IF JASON MARS HAS HIS WAY, no one will have money problems ever again. We’ll all be diligent savers, with robust retirement portfolios, never losing track of what goes in and out of our bank accounts.
It’s an ambitious goal: According to Bankrate.com only 37 percent of people have enough savings to pay for a $500 emergency, while the American Psychological Association says 90 percent of Americans are stressed about money. Mars, though, is convinced that he holds the key to changing a person’s relationship with money.
How? Through artificial intelligence (A.I.).
You may think that A.I. is part of some sci-fi future, but the technology is becoming increasingly common. Mark Stevenson, author of “An Optimist’s Tour of the Future,” thinks we’re already deep into a world where computers are ubiquitous and smart enough to handle some of our most important tasks. “We’re completely surrounded by A.I. and machines that do things for us,” he says.
Still, it wasn’t long ago that managing critical things such as personal finances meant sitting down with a pen and paper or an online spreadsheet and manually inputting one’s income and expenses. While that may have worked for the few people who didn’t mind sorting through all those documents, it wasn’t a practical solution for anyone in a hurry.
This barrier to budgeting has caused problems. “There’s a lack of awareness as to what’s going on with people’s financial story,” Mars says. “But we think A.I. can actually do something transformative in that domain.”
In 2015, Mars started his own A.I. company, Clinc, which builds digital financial applications that use natural language processing — technology that allows people to have a conversation with a computer. A year later, Clinc launched a financial program called Finie, which lets people interact with their money via voice commands.
It’s like having a financial adviser, a bank teller and that financially-savvy friend all rolled into one — and right inside your home. You can tell Finie to transfer money from one account to another or instruct it to send money to a family member. Finie can tell you how much you’re spending and when you might want to consider dialing back. Quickly, financial institutions have taken note, and they have asked Clinc to incorporate Finie into their digital banking platforms.
The point is not to be lectured by a machine, says Mars, but rather to change bad habits and help motivate people to improve their lives. “If you know you’re spending 20 percent more this week on something, that knowledge gives you the chance to change that behavior,” he says. “It’s about empowering people.”