Sage builds a "funny" accounting chatbot

Need to file expenses or check the latest cash flow numbers? With Sage's chatbot, you'll be able to chat your way through such tasks directly in Slack or Facebook Messenger.

The British accounting software firm is set to release the public beta for its chatbot next week and has yet to unveil its name. But the head of the chatbot project revealed to IT PRO how it will work, and why SMBs may want to turn to bots to automate simple tasks.

"We started building our bot about four months ago with the goal of making accounting, taxes and business admin processes super easy for small and medium-sized businesses," said Kriti Sharma, head of mobile development at Sage. "In its current form, it works on Facebook Messenger and Slack."

The bot allows users to type in normal conversational language rather than hunt around in software for the right information.

"You can say, 'hey, I've spent 10 on coffee with a client,' send it a picture and it records that as an expense," Sharma said. "You don't have to leave Messenger. You don't have to go to a mobile app. You don't have to go to the Sage site. You are where you are which is Messenger and Slack and you send the message to the bot, and it does the rest for you."

Users can also ask the bot questions, such as "how much did I spend on coffee last week?" or "who owes me money?" Sharma said: "And it answers those questions for you."

Personal accountant with personality

The bot will also initiate conversations, acting like a "personal trainer" for your finances. Make more money than usual, and it will congratulate you. "It starts building a relationship with the user," Sharma said.

Hopefully, it also sends commiserations for less lucrative months. "The bot gives us an opportunity to create a tone of voice and personality, which a static tool, like a traditional website or mobile app, would not have," Sharma added.

What personality does the Sage chatbot have? When the bot was shown off at a conference last week, Sharma said "there were people who commented 'this bot has British humour!'"

She added: "They thought it was funny."

That wasn't the original plan, Sharma said, but evolved through user feedback after the developers noticed beta testers would ask it odd questions, such as "what are you doing?"

Now, the bot says: "Not much, just daydreaming about purchase ledgers."

It may not be laugh-out-loud funny, but it's certainly more charming than most accountancy software - or many human accountants.

One-on-one attention

Indeed, some of the beta testers said having a bot to answer financial questions reminded them of the "old days" when businesses would have a "one-to-one relationship" with their accountant or bank.

"Over time, we've replaced these things see things with websites and mobile apps that give the same interaction to everyone," Sharma said. "So bringing conversations back is a good fit for business admin and accounting."

The chatbot will be formally announced next week at Sage's annual conference, with the beta available for free, whether you're a Sage user or not.