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Virtual assistants: AI serves bank customers around the clock

Hans-Martin Durst Autor, Hemd & Hoodie

In an effort to improve their standard of service, Swedish banks are turning to virtual assistants that learn how to serve individual customers.

The launch of the first ATMs in 1972 was a milestone for the financial sector. For customers, they spelled the end of long queues at the counter waiting for the cashier to pay out their money. Artificial intelligence (AI) is currently ushering in another new era for the industry, with Swedish banks leading the way — they have recently adopted virtual assistants that can help customers with their finances 24 hours a day.

Aida is one such computer-animated adviser at SEB. She is available to help users online by perceiving their words and facial expressions through the microphones and cameras on their PC or mobile device. She is then able to respond both verbally and through body language. Her AI makes her capable of learning — something that differentiates her from conventional chatbots, which hit a wall when faced with complex questions. By contrast, Aida’s programmers claim that she imitates the human thought process. This is based on the concept of reinforcement learning, whereby virtual assistants develop their own strategies for increasing the frequency of positive feedback to their behavior.

A growing workload for virtual assistants

Looking at a previous version of Aida reveals how successful this method of machine learning is. Before it was introduced in customer service, SEB employees received AI-based support for IT issues from an assistant named Amelia. In her first three weeks of use, she held around 9000 conversations with 700 employees and was able to offer immediate solutions to almost all the issues that arose. “Digital labor will provide a fundamental shift in the way that banks manage their operations,” says Chetan Dube, CEO of IPsoft, which developed Amelia. “They will provide a platform on which it is possible to launch new services.”

The Nordea Bank is also looking to grow its AI services by expanding what its virtual assistant Nova can do. Right now, she is only capable of answering insurance questions, but soon she will give customers account management support and provide investment advice. Bolstered by the increasing use of online services, virtual assistance could also become more widespread in this country in the coming years. Artificial intelligence is already a part of everyday life and will become even more important through technology such as self-driving cars. Digital helpers give banks the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the growing trend toward financial start-ups by offering in-depth consulting services.

Cover photo: Amelia – IPsoft(montage)

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