With little fuss or fanfare, Cleo, the London-based startup that offers an AI-powered chatbot as a replacement for your banking apps, has begun quietly offering its service to U.S. customers. Just 21 days in, I understand the U.K. fintech is already signing up 1,000 users across the pond per day.
Described as an “alpha version” by the chatbot itself (see screenshot below), the U.S. version sees Cleo add support for 647 banks and counting, a reflection of how fragmented the banking market in the U.S. is. As you’d expect, Cleo keeps the same conversational interface as its U.K. counterpart, albeit with what I’m told is a developing U.S. dialect (and selection of Gifs!). You can ask for and receive insights into your spending across multiple accounts and credit cards, broken down by transaction, category or merchant.
In addition, Cleo also lets you take a number of actions, including some based on the financial data it has gleaned. You can send money to your Facebook Messenger contacts via Cleo, donate to charity, and set spending goals and alerts and other fun financial antics.
The bigger picture is to offer Cleo’s mostly millennial users a more accessible and intelligent way to manage their money, and ultimately become their default financial control centre, including recommending ways to save money and automatically switching to the best value products, whether that be financial or other services such as utilities.
It is a proposition that appears to be resonating with users. In the U.K., Cleo now claims more than 150,000 users, while I understand, following the startup’s stealthy, although tentative, U.S. expansion it is on track for 200,000 users globally. A source tells me the company is also eyeing up further international moves, citing Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Singapore, and South Africa as next up on the road map.
What is fascinating now that we can see Cleo’s global ambitions begin to play out is the potential speed the U.K. startup can move because of the decision not to become a bank in its own right, which would otherwise bring significant capital and regulatory friction, not least in the fragmented U.S. market.
Cleo co-founder Barney Hussey-Yeo has always said that it is better to focus on building a better and smarter UI/UX than re-inventing the current account itself, even if the ultimate goal is somewhat the same. Or, to put it more simply, he argues that “nobody needs to be a bank to replace your banking app“.
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