Artificial intelligence that can mimic human empathy and learn to answer complicated questions will be employed by UK banks to serve customers around the clock and cut costs.
Royal Bank of Scotland is planning to unveil Luvo: “human” AI that can answer questions online, ranging from lost card queries to unblocking pin numbers and updating home addresses.
Luvo, powered by technology giant IBM, can read customer moods and respond accordingly, and RBS could switch on this ability in future.
“Like humans, Luvo has to be trained when dealing with new subject matter but, crucially, it learns from its mistakes and its answers become more accurate over time,” says RBS, which plans to unveil it at the end of the year.
The state-backed bank will be the first in the UK to launch a customer-facing service using AI after trialling it internally.
UK banks are only in the early stages of using AI but they hope it will improve customer service, because it can work consistently around the clock. AI could also allows banks to move staff from mundane to more complicated tasks, and to reduce the workforce and cut costs.
Warren Mead of KPMG said: “Of course it’s about cost-cutting to an extent. Banks face a huge cost challenge as they go forward, but it can be done in a way that augments customer service.”
For example, AI could be used in call centres instead of people reading scripts. It could also learn to provide the correct answers to queries more efficiently, speeding up and improving customer service, said Mr Mead. For some processes that are “people-heavy and content-light”, this could reduce costs by about 80 per cent, he said.
David Parker from Accenture said banks were already using AI for basic processes driven by human commands, such as quickly gathering customer information from multiple different pages and presenting it on one screen. Using machines that can learn from their interactions with customers is the next stage banks are exploring.
“Obviously there are some streamlining and cost-reduction benefits. What we’re seeing is organisations planning to use this to move staff from dull processes to more judgment-based roles,” he said.
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Technology company IPsoft has built an “AI worker”, or virtual assistant, called Amelia, which can learn and hold a conversation while responding to emotions.
Accenture is working with a number of banks to help them use Amelia for certain processes, such as helping people find a mortgage adviser or open a bank account.
The London borough of Enfield announced in June that it had recruited Amelia for frontline services, responding to residents’ queries and helping with licence and permit applications.
RBS is offering Luvo to a small group of customers online in Scotland, before expanding it to NatWest customers in England. The bank is keen to emphasise that customers will not be forced to interact with Luvo, and human support is still available.
Chris Withers from IBM said: “As this cognitive system continues to learn over time, Royal Bank of Scotland will be able to expand Luvo’s capabilities to more complex areas such as providing increased personalisation and using predictive analytics to detect possible issues before they arise.”
Mr Parker said: “Banks realise AI will be the future. It’s not that the technology isn’t there, it’s that banks are figuring out how best to apply AI to processes and customer interactions.”