NatWest’s AI digital human Cora answers basic banking questions

NatWest announced this week it is in advanced testing of an AI-powered ‘digital human’, which could be used as an additional way for customers to get answers to basic banking queries.

The bank has since the start of 2017 deployed a text-based chatbot called Cora which customers can use on the bank’s online help pages. Cora answers 200 basic banking queries and now has 100,000 conversations each month. But drawing upon advances in neuroscience, psychology, computing power and artificial intelligence, a new Cora prototype has been built to include a highly life-like digital human that people can have a two-way verbal conversation with on a computer screen, tablet or mobile phone.

Cora answers basic verbal questions like “How do I log in to online banking?”, “How do I apply for a mortgage?” and “What do I do if I lose my card?” It 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 technology relies on using audio and visual sensors, which are standard in modern computers and mobile phones.

NatWest has been building Cora using technology provided by New Zealand based company Soul Machines, whose co-founder and CEO, Mark Sagar, won awards for his ground-breaking 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 their digital humans that can detect human emotion and react verbally as well as physically, through 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.

Whilst NatWest will only deploy the technology if it successfully completes a pilot, it is thought it could be used to help free up time for human advisors to answer more complex customer questions and could also be used to answer queries which fall outside normal working hours and days. Testing to date has suggested customers that have avoided digital services in the past may be more inclined to interact with digital humans like Cora and it could help persons with visual disabilities who are unable to engage 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,” 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.”

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