NatWest hires “digital human” Cora to chat to customers and help solve simple banking queries
NatWest’s text-based chatbot Cora has been helping customers with banking queries since the start of last year and now “she” has been promoted to the role of “digital human.”
The AI-driven personality can answer more than 200 banking queries and has reportedly had more than 100,000 conversations a month. Now, following an upgrade, Cora is capable of two-way verbal conversations, answering basic 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?”
NatWest has worked with New Zealand-based company Soul Machines – whose co-founder Mark Sagar, won awards for his facial technology in King Kong and Avatar – to build a “highly lifelike” prototype that works on computers, tablets and phones.
Although the “digital human” will only be fully rolled out if its pilot is successful, the idea is that the new Cora will be able to free up human advisors to answer more complex questions, and could also be used to answer queries outside normal working hours.
“Soul Machines uses biologically inspired models of the human brain and neural networks to create a virtual nervous system for their digital humans that can detect human emotion and react verbally as well as physically, through facial expressions,” explains NatWest. “Like humans, it is 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.”
The bank claims its testing, thus far, has shown that customers who were previously reluctant to interact with digital services have warmed more to “digital humans” like Cora. Along with the simple fascination of interacting with an avatar, I imagine this is because Cora’s more lifelike character makes her appear more trustworthy – you know what you’re getting rather trying to second guess whether you’re talking to a bot or a real person, as can be the case on some websites. Beyond this, Cora could also make a significant difference to visually impaired users less able to interact with visual content.
“We’re really excited about this technology because 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,” said Kevin Hanley, director of innovation at NatWest. “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.”
I have no doubt this type of AI is the future, but at this stage I’m cynical about how useful it is, especially when it’s designed to only answer simple questions. Moreover, there must be a number security considerations, because people will be more likely to reveal their private information out loud – even if the “digital human” doesn’t request it – instead of just typing it on a web page.
Cora isn’t the first example of AI used to help customers with banking. Japanese robot Pepper, who has started operating as a Buddhist priest, was first designed to be used for customer service in banks, shops and for greeting people. Equipped with a camera and sensors, Pepper, can react to human emotions, laugh if told a joke, plus it has the ability to learn from conversations in Japanese and English.