Colombia: Meet Emilia – the chatbot boosting financial inclusion

When RFi Group focused on Colombia in early 2017, the country was at the start of a new era. Amongst other economic and social developments, Colombia had recently launched a new national strategy for financial inclusion, with several banks stepping up their digital offering to support the initiative.

A year on, Colombia continues to make impressive advances in inclusion. However, a lack of trust in the banking system, as well as shortcomings in general financial education, have hindered the consolidation of these efforts. Nevertheless, Artificial Intelligence (AI), an increasingly popular service amongst banks, could prove a useful tool to help deepen customer engagement amongst the newly banked.

Working towards the future

While 2017 was perhaps a slow year for Latin America’s fourth-largest economy, Colombia’s outlook looks positive, with a number of forecasts pointing towards 3% annual GDP growth for the next couple of years.  Furthermore, Colombia continues to strengthen its economic foundations, increasing the economy’s resilience as well as implementing a number of other measures that are designed to support the country’s growth. In addition to its recent tax reforms and infrastructure investment, such as the $70 billion 4G road programme, Colombia has made further headway in its peace process with guerrilla groups in the country. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are demobilising, while peace negotiations are currently ongoing with the National Liberation Army (ELN).

Inclusion on track

Financial inclusion efforts also continue, with the launch of an updated inclusion strategy last year. Four years ago, World Bank figures revealed that only 39% of the adult population held an account at a financial institution, while Colombia’s inclusion programme reported that 73% held at least one financial product generally. At the start of 2018, that figure has increased to 79%.

With over 700,000 adults entering the financial system for the first time last year, Colombia is making good progress towards its 84% target for the coming year, yet the country also needs to consolidate this progress and deepen relationships.

One key priority is encouraging consumers to actively use their financial products. Generally, trust and financial education are considered key to this goal, as empowered consumers are more likely to make smart financial decisions and make use of financial products. Given the opportunities offered by a highly engaged customer base, how can banks help build trust and understanding in financial services?

Could Artificial Intelligence help?

Enter AI. A number of banks in Colombia have been incorporating (AI) in their services, with the results suggesting that AI could be a useful and cost-effective tool to engage customers and quickly respond to their queries.

Bancolombia is one of these banks, partnering with Juntos, a fintech firm, in 2013 to create Emilia, a chatbot designed to build customer relationships and trust. To this end, Emilia sends out regular and personalised messages to customers, such as reminders to save, or money management tips. In turn, customers can tell Emilia about their financial goals and are able to ask any questions relating to financial products. By combining data on product usage with data from these conversations, the bank can ensure it sends out the most relevant messages.

The investment has paid off; last year Bancolombia announced that it had seen an increased account use, as well as higher average balances following the introduction of its chatbot service.

In general, AI is gaining ground in Colombia, with over 900,000 consumers in the country has made use of a banking chatbot in 2017. MiBo, from Grupo Aval (Banco de Bogotá, Banco de Occidente, Banco Popular and AV villas), is the latest in the market, going live on Facebook and Twitter in November 2017. Through the MiBo bot, consumers can carry out basic tasks and resolve queries, such as checking balances with a response time of fewer than 60 seconds. Bank of Bogotá also enables its customers to open new savings accounts through the service. While AI used in this way may not introduce more consumers to the formal banking system, it is evident that AI has the potential to offer immediate advice and support for underserved banked consumers, boost financial understanding and deepen financial relationships.


Over the past few years, Colombia has made huge leaps working towards a stable future for the country. Among other social and economic developments, Colombia continues to make considerable progress towards its financial inclusion targets. However, one of the major factors preventing greater use of financial products has been a lack of financial education and trust in the banking system. To tackle this, AI has been successfully harnessed to build trust and engage customers. While AI cannot provide a solution to all the challenges facing financial inclusion, it has proved to both increased use of financial products and offers opportunities for consumers to boost their understanding of financial services. With an increasing array of digital solutions in Colombia, it will be interesting to see how banks take advantage of these tools to further improve engagement with the financial system, while also boosting the profitability of their newly banked customers.

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