NatWest is in advanced testing of a digital human designed in New Zealand, an offering powered by artificial intelligence (AI) with the potential to answer basic banking queries.
The UK-based bank first deployed the text-based chat bot in early 2017 called Cora, which answers more than 200 basic banking questions for customers through online help pages.
Today, the intelligent offering is transacting more than 100,000 conversations a month.
But in drawing upon advances in neuroscience, psychology, computing power and AI, a new Cora prototype has been built to include a "highly life-like" digital human, meaning customers can have a two-way verbal conversation with on a computer screen, tablet or mobile phone.
NatWest has been building the digital human using technology provided by New Zealand-based company Soul Machines, whose co-founder and CEO, Mark Sagar, won global recognition for facial technology in King Kong and Avatar.
Soul Machines uses biologically inspired models of the human brain and neural networks to create a virtual nervous system for digital humans that can detect human emotion and react verbally as well as physically, through facial expressions.
Like humans, it's trained when dealing with new subject matter and when she makes mistakes she learns, so that over time the interactions become more and more accurate.
“We think it could create another way for our customers to bank with us on top of the usual services we offer and be used to help answer questions round the clock, whilst cutting queuing times for simple questions,” NatWest director of innovation, Kevin Hanley, said.
“The technology has real potential for the future and we’re also looking at how we can use it to help train our staff on certain subject matters.”
According to Hanley however, the bank will only deploy the technology on the basis that a successful pilot is completed.
But on the plus side, the offering could be used to help free up time for human advisors to answer more complex customer questions, while also addressing queries which fall outside normal working hours and days.
Hanley said that testing to date has suggested customers that have avoided digital services in the past may be more inclined to interact with digital humans such as Cora, which could also help blind and partially sighted customers who are unable to engage with visual content.
“NatWest has been at the forefront of technology vision and advancement for years,” Soul Machines chief business officer, Greg Cross, added.
“Using Soul Machines to reimagine their customer experience sets them apart and continues to show the bank’s leadership in engaging and providing the highest level of service for their customers.
“We are honoured to be working with NatWest on this pilot to evolve Cora into an emotionally responsive digital human that can interact face-to-face with its many customers.”
Cora is able to answer basic verbal questions such as ‘How do I login to online banking?’, ‘How do I apply for a mortgage?’ and ‘What do I do if I lose my card?’.