NAB-owned online bank UBank has launched Robochat, an AI-powered chatbot that’s here to help filling out home loan forms.
Robochat is powered by IBM Watson, a cloud-based natural-language supercomputer. Watson has won fame through success on the TV show Jeopardy and with an ever-increasing number of business implementations; the AI is doing everything from helping save lives in hospitals, to assisting people filling in their taxes.
Robochat exists as an upgrade to Ubank’s home loan live-chat service and is ready to answer most of your questions in mere seconds. For now, Robochat can only answer queries relevant to the home loan application, but in the future it might be able to pre-fill your forms or dole out tips and extra information, says Ubank’s head of digital, Jeremy Hubbard.
“In essence, we’re trying to make it as easy as we can for customers to do what some of them consider to be a cumbersome process,” Hubbard says. “If we can help do it on behalf of them, that’d be great.”
Robochat is still in it’s infancy, but is well spoken nonetheless. If asked a simple question like “What’s a fixed-interest loan?”, Robochat delivers a detailed and useful reply.
As conversation complexity increases, some of the interactions won’t work out. When asked to “Explain the difference between variable, fixed and split interest loans?”, Robochat replies “You’ve stumped me! Would you like to chat with a real person instead?”
Robochat doesn’t like to be spoken to like a robot, instead preferring natural language questioning. Asking a simplified keyword-based question, as you might type into a search engine, will generally stump the AI. Typing “Interest only repayment” yields a failure, where “What’s an interest only repayment?” produces a relatively useful reply.
Mr Hubbard said that Robochat will learn through these failures, with failed answers flagging the service for human training.
“We will retrain Watson on a daily basis.”
Brock Douglas, VP of IBM Watson Asia Pacific, compares the first days of a Watson service with the first days of a regular employee.
“When you start interacting with the customers, you’re still learning. When you first start talking to customers, you’ll be able to answer some of their questions, or you’ll be a bit unsure and you’ll check with your team leader for clarification,” Mr Douglas said.
“We’re doing the same thing with Watson, so it will continue to learn and grow as it’s trained.”
Robochat is limited to Ubank’s web-based live chat service for now, but the bank has its sights set on other platforms, such as Facebook Messenger. Any front-end chat service can plug into the Watson-powered back end, opening up many potential avenues for the tool to be put to use.
Mr Hubbard said that when tested as a proof of concept, plugging into Facebook was “a very simple process”, but that some challenges need to be overcome in terms of privacy and security.
Robochat came together in a relatively short period of time, with Ubank and IBM collaborating over an 8 week period to produce the first version of Robochat.
“The nuance, really, is in setting up the conversation flows with the customer.” Mr Hubbard said.
“There’s actually quite a lot of work that’s not technology-based, to make sure that the interactions with Robochat are natural, and that’s there’s a good flow in the conversation.”
These are just the first days of Robochat’s “life” and Mr Hubbard is enthusiastic to see how the bot will evolve.
“From our perspective, Robochat day one will be very different from Robochat day 60. That’s the exciting part for us.”
Reader comments on this site are moderated before publication to promote lively and civil debate. We encourage your comments but submitting one does not guarantee publication. We publish hundreds of comments daily, and if a comment is rejected it is likely because it does not meet with our comment guidelines, which you can read here. No correspondence will be entered into if a comment is declined.