Fixing my finances with chatbots

Money sense for millennials

At the beginning of every year, I make a list of five things I’m going to concentrate on. I don’t think you can realistically focus on more than that. This year, one of them was money – actually, it’s been on the list for about three years – and I’m finally making some progress with it. Using chatbots. A chatbot is just what it sounds like: a chat robot, a pretend person who chats to you. You might remember Smarterchild from the AIM days, or even ELIZA from the 60s. The modern type are a lot like that, but more millennial. They talk to you through Facebook Messenger, and they have a slightly irritating habit of using gifs. Two chatbots have made a surprisingly significant difference to my financial health in the last couple of months, so I want to share. They’re called Cleo and Plum. Both connect to your online banking (using very rigorous security – I’ve checked) and turn the raw data into manageable, interesting snippets that suit the way real people think. It’s like texting your bank account. Weird, but incredibly helpful.

💰 Cleo

Cleo is all about knowledge. Ask a question like “How much did I spend on Uber last month?” and it’ll calculate the depressing total instantaneously (in fact, I think they intentionally delay it by a microsecond or two with a ‘typing’ symbol so it’s more like a real chat). It also updates you on things like what you spent over the weekend, or – my favourite – message you when someone’s paid money into your account. Yay freelance! Here are some real examples of my chats with Cleo:

Useful, no? I love getting a Facebook chat message saying “someone’s paid you,” it’s usually the first notification I get that my freelance money’s come in. Plus, it’s written in genuinely accessible language, unlike pretty much everything my bank’s ever sent me. The emojis and gifs can be a bit much (though I appreciated the Mr Burns gif I got telling me I’d basically spent like a maniac that week), but it’s better than “subject to financial eligibility criteria” and the like. If you’re worried about security (which you always should be), there’s info here on how it’s secured. If you fancy giving Cleo a go (it’s free), please use my referral link. It’s an easy way to help me out without it costing you anything. Also, let me know what you think. Really interested to see how people react to this kind of tech.

🍑 Plum

This is the only product I’ve ever used that made me say, out loud, infomercial-style, “It really works!” Plum was designed by some university students who were rubbish at saving. It’s designed to take little bits of money from your account, here and there, to put into savings for you. No-effort saving, in other words. If you think that sounds alarming, it’s very carefully calculated so it’s only small amounts that you can afford – a “small and safe amount,” as the intro puts it. I’ve had Plum for a month and I’ve seen the transactions twice, one for about £2 and one for about a fiver. So there was me thinking I’d saved about £7 this month, and I was happy enough with that. Then I got this message:

Hence the “it really works!” I had no idea that much money had come out of my account, and I check my transactions often. It just goes to show that little things really do add up. So now I have £36 sitting in my Plum account (it’s not in your bank – presumably Plum makes money from the interest, which I’m guessing is how it’s free. Fine with me) that I didn’t miss. This is awesome. I can’t wait to see how much I have in a year. As with Cleo, there are commands you can give in chat. You can tell it to “save £5,” or “withdraw” (from your savings to your bank account), or pause saving, or change Plum’s ‘mood’ to make it more or less ambitious, or set joint goals, and and and. I really like it – it’s savings for people who don’t save. Again, if you’re worried about security (which you’re smart to be), there’s info here on how it’s secured. If you want to try Plum, please use my referral link so I get a few more pounds in my sparkly new savings account. Yay. Thank you!

More useful money stuff

I highly recommend following Jenni Hill‘s excellent UK money blog, Can’t Swing A Cat, and joining her Facebook group, Money Mess To Financial Success. They’ve both been really helpful to me. I also like Bridget Casey‘s Money After Graduation site – it’s American, but I’ve learnt so much, and the super-proactive approach has totally changed how I think about money. This post especially. If you’re a Reddit person, /r/personalfinance and /r/UKpersonalfinance are invaluable, plus there are loads more in the sidebar of Personal Finance, like /r/eatcheapandhealthy. I’ve also recently spotted Pariti, which I haven’t tried yet but it seems like another chat-based way to conquer the money mountain, and CreditLadder, which someone on Jenni Hill’s group recommended as a way to build your credit by paying your rent. Again, haven’t tried it yet, but it looks promising. If you have more suggestions for money tips, resources, chatbots and apps, tweet me – I’m really getting into this stuff now. Let’s get rich! 💪

Holly Brockwell
About Holly Brockwell 291 Articles
Tech addict Holly founded Gadgette in 2015, and won Woman of the Year for it. She's firmly #TeamAndroid, has ambitions to become a robot, and beat all other Hollies to her awesome Twitter handle.