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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Swedish banks embrace robot revolution

Goal is to give the actual humans more time to engage in more complex tasks

In an increasingly digitised world, artificial intelligence used by banks and credit card firms, is trying to get you to buy what they want you to buy. Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters
In an increasingly digitised world, artificial intelligence used by banks and credit card firms, is trying to get you to buy what they want you to buy. Fabrizio Bensch / Reuters

Aida is the perfect employee: always courteous; always learning; and, as she says, “always at work, 24/7, 365 days a year”.

Aida, of course, is not a person but a virtual customer-service representative that SEB, one of Sweden’s biggest banks, is rolling out. The goal is to give the actual humans more time to engage in more complex tasks.

After blazing a trail in online and digital banking, Sweden’s financial industry is now emerging as a pioneer in the use of artificial intelligence. Besides Aida at SEB, there is Nova, which is a chatbot Nordea Bank is introducing at its life and pensions unit in Norway. Swedbank is adding to the skills of its virtual assistant, Nina. All three are designed to sound like women, based on research suggesting customers feel more comfortable with female voices.

“There are some frequent, simple tasks that we need to deal with manually today, and in that effort we’re looking into AI to see how we can deploy it, and Aida is one,” said Johan Torgeby, the chief executive officer of SEB.

Chatbots have access to vast amounts of individual client data, meaning they can quickly handle straightforward customer requests. That in turn frees up human employees to deal with more complex services, like coming up with the best mortgage plan to suit a specific customer.

“Basically all banks are closing branches,” said Mattias Fras, the head of robotics, strategy and innovation at Nordea. “This is a way to return to full service again.”

Nordea’s chatbot will eventually help customers who want investment advice, who want to cancel lost credit cards or to open savings accounts.

Swedish banks have already seen their customer satisfaction scores drop to a 20-year low after shutting branches and pushing people onto online services.

But AI might be part of the cure. According to a recent study by market researcher GfK, there are wide gaps between what consumers hope to receive from banks in terms of service and financial advice, and what they actually get. AI applications such as chatbots “hold the promise of filling in these service gaps, given the right data and programming”, GfK said.

Swedbank, which already operates its chatbot Nina in Sweden and plans to roll it out to its Baltic markets as well, says one of the benefits to the technology is that it eases users into the new digital age.

AI “can help our customers become more digitised, for example by guiding a client in paying bills on the internet”, said the Swedbank spokeswoman Josefine Uppling.

* Bloomberg