iPhone and iPad, would prefer you think otherwise of its “virtual specialist,” a pretty helpful voice-recognition technology designed to aid mobile banking users.

In press materials and interviews, the company takes pains to differentiate itself from Siri, calling Kasisto a “sibling” or a “cousin with an MBA,” even though — for now — the two have identical voices.

Why this matters

First, Kasisto is much, much better at its job. Siri may be able to tell you the weather or the score from last night’s game, but Kasisto is designed to answer both routine and complicated questions you might ask about your bank accounts and credit cards. What’s more, Kasisto can then take action, from paying a bill from a specific account to offering up data about how much you’ve spent at Starbucks during the last month.

A piece of artificial intelligence that can act faster than a bank teller could make mobile banking a much easier — and even enjoyable — experience.

“There’s a huge gap between online banking and mobile banking” in terms of what a customer can do, says Dror Oren, Kasisto’s vice president of product. “We think that natural language understanding…basically allows banks to bring complex things into the mobile atmosphere.”

How Kasisto works

I came away impressed at Kasisto’s ability to understand context and carry on a conversation through both spoken and written communication. Here’s an example from Kasisto’s online video demonstration:

Consumer: “How much do I owe on my credit card?”

Kasisto: “The current balance in your credit card account is $2,000.40.”

Consumer: (Thinking) “I need to pay that now.” Types in the app, “When is it due?”

Kasisto: Offers up the due date.

Consumer: Types, “Pay credit card from checking.”

Kasisto: Provides the minimum payment amount and asks, “Is this the amount you want to transfer?”

Consumer: Taps the “yes” button.

When Oren demonstrated Kasisto for me, the software didn’t always recognize the question. (Oren says this is because of the difference in sensitivity between the microphone he was using on the computer demo and on a microphone found on a smartphone.) When it did understand what Oren asked, it always provided the desired information or conducted the expected transaction.

Banks on board

Oren says he expects Kasisto will make its debut within a bank’s app within the next six months. He declined to name the two banks Kasisto is working with, although both Wells Fargo and BBVA are investors.

It’s unclear, though, if Siri’s familiar voice will make the final cut. It’s up to the bank to determine how Kasisto will sound, Oren says.

Meanwhile, there’s already competition in the marketplace. Ally Bank this week introduced Ally Assist, which is available on the bank’s mobile banking app for iPhone. Ally says its assistant will allow customers via speech or text to initiate transfers and pay bills, request account and transaction information and get “information on interest earned and saving/spending patterns,” according to a press release.