A Smarter App Is Watching Your Wallet

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As natural language processing, a part of artificial intelligence, becomes more refined, some of these apps are creating a relationship with their users. Charlie, an app focused on reducing debt, is a chatbot-based penguin who serves as a supportive friend.

“Charlie celebrates your progress, no matter how small or big,” said Ilian Georgiev, Charlie’s co-founder and chief executive. “One thing we’ve heard over and over is that people want a judgment-free environment.”

If you want something that actively helps reduce your costs, some companies have services that look for ways to lower your payments or lop off pesky fees. Trim is one of the better-known tools — a rare one that is website based, not an app — that, among other things, identifies recurring charges, such as subscriptions, to make sure you still want them. It can also negotiate with your internet, cable and phone company to lower your payments.

Cushion scans users’ downloaded credit card and bank statements (how often depends on the level of subscription you pay for), looking for overdrafts and extra fees, said Paul Kesserwani, the company’s founder and chief executive.

Cushion then negotiates with the financial institutions, either through the secure bank portal (if the customer gives permission), through online chat on the bank’s website, or even through traditional mail if needed.

“Bank and credit card terms of service are so complex that’s it’s often easy for people to accrue fees,” Mr. Kesserwani said.

It took four years, he noted, to build up the data set and technology stack to accurately detect bank fees, figure out which ones to negotiate, determine how to approach each negotiation and then communicate with the bank automatically on the consumer’s behalf.

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