Virtual assistants powered by AI are helping UBank serve customers more quickly, freeing up time for its staff to explore the future of banking, says the CEO of the digital-only bank.

For the past three years UBank has been experimenting with IBM and the Watson team to explore the different ways the bank could use AI to make banking simpler for its customers, Lee Hatton, CEO, explained during a Q&A at IBM’s Think event in Sydney yesterday.

The first project the bank launched back in 2017 was RoboChat, a virtual agent trained to answer questions around home loan applications. Earlier this year the bank took the concept further, launching Mia, a ‘digital human’, capable of conducting a conversation — so long as it’s just about home loans.

UBank’s Mia is capable of natural language understanding with situational awareness, synthesised speech and expression.

“When you take Mia or AI in totality, we’ve really been pushing out these new economics of banking,” Hatton said.

With around 220 staff in its North Sydney office, UBank can scale those solutions to serve its 500,000 customers.

“Every time we can take something away from the customer service team [like] having to respond to a question that’s a normal query, and have them think about the future customer experience, it completely changes their careers. From an economic perspective, it gives us scale, we can serve more customers in this way.”

Employee Engagement

As well as giving customers self service tools, the bank has built RoboBrain, launched in March 2018, to aid its customer service team. Like RoboChat, the service collates relevant info and uses AI to respond to queries.

The bank says RoboBrain has improved employee satisfaction based on employee net promoter score (eNPS), reduced average call handling time, and reduced complaints and compliance Issues.

Hatton noted that the naming of RoboChat and RoboBrain was deliberate — “we’re not trying to hide behind the fact that they are artificial intelligence,” she said — to get people used to working with cognitive interfaces.

“We really wanted to bring it into life so that people shouldn’t be intimidated by the future with AI. We really want to make sure we’re starting to use these tools now. It does change your culture because people at less intimidated by the opportunity, and they can see the future skills that are required.”

Hatton says the bank has made use of the extra capacity to rethink banking across the organisation.

“Whether they be a developer or a product manager, customer service representative, a homeowner advisor, everybody’s in the building together. So by having things that are taking away everyday tasks, we are able to spend that time in stand up having conversations about what is the future of banking?”

“It’s not unusual for us to talk about ‘what does the next five years look like?’ or ‘what should we be focusing on today for tomorrow?’ But again, you also need to take their capacity and have people coming from outside in and sharing views, so that you can really think about what the future can hold.”

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