Can A.I. save you money on your bills? We put it to the test

Can A.I. save you money on your bills? I decided to find out by running the latest artificial intelligence tool through its paces.

There’s been a lot of buzz about ChatGPT, a new “generative AI” that scans the internet and spits out answers to written queries. Schools are banning it because academics say it can sometimes write Distinction-level essays. Microsoft has invested $US10 billion ($14.2 billion) in the company behind it.

Can A.I. save you money on your bills?Credit:Bloomberg

So, to see if it lives up to the hype, I asked it a series of frequently asked money-saving questions. The first was this: “What’s the cheapest electricity plan for a four-person household in my postcode, 2035, NSW, Australia?”

“I am not able to give you a specific answer,” said ChatGPT, “as the cost of electricity plans can change frequently and depend on many factors such as usage, provider and location. I recommend checking with energy providers in your area or using a comparison website to find the best plan for your household’s needs.”

I gave this response an F. It reminded me of a Little Britain comedy skit: computer says no.

The same happened when I asked for other specifics such as the lowest mortgage rate or the cheapest mobile plan with 12GB of data.

So next I tried a set of more generic questions, such as “How can I save money on petrol/groceries/electricity?”

ChatGPT gave me a long list of dot points in response to each query. Some were frankly wrong, such as this on petrol – “Fill up your tank when the price of fuel is low, usually early in the morning or late at night” – but about two-thirds of them were spot-on.

There was no hierarchy, however. The tips were not arranged in order from most important to least useful. The first tip for saving on petrol, for example, was this clunker: “Plan your route in advance to avoid traffic and unnecessary driving. This can also help you avoid areas with high petrol prices.”

I gave this second set of answers a Pass.

My third set of questions was a follow-up to the first one: “What’s the best comparison website for electricity/mobile/home loans?”

Here, I had to give it a Credit. Most – but not all – of the sites it listed were the same ones I recommend. So, there are strengths and weaknesses, but overall I was pleasantly surprised – and it will only get better.

We’re living in revolutionary times for consumers. Economists talk about “information asymmetry”, where one party to a transaction has more data than another and therefore enjoys an advantage in negotiations. So it is with the average consumer and their bank, power company, insurer or supermarket. We are David, with minimal knowledge of the product and the market. They’re Goliath – with reams of data and teams of actuaries to analyse it and act upon it. The field is tilted towards their profit and away from ours.

But I believe we’ve never had it better than we do now, thanks to recent advances in consumer-friendly technology.

Who’d be an energy retailer, for example? We can use government websites to compare every plan on the market and then switch to the cheapest option online in under 10 minutes, thanks to the latest technology.

It’s never been easier to save on everyday costs, like petrol, thanks to recent advances in consumer-friendly technology.Credit:Eddie Jim

We can do the same with telco plans thanks to commercial comparison sites that compare almost all providers (try WhistleOut, Finder and Canstar, for starters).

Likewise, we can easily compare petrol prices on an app in every state and territory except Victoria and the ACT. Sometimes you’ll see differences of 50c a litre in stations just a kilometre apart.

Those are all ‘DIY’ examples, but there are also more and more new technological tools that you could describe as ‘DIFM’ – do it for me.

Businesses such as Bill Hero, for example, will monitor the energy market for us, for an annual fee, and let us know when our energy plan is no longer the cheapest.

Joust is a home-loan auction site where you enter your basic borrower details, and lenders and brokers then ‘bid’ for your business, with the best offer given permission to contact you at the end of the process.

Meanwhile, dozens of app makers are now trying to harness the new ‘consumer data right’ to make recommendations for cheaper electricity, telco and banking. Progress here has been disappointingly slow. There has been a lot of talk but not a lot of money saved thus far. But the potential is there for enormous empowerment of consumers if they get it right.

And the wildcard, of course, is A.I. It still has a way to go, as this little experiment shows, but watch this space.

  • Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers’ decisions about investing or financial products. They should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any financial decisions.

Joel Gibson is a Money columnist, TODAY regular and author of EASY MONEY: 7 Steps to Bust Your Bills (Simon & Schuster, $29.99).

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