Lee Hatton - UBank

National Australia Bank’s (NAB) digital-only banking service UBank has announced the release of RoboChat, an artificial intelligence (AI) assistant designed to guide homebuyers through the entire home loan application process.

Built on IBM Watson’s Conversation API, RoboChat combines machine learning and intuitive language to respond to customers across forty home loan topics as well as hundreds of associated questions.

Set to operate 24 hours a day, UBank said the AI was trained on data collected from customer questions that were submitted on the existing LiveChat and, of course, will continue to learn as more customers engage with it and ask begin to ask unlisted questions.

There’s also a touch of humour in-built in the assistant, with the example “How much does a hipster weigh?” and the response “An Instagram” provided by UBank (we’re hoping though that over time the AI will also cultivate a better sense of humour too) .

Jokes aside, CEO of UBank CEO Lee Hatton said the new technology will help simplify the often laborious process of applying for a home loan, while speeding things up for customers – so much so that you can complete the process faster than you can eat breakfast.

“If you’ve gathered all of your paperwork, the form can be completed in as little time as it takes you to have your breakfast. And, securing one of the most competitive rates in the market could help a customer save thousands of dollars in interest over the life of a loan,” she said.

Operating under NAB, UBank was launched in 2008 as an exclusive online and over the phone banking service, its digital focus set with the aim of trying to simplify banking processes.

With the introduction of RoboChat now streamlining much of the home loan process, UBank was keen to assure that the AI assistant won’t be snatching away employee jobs anytime soon (no Skynet, yet), with the company’s current customer service team set to stay on board.

Rather, RoboChat will join the current live chat function offered on the platform, with customers able to access either option based on their needs.

“UBank will still have experienced staff on hand to chat on the phone, via email and our live online chat offering; RoboChat will provide an added option for those needing quick online responses or those that are close to finalising the form,” Hatton said.

AI assistants in the home loan process are on their way to becoming a new fad, with Aussie startup Online Home Loans looking to enter the market with their own AI, Sophie.

The assistant, also built on IBM Watson, holds similar machine learning capabilities to RoboChat. However, Sophie was developed with the purpose of helping homeowners identify what type of loan they’re qualified for, with the startup looking to ‘train’ the AI to the point of being able to guide customers through the entire application process.

According to IBM Asia Pacific Vice President Brock Douglas, there is indeed a growing trend amongst virtual assistants. Douglas stated that this year alone, IBM Watson’s series of API’s will engage “more than a billion people, across 20 industries.”

“From deepening the customer experience, to increased productivity for employees, virtual assistants are being adopted across industries and becoming more advanced in natural conversation and emotional intelligence, with the help of cognitive technology,” he said.

“UBank’s work with IBM Watson is a powerful example of how organisations are leveraging cognitive virtual assistants that have the ability to engage in a conversation, ask questions, learn and respond in context, as opposed to providing stock responses.”

Image: Lee Hatton. Source: UBank.