Daily Money - I never saw this plot twist coming

plus Edna Mode + Blake Shelton: The Movie
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May 22, 2024 • Issue #239
Dollar Scholar
Lifelock

Hi y’all —

As someone who watches a lot of TV, I love a good plot twist.

The moment in season one of Westworld where the audience finds out that Bernard is a [REDACTED]? Nuts! When Eleanor has the epiphany that what she thought was The Good Place is actually [REDACTED]? Wild! And the reveal that [REDACTED] was Gossip Girl all along? Absolutely bananas!

I'm such a plot twist fan that I've come to expect them whenever I start a new show (which, yes, kind of defeats the purpose). But I never thought I'd encounter a plot twist while writing Dollar Scholar.

Last month, I began reporting this issue about ways I could incorporate artificial intelligence into my finances, only to discover that it's BEEN HAPPENING THIS WHOLE TIME. (Sixth Sense vibes.) Somehow I just never realized it.

Welp, let's dig in. Can I use AI to get ahead financially?

You probably remember that ChatGPT, which uses natural language to answer prompts, all but broke the internet when it launched in fall 2022. The chatbot has proven tricky to use for financial purposes, though. Horror stories abound about ChatGPT’s inaccurate calculations, hallucinations and challenges with lack of context. Even when it does give solid financial advice, it only provides general advice — nothing individualized, which is key in personal finance.

The public has caught on. In a September CNBC survey, just 37% of Americans said they were interested in having AI help them manage their money. A separate poll from the CFPB Board found that 51% of investors said they had little to no trust in advice received from generative AI.

Not all artificial intelligence is created equal, though. Jennifer White, senior director of banking and payments intelligence at J.D. Power, emphasizes that the term “AI” encompasses a wide variety of products with a wide variety of implementations.

“ChatGPT gets all of the focus now. It's the new shiny thing that everybody talks about,” she says. “And that is an application of using big data and computing capability in order to produce output. But it’s only one application.”

For instance, White says, AI can do a lot when it comes to culling data, identifying behaviors and using that information to personalize experiences or provide recommendations.

And here’s what blew my mind: This is already happening.

Like, right now.

“A lot of the companies that you already work with are using AI — and have been using AI — for a long time to analyze the data of what you have been doing,” says Spencer Betts, a certified financial planner with Bickling Financial Services.

I just want the AI to do my taxes and make me more money

Although I may have envisioned opening up the ChatGPT website and typing questions about retirement into a box, I’m actually much more likely to encounter it through financial institutions like Fidelity, Bank of America and Vanguard. Betts says these companies have been using AI internally for years to analyze my spending and saving.

Once I started looking, I found examples of this everywhere.

In 2021, USA Bank rolled out a Pay Yourself First tool that used AI to automatically identify ways customers could save money based on their cash flow patterns. Bank of America has an AI assistant called Erica that has seen 2 billion interactions since 2018. Schwab unveiled an AI-powered product in 2022 that helps individual investors pick stocks that align with a certain theme.

“I don't think the AI tools are intelligent enough to be predictors,” says Betts, also a CFP Board ambassador. “I think they're very good analyzers of data, predictors of where data should be.”

Now that I have this knowledge, there are several ways I can take that AI data analysis to the next level.

One is budgeting. Betts says the bank where I have my checking account probably tracks all my spending, which means it can call upon AI to categorize those transactions. It’ll show me simple things like how much I spend on eating out at restaurants versus cooking at home, often with easy-to-understand charts. Then, if I’m unhappy with the results, I can adjust my habits accordingly.

Could I do this myself with paper, a highlighter and a list of my transactions? Of course. But this saves me time and effort, which are two major hurdles to getting myself on a budget. The less friction, the more likely I am to do it.

Another super useful application lies in comparison. Financial institutions can use AI analysis to compare my behaviors with people in my same age range, income level or geographic area, which can help give me an idea of whether I’m on track to meet goals.

That can ultimately be the push I need to, say, beef up my investmnet portfolio or increase my 401(k) contributions.

“The big thing that AI is doing for our industry is interpreting huge amounts of data and giving us perspective,” Betts adds. "[It can] tell people, ‘This is where the Joneses are; this is where you are. Here's three steps to get you from where you are to where you want to be.’”

The bottom line
(but please don't tell me you scrolled past all of my hard work)

Like it or not, AI has already made an impact on my life. Companies I know, trust and have used for years are relying on AI to analyze data and make suggestions for my money.

So while I may be skeptical of ChatGPT (or Gemini or Copilot or whatever the latest iteration is), I shouldn’t write off AI entirely.

“Those tools could be used to help you see patterns in data that you, frankly, haven't been trained to look for yourself,” White says. “That’s where the power lies.”

Dab
via Giphy

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Receipt of the week
check out this wild celebrity purchase
Blake Shelton
via Instagram

Country star Blake Shelton might be launching a new career. At a recent charity event in Las Vegas, he bid $40,000 during an auction for a walk-on role for a future Mark Wahlberg movie — and won. “This is maybe the last time I’m ever gonna perform country music,” he gleefully told the audience afterward, according to People. “I’m a movie star now.” Yeehaw.

Internet gold
five things I'm loving online right now
1
Coming soon to a menu near you: birria, stuffed vegetables and hot honey breakfast sandwiches.
2
My latest TikTok obsession is this woman who works at Dunkin and films herself making elaborate (read: incredibly sugary) iced coffees. It’s both mesmerizing and baffling: How big of a sweet tooth must a person have to order a drink with 10 sugars and eight pumps of French vanilla swirl, then top it with skim milk and espresso?
3
I enjoyed this Engadget piece on how WhatsApp became the default communication app for people around the world. Founded in 2009, WhatsApp is now so integral that when it briefly went down a couple years ago, everyone from crypto traders in England to gig workers in Brazil briefly found themselves unable to do their jobs.
4
Tenacious D — aka Jack Black’s band — is on a cover kick, having recently played (slayed) Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova” and Britney Spears’ “... Baby One More Time.”
5
You can hang out in Edna Mode’s house, but no capes.

401(k)ITTY CONTRIBUTION
send me cute pictures of your pets, please
Smooch
via Katie Tuttle
Meet Smooch, an adorable kitten who’s a big fan of CatGPT.

See you next week.

P.S. Would you use AI to help manage your money? What’s the best cover song you’ve ever heard? What’s your coffee order? Send feedback to julia@money.com, please and thank you.

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