U.K. bank RBS tests 'digital human' teller to help customers

A subsidiary of British banking giant Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is running a pilot program using an artificial intelligence (AI) powered "digital human" to help customers with basic banking questions.

Lifelike 'Cora' can answer up to 200 banking queries

The human-like appearance of Cora, a 'digital human' being tested by a subsidiary of RBS, includes everything from ear piercings to facial expressions. (RBS/NatWest)

A subsidiary of British banking giant Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) is running a pilot program using an artificial intelligence (AI) powered "digital human" to help customers with basic banking questions.

The lifelike, virtual bank teller named "Cora" can answer up to 200 banking queries for NatWest customers in two-way conversations on a computer screen, tablet or mobile phone.

The bank has been using Cora since 2017 and she's had about 100,000 conversations a month, the bank said on Wednesday.

"Cora, the digital human is able to answer basic verbal questions like 'How do I login to online banking?' 'How do I apply for a mortgage?' and 'What do I do if I lose my card?'" said NatWest in a news release.

Cora's human-like appearance includes ear piercings and facial expressions.

"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," said NatWest.

NatWest, which is among the biggest retail lenders in the U.K., said it would only "deploy the technology" if it successfully completes the advanced testing stage. 

Job cuts

News of the AI testing comes after RBS announced in December that it would close of a quarter of its branches, including NatWest outlets, adding to the thousands of job cuts announced in the past year as it tries to reduce costs.

"[Cora] could serve as an additional way for customers to get help, on top of the usual branch, telephone and online services and in the long run could answer hundreds of everyday banking questions," the bank said.

The move is the latest within the broader banking industry, which is trying to adapt to changing consumer behaviours with rising technologies such as robo-advisers and industry disrupters like financial technology companies.

Changing industry

In November, John Cryan, CEO of German banking giant Deutsche Bank said chatbots and similar AI technologies could replace half of the company's nearly 100,000 employees.

In Canada, all of the country's big five banks are using or testing chatbots for banking services.

Meanwhile, NatWest says recent research has suggested that customers that have avoided using digital services in the past may be more inclined to interact with digital humans like Cora.

"It could help blind and partially sighted customers who are unable to engage with visual content," it said.

NatWest director of innovation Kevin Hanley added that the bank is also looking at how it can use the technology to help train staff members.


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