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I Put My Money in the Hands of Artificial Intelligence

What happens when an algorithm is allowed to manage finances? I wanted to find out.

Every day, we carry phones in our pockets that are more than a hundred million times faster than the computers contained within the Apollo Era spacecraft. We also carry pieces of metal and plastic.

For some reason, there’s a sense of reassurance and security in carrying cash. Even though it can more easily be lost or stolen, there’s a certain comfort in holding physical money in your hand. Slowly, we’re allowing our money to become more digital. It started with credit cards, removing the need to carry anything else. Then came online banking, transforming the way we manage our money. But even with cards and online banking, it’s still ‘we.’ We track our finances, we follow our balance, we decide. It seems like the best way, but as technology advances, so must we. The days of following our funds may soon be over.

There are a multitude of apps out there that claim to manage your money for you, but Plum takes it one step further by not requiring you to download an app at all. Located within Facebook Messenger, Plum advertises itself as “your money’s best friend.” I decided to put it to the test using my own bank account.

All it takes to begin saving with Plum

In the world of smartphones, it’s all about first impressions. We don’t stick around long and it seems that the developers behind Plum know this all too well. The signup was easy but, more importantly, extremely quick. After putting in the usual information (name, age, address etc.), the only step left was to link up a bank account. In a matter of minutes, I’d handed over control of my money to an algorithm.

It sounds scary, but Plum makes sure you’re informed of every little decision it makes. In fact, I decreased the frequency of some notifications simply because I learned to trust it very quickly. Plum works by looking at how you spend your money, then quietly moving a tiny bit of it into a savings account every few days. It’s all designed so that you don’t even notice the money has gone—until you check your savings balance. Since it’s all tailored to you, it doesn’t take too much or too little. It’s surprising how much money it saves in just a week or two, and the algorithm is constantly adapting to the way you spend. Withdrawing your savings is as easy as tapping a prompt and, like during signup, everything happens quickly. I had the extra money in my account within days.

Using Plum was simple enough, appearing just like a normal conversation on Facebook Messenger, where it stayed, becoming something I’d casually open every time I just wanted to check in. It didn’t feel like I was tracking my finances.

I was, unsurprisingly, a little cautious about placing every penny I owned into the hands of an algorithm, so it was nice to have total control over the way everything worked. There are five ‘moods’ to choose from (that can be changed at any time) that decide how ambitious Plum is when calculating how much to take. You can also choose to pause auto-savings or turn them off altogether whenever you want.

After a week or so, though I was happy with the service, I couldn’t suspend my cynicism entirely. How do they make any money for themselves? Are they secretly stealing my money? Put simply, no. “Plum makes money via its investments feature,” I was told. This was a feature I had largely ignored. For £1 a month, you can have Plum invest your money, rather than save it. It increases your chances of gaining even more money, but I didn’t feel comfortable getting involved with all of that. “Plum also makes money via deals with the businesses and services we recommend.”

This wasn’t enough to erase all of my suspicions, so I asked them directly: "What’s your motivation?"

“To make people better off,” came the answer, along with a story about the two co-founders, who apparently wanted to see how people could save more money. An algorithm proved the best solution.

It’s been almost a month since I first signed up and, though it still sounds surreal to say that artificial intelligence is helping me manage my cash, I have to admit that it’s remarkably effective. It’s natural to be wary about letting any application handle your money, but it’s likely the way things will be in the very near future. You might as well be ahead of the curve.

You can sign up for Plum easily by clicking here.

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