RBS, NatWest, SEB: Virtual bankers are coming & we can’t wait

By Kitty Knowles 6 October 2016
RBS, Natwest & SEB to launch virtual banking assistants. Pic: iStock/Diego Esteban Zeballos

Meet the online army who'll fix your finances.

It’s late. The customer service helplines are closed. But you need to find out that one bank detail to finish the form you’re begrudgingly filling in.

Searching through your online banking hasn’t been fruitful (despite the fact you know the information is there somewhere) and you can’t justify calling your bank’s emergency 24hr phone line.

You’re stressed, tired, and ready to snap. Sound familiar?

Well this is exactly the kind of situation the oncoming army of online banking bots will soon be able to help soothe.

The rise of the robot bankers

The prospect of online financial assistants is hardly a distant fantasy. We’ve already seen artificial intelligent assistants that can help you stay on top of your energy bills, fight off parking fines, and perform impeccably as personal assistants.

Now British banks including RBS and NatWest have announced their plans to follow suit using IBM Watson technology: with roll-outs that intend to improve customer service without paying for additional manpower.

You can just imagine it, asking Luvo (sadly not ‘Roberts’, or ‘Natalie’) to tot up your outgoings for the last 6 months rather than scrolling through yourself.

Between ordering new cards, setting up and cancelling payments, moving money and changing personal details, there are endless ‘How can I’ functions a bot could walk you through step-by-step.

“Luvo frees advisers from spending time on simple, easily-addressed queries so they can help customers with more complex issues,” said Jane Howard, head of RBS personal banking.

It will start off with about 10 questions, but will grow to become smarter and more helpful.

What’s more Luvo will also be able to learn whether you’re feeling frustrated or unhappy and change its tone accordingly.

RBS follows one of Sweden’s largest banks, SEB, into the world of virtual assistants. The bank also announced this week it would use IPsoft’s chatbot Amelia to help customers (although we think they should rename it Sebastian).

The downsides

As with any innovation you can expect a few bugs. I love the ‘Get Cash’ function on my NatWest app, but that didn’t stop it from being annoying when it kept going wrong (I was instructed to uninstall, and reinstall it several times).

We’ve also all been frustrated with automated phone assistants that for some reason don’t understand the words or phrases you’re now shouting at the top of your lungs.

Online assistants will undoubtedly be the same. It may take time to recognise more unusual turns of phrase, or to build up a suitably broad bank of knowledge to make it truly helpful.

But that’s the great thing about AI. It keeps learning and will continue to get better and better.

Your RBS bot might not know everything when it launches in December, but in a few months, or a year, who knows.

The first lucky few to get hands-on with virtual assistants will be about 10% of Scottish RBS customers in the run up to Christmas, with further roll-outs planned for 2o17.

We can’t wait for Luvo to hit London – bring on the virtual bankers.