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'Smarter than a robot,' Bank of America's Erica will coach customers

By David Henry

Oct 24 (Reuters) - Bank of America Corp plans to provide customers with a chatty "virtual assistant" named Erica who will use artificial intelligence to make suggestions over mobile phones for improving their financial affairs.

Michelle Moore, head of digital banking for Bank of America, said in an interview on Monday that Erica will be smarter than a robot because she will bring up topics on her own, using predictive analytics as opposed to only answering questions customers ask.

For example, Erica may recommend taking steps to lift a sagging credit rating she noticed. Or, she may propose a customer make higher monthly payments on an outstanding credit card balance to reduce interest expenses.

"Erica has your back and she's looking out for you," said Moore.

The bank plucked the name Erica from the last five characters of its own name, said Moore, who introduced the tool on Monday at the Money 20/20 financial industry conference in Las Vegas.

Erica will be introduced to customers late next year, and will be able to converse by text as well as voice, said Moore.

Bank of America is introducing the tool as the industry presses to keep up with rapidly changing ways customers use mobile phones.

Industry executives, including Bank of America Chief Executive Brian Moynihan, have also said they are looking to new technology to reduce costs and cut the time branch employees spend on routine transactions and questions.

(Reporting by David Henry in New York; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra, Bernard Orr)