Ashley Madison users have already unwittingly encountered a great deal of bots, but in 2017 they are going to become more prevalent – and more transparent to the user, according to U.K.-based Juniper Research.

In its top 10 predictions for the year, the organization forecasts that chatbots – virtual agents which operate via social networks and messaging platforms – will grow in presence and popularity, streamlining e-commerce activities such as booking flights and hotels, or to order items directly by speaking with a bot through an app.

More Chat

The research firm also expects there will be more opportunities for businesses to personalize these services, using social media analytics to provide consumers with specially tailored incentives. While acknowledging that many messaging bots have not seen a significant uptake in Western markets yet, due to their basic features and the technology not being fully-developed, Juniper noted that in Asian markets including China platforms such as WeChat have already established chatbots that aid in daily tasks. Meanwhile, North American applications such as Facebook Messenger are finally beginning to drive chatbot integration using ads.

Bots won’t be the only helpful technology to get more widespread use this year: With Google Assistant coming to multiple devices and Alexa, Cortana and Siri already available on several platforms, Juniper said 2017 will be the year when digital assistants become sufficiently mainstream for the device ecosystem to become a key battleground. While many homes will initially be served by multiple voice assistants, Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple are all focusing on bringing consumers into their own services’ ecosystem. This means that single-branded homes and offices will start to become the norm, with companies endeavouring to win customers over by introducing exclusive features or brand discounts, such as inclusive subscriptions to content channels for a given period.

Money Moves

Established financial companies will continue to see disruption driven by the emergence of so-called tech-challenger banks and technology-first players, according to Juniper, and the failure of many traditional banks to innovate and keep pace with pure-play providers and technology banks will lead to some high-profile acquisitions and consolidation within the sector, alongside continued direct investments.

Meanwhile technology giants such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon are competing to invest in emerging fintech markets such as payments, including contactless and mobile. Juniper expects that alongside banks, these tech giants could, and will, buy out startups to expand across other payment verticals, such as money transfer and remittances, to become more fintech-relevant.

Like the banking sector, traditional insurance businesses are also going to be disrupted, said Juniper, as technology is enabling insurance to become much more personalised. “Insurtech” has seen new entrants deliver a more nuanced approach to insurance than traditional providers, often having products that enable customers to tailor the cover to their specific requirements. The research firm anticipates the emergence of Person-to-Person insurance, an approach which may appeal to millennials in particular.

Juniper also believes that if Google, Facebook and Amazon enter the insurance market, they would likely be seen as a far better value proposition than incumbent competitors thanks to their huge customer bases. While many of the world’s largest insurers, including Aviva, Allianz, AIG and MetLife have created venture capital funds to invest in promising technologies and propositions, Juniper expects more companies instead to partner with the giants’ insurtech firms.

Of course, you can’t really talk about what lies ahead for fintech without mentioning the blockchain. In fact, as Juniper noted, most blockchain deployments thus far have been limited to the financial sector, with exchanges and banks trialling the technology as a means of increasing the speed, transparency and security in areas such as transaction settlement. However, in 2017 the research firm predicts that a raft of proof of concepts will be developed, integrating the technology into a much wider array of applications and bringing logistics and identity management to the fore.

Game On

Juniper Research’s top 10 predictions for the year is also forecasting the rise of so-called eSports – the competitive playing of video games at the professional level – predicting that more than 190 million unique viewers will be watching through mobile and online channels in 2017, and that game consoles such as Microsoft’s upcoming “Project Scorpio” will help developers and their sponsors alike keep up.

But where does this gaming chatter leave the much-talked-about virtual reality? Juniper said that while the latest PC and console-powered VR headsets were released and mobile VR was expanded in 2016, 2017 will be the year when most content creators come to the VR platform. In fact, Juniper predicts that console and PC-based VR companies will spend the next year focusing on creating experiences across all platforms, while media and tourism companies will aim to build interactive experiences for smartphone VR to add extra dimensions to a tourists’ visits.

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