Cleo AI: my views on financial advice given by a gif-wielding machine

Cleo Logo

Recently, whilst chatting with friends, I heard about Cleo. You have to understand what conversations with me are like. I have a love for good-natured comedy, and I’m readily armed with a gif for every occasion. So of course my friends were going to tell me about a financial app that gives guidance by spitting gifs at you. I had a look, and it stood out in the field of financial apps as it’s aimed at younger folks, using memes and normal conversational language. The more I looked into both App and Company the more intrigued I became. This I had to see…

Cleo is an AI chatbot launched in 2016, designed to help users handle their finance in an understandable and approachable manner. It uses the framework of a messaging service (it can be operated through Facebook messenger or a separate app) to allow users to keep an eye on their expenditures and incoming money as well as providing budgeting controls and options.

So then, first off I would like you all to know this is very much my thoughts and views and I’m not sponsored in any way. I have also done my darnedest to fact-check where I can. Now on with the show.

Let’s have a look at Cleo as a company. Cleo seeks to help out those on the bottom financial rung (as of late 2018 the typical Cleo user had £50 in their account and regularly goes into an overdraft), giving them tools to take control of their budget and get out of bad spending habits. Just yesterday I saw they are doing a Boycott black Friday offer, where if you spend no money on Black Friday (bar normal bills) and complete a very simple submission you can win up to £500. A great incentive to keep people from being frivolous.

They are always working to help those in the worst straights. Since Coronavirus hit they have created the random acts of relief function, where Cleo users whose finances have obviously taken a hit will have a chance to get a $250 stimulus donated from other users.

What really sets Cleo apart from other financial apps is the language and humour. As mentioned earlier, I love a good meme/gif and am regularly told off for filling my friends phones with them, so like to think I am a decent judge. It manages to make you snigger somehow whilst engaged in financial management (a notoriously hilarious subject).

The use of such chatty language helps drive interaction a lot more than if the information and set up was presented as dry as the material can well be (slightly more dry than the Sahara at noon).

It’s incredibly easy to set up. I downloaded the free app (android) and attached a bank account within 5 minutes. It covers a wide range of banks so there is a very good chance it will work for you. Cleo then looks through the last 3 months (90 days) of your activity and maps out your spending habits. A couple of clicks to place your regular spends and bills into their own categories and you are away, working alongside the app to create a budget and savings option.

A view of Cleo’s basic breakdown of spending

It contains both a ‘Roast’ and a ‘Hype me’ option as well, for when you need a bit of encouragement, or if you need bringing back down to earth

AHYPE!

As you can see, presented with not only gifs, but colour and a really uplifting bit of Hype!

And now for the other side of the coin, the roast. Initially turning it on I must admit, I love the logo getting devil horns and a tail, a really nice touch.

In good news you can ask it to stop at any point as well! So if you need a breather you can get free of the brutal truth.

They also do a weekly quiz (available on a Saturday) of your previous weeks financial exploits, which if you can answer correctly puts you in the running for a prize draw. A double benefit as not only does it make you reflect on your spending but you can win money!

Dolla Bills y’all with Danny Devito
Dolla Bills y’all with Danny Devito

Currently I am in the experimental phase with the App so have only set it up with a singular account, but I can imagine easily expanding and the framework is very much there to increase its tracking over multiple accounts and cards.

All of Cleo’s security is completely up to banking standards with protection on your money. On top of that, any information they gather from your accounts is read-only. This means that the app is not actually able to do anything to your account and can only view the details that you allow it. So your money is as safe with Cleo as it is with any other banking app.

The Cleo Wallet is another feature that the app offers for free. This is all entirely opt in so the control is in your hands, and allows you to save money using the apps features, such as Autosave (where the AI will work out how much money its possible to save with your spending at the moment), setting savings goals or Round up (where when you spend money it rounds up to the nearest Pound and then stores the spare in the wallet). The Wallet itself does not operate as an account — more like a Jar that you keep putting odd money into until its full. It’s completely accessible at all times allowing you to move money to and from it as needed.

Cleo plus is the paid variety of Cleo for a very reasonable £5.99 a month (not a bad rate for a financial advisor). This offers a few extra features such as working out your Credit Score, providing you cashback with a number of companies (all then handily stored in the Cleo Wallet so its easy to see what you have saved), or the frankly wonderful feature of Spotting you £100. This is a no interest advance of up to £100 that allows you to pick the repayment date (up to 28 days), then as soon as you have paid it back you can ask again. Alongside this, it doesn’t touch your credit score at all!

Within the app it’s not all roses. Some of my responses would be unknown to it and it would be great to expand the words that the app responds to (an ongoing challenge seeing as there are so many variations on language) but with the rate slang evolves I can see no problems with keeping most of the responses standard and it always suggests a response or two for you to give when answering it.

It also responds to some absolutely great phrases, as I was trying to catch it out with odd words when this happened to me.

I was not expecting this.

It seems they are currently creating a way to invest money through the wallet function, I’d be eager to see how that pans out. Every now and then gifs would be repeated, so some extra variation there would be brilliant. However I have not been using it long enough to really see the variety, and it seems pretty up to date with current trending memes.

Didn’t see this once

Now for my grand finale. I’m impressed that a financial app that is both free and less than 50mb is this versatile, fun and easy to use, and I have only scratched the surface. I can understand that tricky balancing is ongoing, delivering a fast, compact and tidy app versus being able to harness infinite data, but I think they have the balance pretty spot on.

Whereas a lot of FinTech goes towards where the money is most concentrated, it’s really refreshing to see a company look out for the little guy. And with solid backing from some of the top London investors and a membership that is growing globally, it seems Cleo is here to stay and that’s no bad thing in my eyes.

If you have any questions feel free to drop me a line!

Keep calm and code on.

Dan

Old enough to have enjoyed Sid Miers Pirates on Windows 3.1 and deciding to delve out into more interesting waters.

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