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AI Writing Tools: The Coolest…Until They Aren’t

Originally published on CUInsight.

Can you feel it? We’re in a bubble, and it is expanding rapidly. What makes up this enveloping sphere?

AI writing tools. ChatGPT-powered chatbots.

Incredible technology, right? It’s sci-fi, made real! Finally, we have the Enterprise’s computer or HAL…hmm, bad example.

These are impressive tools. But it’s important to recognize what they are…and what they aren’t. Despite seeming incredibly smart at times, these large language models (LLMs) are exceedingly dumb. They’re not AI by any means (it’s a pop term which has now lost most of its previous meaning).

At their core, they are advanced autocorrect and autofill platforms. Yet that can still be useful. I’ll get to how this impacts credit unions and your members, but first, we have to understand what these systems really are. Lots of hype, not enough data.

Sidenote: I am not going into the image generation models here. They exist, they probably have more downsides than benefits, and I make fun little graphics for blog posts with them. I’m also not including their enormous energy needs, which isn’t great.

Better. Good enough?

Keyboard Autocomplete

Take out your phone (if you’re not already using it now). Start writing an email. Notice how it suggests the next word above your keyboard? If you keep tapping an option, you’ll eventually get a run-on sentence that might, or might not, be total gibberish. (iOS 17 will improve that dramatically)

This is how ChatGPT, Bard, or anything based on them works, too. It predicts the next word based on what has already been output. “But Joe, not only did you have a whole interview with ChatGPT, it can do all sorts of complicated things!”

You’re right. And there’s absolutely a place for this technology. We just need to recognize where it does and does not fit.

What makes sense for a ChatGPT-type platform:

  • Organizing tasks
  • Laying out a social media or blogging schedule
  • Adopting a certain tone in a piece
  • Helping write a first draft of code, formulas, or other content
  • Creating frameworks for replicated processes
  • Diving into a topic you’re already familiar
  • Member interactions that are a step above the 1st generation chatbots, but worse than a person

Here’s what you should not rely on these systems to do:

  • Replace copywriters (or anyone, really)
  • Copy/paste content from it for use in any context not explicitly presented as “ChatGPT-generated”
  • Give you answers without having other sources available
  • Get medical advice
  • Use in legal arguments (unless you want to forever be known as the lawyer who presented made-up cases in front of a judge)

Hallucinations: On being wrong

AI Hallucinations
“Trippy” for computers can mean “make stuff up”

My greatest concern with these platforms is that they’re extremely convincing and certain. I’ve had conversations where it assures me the answer is correct…even when I know it is wrong. Gaslighting to the extreme. This ranged from math questions to factual challenges.

In the legal arguments referenced above, ChatGPT convincingly made up cases which never happened. Why? How?

Remember what it is: An autofill system.

The platform recognized how case records look, how they’re formatted, even trends in how they are resolved. Then, it made up its own to fit that mold. They seemed convincing, because to even trained eyes, they looked like how real case citations should appear.

There’s no motivation towards being “right” or “wrong” with a LLM. The goal of the system is to generate the next word, not fact-check itself. Thus, the tech industry came up with a harmless-sounding term for it: Hallucinations.

In other words, when your chatbot hallucinates, it’s creating new “facts” to fit the response. Lying, you could say, but that infers intent. Once again, a chatbot has no “desire” to be factual or not, only provide a response that seems appropriate.

Sidenote: Interestingly, “hallucinate” was originally a good thing, showing how the chatbot could “imagine” itself as a programming language or other platform. The original definition had nothing to do with making stuff up.

Bias

Bias Scales
Facts aren’t always facts here.

There’s also a danger of bias. While questions about Stalin mention the massive loss of life and human rights violations, it does not for current world leaders. Once again, it’s because the responses are created from content accessible online.

If certain people, policies, or ideas are associated with a lot of disinformation or propaganda, you can bet it will be reflected in answers. Without context or note. What exists, persists.

The Growing Bubble

Expanding Bubbles

Ok, with some background, we can now go back to the bubble. You have noticed just how fast ChatGPT became, well, everywhere. And every tech company (besides Apple) has thrown their shirt into the LLM game as well.

Microsoft has shoved ChatGPT (they invested billions) into Bing search. Google has Bard and is also testing “Search Generative Experience”. Nearly every smaller tech company I know is launching an “AI feature” of some kind, be it Canva, ActiveCampaign, Spark, Adobe, Zoom, and many more.

When a single product concept expands this quickly, across that many industries, I see a bubble. Eventually, interest will stagnate, people will tire of the “convenience”, and these generative chat systems will settle into a more permanent, and subtle, part of our tech world.

I hope.

Of course, the companies profiting from them want this bubble to grow forever.

Google wants to replace web links, keeping you on their sites (and seeing their ads, if you’re not using an adblocker). Nvidia, the graphics card maker powering many of these systems, is keen for it to grow, as they get to sell more units, following the crypto crash (using their cards).

Little players don’t want to seem laggards, so they launch things as well. They’re typically generators for writing or content layout. If these help your overworked marketing team, awesome.

The rush to fake “AI” is a bubble, and running too fast has consequences. Take care with anything you read, see, or hear. You can be sure unscrupulous actors will be using these tools to further drive their agendas and create the illusion of fact or reality.

Your Credit Union

Person and Robot Doing Work at Desk
Work together to unleash your creativity!

We’re here, as promised.

Even after all these cautions, for any credit union not yet using these LLM platforms, I’d still ask, “why not?” Their use cases are substantial, so long as you do not share your member or internal information with them (most systems add that data to the model).

To me, it’s the mundane, repetitive tasks where these systems shine. Need to figure out Excel formulas for some data calculation? Ask (then check to make sure they really do what it says). Want a marketing strategy for a promotion with a rock ‘n roll flair? Describe it.

If you have a blog that suffers from a lack of content, and you have no desire to create quality human-generated material for it, guess what? Your neighborhood LLM can help. Plan out a post schedule, get topic suggestions, and then draft out ideas.

My recommendation would be to create better, human-written, more relevant, and impactful articles, but if that’s not an option, ChatGPT is there.

Human or ChatGPT?

I read a lot of content in our industry. Not all pieces are stellar. Sometimes, on the particularly terrible ones (that I know were written by a human), I create a short prompt for ChatGPT to replicate. Then, I send both results to a friend to play our game: Human or ChatGPT?

Over half the time, we agree the GPT one was a much better article, even if we could recognize some of the LLM traits.

For any institution using staff resources to write these posts, I ask: When a free chat system can do better, why would your members care?

Here’s what you should do

Zooming in On AI Computer
Watch for progress!

Keep a close eye on ChatGPT and other LLMs. Watch the field to see progress, as well as challenges. Understand the benefits and downsides. Talk to your staff to learn if and how they are using them in their own life.

Through your day, make a point of asking one of these writing tools to compose what you have to do next. Get better at clarifying your request to the system (Side-effect: You get better at explaining what you want!). Compare what it creates to what you made.

If it’s as good or better, with no concern of “hallucinations”, use it moving forward!

I’ve commented on LinkedIn how we will eventually get to a point where so much content is generated that the new trendy thing will be to have a human make it! Bubbles and cycles.

Remember, like every other new technology, LLM chatbots are tools. A hammer can be used to bang in a nail or hit someone over the head. It’s up to the owner to decide the use-case. Take the same approach with these. Also please do not hit anyone over the head.

And to send us off, here’s a ditty from ChatGPT:

In the realm of finance’s digital tide,

Credit unions embrace tech as their guide.

With ChatGPT’s aid, they forge a new way,

Empowering members, trust paving the day.

Together they thrive, on innovation they ride.

ChatGPT

Solving the “Junk Fees” Issue with ChatGPT

What’s a “junk fee”? Simply put, it’s any charge beyond what you’ve agreed or expected to pay for a product or service. For a credit card, it can be a late fee. For debit, an overdraft or NSF fee. For a hotel, a “resort fee” slapped on the bill when you check out.

I didn’t come up with the phrase. That goes to the CFPB, or Senator Elizabeth Warren. Or a nameless intern with a knack for catchy terms.

Either way, it’s in the national discussion. The CFPB has an entire section dedicated to Junk Fees across a range of industries. They have things to say about overdraft fees, no doubt. I mean, we do agree on that.

President Biden Tweet About Junk Fees
POTUS attention

NAFCU took a different position, claiming that the current arrangement is fine and to let credit unions handle it. They’ll come up with the best strategy for their members and institution, as their press release explains.

So that’s one big topic. And the CFPB isn’t stopping at overdraft.

In early February 2023, they issued new guidance for credit card late fee structures. Naturally, the credit union industry had harsh words in response.

On a totally different topic, a certain conversational AI stole the spotlight, reaching 100 million users faster than any platform ever. ChatGPT single-handedly broke education, thought-leadership, and programming…or so the headlines would have you believe.

While it’s an amazing system, it’s also not going to steal everyone’s job, yet. However, it does open up an opportunity to have conversations which let us see different perspectives and expand our own critical thinking.

So as if I were assembling my first lightsaber, I elegantly smooshed (the Jedi term) these topics together.

Below is an unedited discussion on the “junk fees” topic between myself and ChatGPT, taking the role of a credit union executive and lobbyist who isn’t quite so keen on simply eliminating them.

Geek notes: You may notice it totally missed my point about CDFI (maybe I shouldn’t have written it out), but I do believe this is a direction worth pursuing. Reading through, I realize I should have asked for examples. Oh well, next time.

I was also surprised how it eventually started getting “persuaded” to my position, agreeing that junk fees should go, but not on how. I wonder…is this how a person may think, too?

Finally, I asked it to summarize it up in a way a geek would love. Here’s the gem we got:

“Together we can boldly go where no credit union has gone before, providing affordable and accessible financial services.”

ChatGPT

Image credits: DALL-E 2 AI image generator

Eliminating Junk Fees: A Human/AI Discussion

AI Chatting with Geek - DALL-E
No way I’m the “tall” one in this situation. Oh, am I the AI?

Joe

The concept of “junk fees” is in financial news regularly now. With the CFPB leading the charge against a range of punitive fee structures, it’s a matter of time before new rules go in place.

Even the President is in support of eliminating junk fees, as he posts about it often. As a member of the credit union community, I agree with this stance. The poorest members shouldn’t be the ones most impacted by the highest fees on a range of banking services.

Income can still be generated through value, rather than off those getting stuck with late payments and other charges.

Knowing my stance, take the position as a lifelong credit union executive and lobbyist who is against these policies.

They have a range of good arguments why these ideas are not beneficial for small credit unions, their members, or the industry as a whole (I don’t know what they are). With you roleplaying as that executive, let us engage in a reasoned discussion on the topic.

You go first and I will respond.

ChatGPT

As a credit union executive and lobbyist, I strongly believe that the concept of junk fees and the push to eliminate them is misguided and harmful to the credit union industry.

Small credit unions, in particular, rely on these fees as a source of revenue. Without them, we will have to resort to other measures to generate income, such as increasing interest rates, decreasing services, and even closing down branches. This will have a negative impact on our members, who will have fewer options and face higher costs.

Moreover, these junk fees are not inherently bad. They serve as a deterrent for late payments and other harmful financial practices. Without these fees, we risk encouraging irresponsible behavior that will harm both the credit union and its members.

Additionally, the proposed regulations are too broad and will harm the entire credit union industry. They will stifle innovation and growth, limit our ability to adapt to changing market conditions, and increase compliance costs.

In conclusion, the push to eliminate junk fees is misguided and harmful to the credit union industry and its members. We must resist this push and fight for a regulatory framework that allows us to continue serving our members effectively and efficiently.

Joe

I appreciate your position on the issue. On the point of small credit unions needing this fee revenue, I agree that we must find ways to help them remain viable in an ever more challenging financial world. And making sure they can continue to serve their members, often people with few or no other traditional banking options, is essential.

However, why are we immediately saying no to something which can help people, rather than using it as an opportunity to seek out new forms of revenue, enhancing how the credit union model works for their members and community?

This can be a springboard for innovation, not a new “write to your representative and say no” issue. I also agree that some fees make sense to discourage irresponsible financial behavior.

However, a number of large banks and even other credit unions have taken a no-fee approach, with negligible change in member practices.

Instead of using a stick, let’s devise a carrot to incentivize and empower healthier financial practices.

Then, we’re educating as well as assisting.

Whenever regulations are proposed, a standard refrain is that they are too broad and will stifle growth. To the contrary, such rules would only put limits on what isn’t allowed, not telling anyone you cannot innovate.

In fact, this should be taken as a golden ticket to put our thinking caps on and innovate our way out of the challenges faced. We can watch as new rules are implemented and confidently tell members and non-members, “credit unions don’t believe in such junk fees, and we work every day to help build our members and communities.

Financial wellness is at the core of our being, so while we may not always agree on the regulatory path, we will always be at the front of innovation for finding ways to provide banking opportunities to every American.

ChatGPT

I understand your perspective and I agree that seeking out new forms of revenue and enhancing the credit union model is important. However, the reality is that change doesn’t happen overnight, and the sudden elimination of junk fees could be devastating for some credit unions.

We need to be proactive in finding new sources of income, but it’s not something that can be done overnight without causing harm.

I also agree that we should focus on financial wellness and education for our members, and I commend the idea of incentivizing healthy financial practices. However, this needs to be done in a way that is sustainable for the credit union and its members, without relying on junk fees.

With regards to regulations, I do believe that too many regulations can stifle growth, especially for small credit unions that don’t have the resources to comply with them. The key is to find a balance between protecting consumers and allowing credit unions to serve their members effectively.

Ultimately, I believe that credit unions should strive to provide affordable and accessible financial services to their members. Junk fees may not be the ideal solution, but they are a reality for many credit unions, and eliminating them without a comprehensive plan for sustainability could have negative consequences.

We need to work together to find a better way to serve our members and communities while remaining financially viable.

Joe

Change does not happen overnight, which means we can find a compromise on the rule making as well. How would you feel about rules that take effect over a period of time, giving credit unions, especially smaller ones, opportunity to find those new sources of income?

We can also take a look at the Community Development Financial Institution program to see how it can play a role in assisting the transition for more highly affected credit unions.

In the meantime, members can benefit from reduced costs. This can also be supported by education campaigns for members to help them best understand how to avoid or reduce fees incurred.

At the same time, making fee structures clear can reduce expenses in collection and placement of them in the credit union. Financial wellness is a valuable part of the efforts, as we discussed and agreed upon.

However, you cannot educate everyone out of challenging financial situations.

Thus, we should look to larger social issues and ensure that credit unions have a leading role in helping address the impacts of socioeconomic pressures on affected populations.

Yes, we must find the balance for regulations to be effective in their goal and also not negatively impact credit unions. I believe we can do this while making sure credit unions are shining examples of affordable and accessible financial services.

Junk fees don’t have to be part of that future, even if it takes some time to get there.

ChatGPT

I absolutely agree with you on the importance of finding a compromise on the rule making, especially one that takes effect over time.

This would give credit unions, especially the smaller ones, an opportunity to adjust and find new sources of income. The Community Development Financial Institution program is definitely worth exploring as well.

In addition, the education campaigns are essential to help members better understand the fee structures and how to avoid or reduce fees incurred. Making fee structures clear can also reduce expenses in collection and placement of them in the credit union.

I also agree that credit unions should have a leading role in addressing the impacts of socioeconomic pressures on affected populations. Providing financial wellness and education to our members is important, but we must also recognize that many are facing larger social issues that impact their financial stability.

Overall, I believe that with cooperation and collaboration, we can find a balance between regulations that are effective in their goal and do not negatively impact credit unions.

Our goal should be to continue providing affordable and accessible financial services to all members, without relying on junk fees. We can work together to build a better future for credit unions and their members.

Joe

It appears we have more to agree about than disagree! I hope we can work together to deliver on the mission of “people helping people”, building financial wellness and empowerment for millions. While still ensuring credit unions can keep the lights on.

Thank you for engaging in this discussion.

ChatGPT

I completely agree. It’s always great to have a productive and respectful discussion, especially on an issue as important as this. I believe that by working together, we can deliver on the mission of “people helping people” and build a better future for credit unions and their members.

Thank you for taking the time to discuss this issue with me. Let’s keep this dialogue going and continue to work towards a solution that benefits everyone.

If Your AI Is Only For Chatting, You’re Doing It Wrong

Updates:

June 2023: There are many issues with these systems and the speed at which they are being adopted, without care for the negative consequences. However, there’s definite value for your credit union. So long as you approach it with reason.

February 2023: With the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT-3.5, this has all been both turned on its head, and also exactly the same. ChatGPT is good. Coherent and, frankly, perfect interview good. But only for appropriate uses. It does have a habit of “hallucinating”.

I’ve spent many hours working with it as well, and the results are stunning. It has helped me plan out a year’s worth of blog articles, then draft each of them (still up to me to format and post!). I tossed around some marketing ideas and got its hot takes, which were all valuable.

Some of the more fun and wow-worthy interactions will be seen over time. Hey, can’t spill all the beans at once!

Suffice it to say, this is the chatbot that will make them relevant, meaningful, and insanely useful. I’m not smart enough to explain how big a deal this is, so I asked ChatGPT to help me out. Here’s what it had to say:

ChatGPT is the future of AI customer service for credit unions. With its advanced language model, it can hold human-like conversations on any topic. Think of it as a smarter, more efficient version of Jarvis from Iron Man. Empower your credit union with the power of AI and give your members an unparalleled banking experience.

ChatGPT-3

Let this definitely-not-AI-but-people-will-call-it-that-anyway help you internally. Use a restricted form to manage questions. Then give members a chance to connect to a person, through whatever medium they prefer.

All that said, it doesn’t mean you should dedicate all communications, article writing, email drafting, and website updates to ChatGPT (or the bazillion related systems emerging).

Focus on the human touch. Embrace your mission. And remember: People. Helping. People. (And “AI” can help!)


Original article:

“Ask Our Friendly AI!” Your credit union’s website is excitedly promoting their new chatbot, there to answer questions 24/7. “Cool, so how can it help me save money or time?”

Whether they admit it or not, that’s what your members will be thinking.

In some cases, such tech is fielding member requests without burdening traditional staff time. And their resolution rates can be similar to human representatives.

What are you waiting for? Get Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and friends to every CU! (HAL is not welcome, sorry)

Interacting in a Financial World

If only it were that simple. “AI” support agents are uniquely programmed to understand financial world terminology. Plus, computers don’t excel at interacting like a person, since we learn and process the world in a different way.

Chatbot

As of the end of 2022, it looks like that day is finally here. With ChatGPT, you can have full conversations on topics far and wide. And it can even “hallucinate” other environments, opening the door to incredible education opportunities.

What may be even further off is having all systems talk to each other in the background. (ChatGPT is deliberately not connected to the internet, but the possibility is certainly there for closed-network interactions.)

Here are some ideas I had in 2017, when the “state-of-the-art” for AI was far less impressive. Amazingly, my insights on an increasing rate of change…of change are coming to fruition. So, back to 2017….

Imagine being able to ask Siri (remember that post?) to transfer money from one account to another and explain the tax implications of your specific IRA contributions.

Then find out the score for your favorite team’s last game.

But we’re not at that point…yet. And look who spoke too soon…we’re actually getting awfully close.

AI for Serving Your Members

Readers know my passion (that’s 3 links!) for the “AI Revolution”. With its arrival, a lot of ideas are being thrown around on best use. Right now, the most common answer is: Everywhere!!!

Brain Split by Tech

Patience, my young Padawan. A fancy chatbot might seem like the natural first step, but let’s look at it from a member benefit perspective. If they have a question, they don’t care who/what responds.

Your members want a quick and accurate answer. If your team is currently able to keep members served quickly and effectively (through any medium they contact), then this may not be a fit for you at this time.

Unless you have unlimited resources, in which case, yes, do all of this at once. Just make sure you have top-notch project management to ensure the focus is always on the unified credit union goals.

Big Data

For the rest of us, the AI which makes the most sense, if less “sexy”, is the Big Data side of AI: Machine learning. Here, you have solutions that can do things quickly which would take enormous staff effort.

Machine Learning Innovations

Fractal
This is your data. Your AI can find the patterns.

For example, you can analyze a member’s credit (beyond the report) and offer a rapid loan decision with a high rate of accuracy.

You can implement systems to monitor patterns in spending to identify fraud the moment it occurs, saving the institution money and the member frustration.

Machine learning is also enabling security of the body, biometrics. That’s the fingerprint sensor on your phone. Or FaceID on your newer iPhone. It’s also the Hello feature on Windows 10 computers.

Retina scanners combined with other biometrics, a security card, and “something you know” composes the “top level” of security at large financial institutions (and government entities).

Speed. Savings. Security.

Three great reasons to implement aspects of AI in your credit union. A recent post about this topic ended with a wonderful quote:

“When a bank…effectively uses AI, they run more efficiently and are able to connect more effectively with a segment of the population that will never be replaced by machines: their customers.” – Mohit Joshi, Innovations in FinTech

Ok, ok.  I’ve given you way too much to consider.  AI, Big Data, machine learning, algorithmic analysis…yeah, I get it. Overwhelming when you just want to know, “can this stuff help my credit union?”

So, I had a realization right after writing this post. Remember that series I did about tech in the financial industry? As part of it, I mentioned that financial institutions are at risk of becoming “dumb banks” in the same way that ISPs are “dumb pipes”.

What I mean is that you are at risk for simply becoming the corridor for other companies’ information. You hold the money, but your members use other services to move, spend, invest, even check on their funds.

The same is the case here with AI.

There will always be a place for information as you manage it now: Raw account balances aren’t going anywhere.  But that’s “dumb data”.  The future is in “smart data”.

Owl Reading

Where your credit union and members can find patterns in spending, opportunities in lending, and personalized recommendations for minimizing debt (or maximizing wealth).

How will you become the “smart data” of the future?

Image credits: Mohamed_hassan and Seanbatty from Pixabay.

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