UBank to launch ‘smart, empathetic’ virtual assistant Mia

FaceMe and IBM Watson powered avatar, follows previous AI efforts RoboChat and RoboBrain

NAB subsidiary UBank is soon to launch a virtual assistant to guide customers through the home loan application process.

Mia (My Interactive Agent) will began taking questions at the end of this month, from a sample segment of loan applicants.

Mia has a visual avatar – viewable via desktop or mobile device – and can answer more than 300 common questions about the bank’s home loans, such as ‘what’s a variable rate?’ or ‘what classifies as an expense?’ Customers ask their questions by speaking aloud.

“By bringing Mia to life, we’re giving customers a whole new way to interact with their online home loan application and completely challenging the perception of a digital bank,” said UBank CEO Lee Hatton.

The persona of Mia was “crafted with the customer in mind – they want to talk to someone smart, empathetic, trustworthy and someone that doesn’t use bank jargon” the bank explained. The virtual assistant is also inclined to use gifs and animations during chats.

UBank's Mia
UBank's Mia

“We want to continue attracting customers but maintaining the same number of team members to support this ever-growing customer base,” Hatton said.

“That means we need to leverage key technologies like AI to tackle the typical questions customers ask, so we can free up our team to address the unique situations our customers need more support with, every day. We have a team of ultimate home loan specialists already and are super excited about Mia offering more even support to Team UBank and our customers,” she added.

Mia complements the bank’s customer-facing, text-based chatbot RoboChat which was launched in May 2017, also to guide online home loan applicants.

According to the UBank, four in five customers saying they’re happy to use RoboChat, which has answered more than 50,000 questions since launching; an average of 86 questions per day.

Both Mia and RoboChat are based upon IBM Watson Assistant. The bank in March last year used the same underlying technology for its internal RoboBrain virtual assistant, which allows the bank’s phone and LiveChat staff use natural language queries to find answers to thousands of questions.

Emotional rescue

The assistant is delivered by FaceMe – which Hatton described as “an awesome group of Kiwis” – the company behind similar advisors being rolled out by UBS Global Wealth Management, Auckland International Airport and ASB Bank.

Read more: IBM’s Watson to analyse emotions for Wimbledon highlights

The company is also involved in the Nadia avatar project for the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), which is voiced by Cate Blanchett. The project remains on ice.

“Mia offers an emotionally connected experience for servicing customers making an exciting and important life decision. We are very excited about the opportunity to work with UBank and further validate the evolution of digital customer experience,” said FaceMe’s CEO Danny Tomsett.

“FaceMe's platform is multimodal and takes input from computer vision, speech and text. Using supervised AI training the digital human is able to combine natural language understanding with situational awareness to create an appropriate response which is delivered as synthesized speech and expression by the FaceMe-created UBank digital avatar Mia,” Tomsett explained.

FaceMe is a rival to Soul Machines, also based in New Zealand, a spin-out from the University of Auckland.

Soul Machines is behind customer-facing virtual assistants at ANZ Bank, European car maker Daimler, Air New Zealand and UK bank Natwest.

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Tags avatarNABAINDISUBankWatsonchatbotFaceMevirtual assistantSoul Machinesartificial intelligence

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