RBS says it's 'twelve months ahead' of other UK banks with Luvo AI customer assistant

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) said that it is “at least twelve months ahead” of the competition when it comes to its artificial intelligence (AI) assistant for banking customers called Luvo, and will release it to the public in twelve months, according to managing director of digitisation Chris Popple.

RBS announced that it was working on an AI assistant back in March and speaking at the inaugural AI Summit in London today Popple talked about how the pilots have been going and where Luvo will eventually live (the answer is everywhere).

What is Luvo?

Luvo is a natural language processing AI bot which will answer RBS, Natwest and Ulster bank customer's questions and perform simple banking tasks like money transfers. If Luvo is unable to find the answer it will pass a customer over to a member of staff.

Luvo “talks to you through WhatsApp-type interaction” and what sets it apart from digital assistants like Siri and IKEA’s Ask Anna is its ability to understand context and perform tasks.

Popple explained: “To be helpful it has to understand dialogue. The problem with IKEA and other digital agents is that they try to force the customer into the question, if the answer isn’t on the list I am stopping the interraction. So dialogue is the most important aspect.”

RBS has been developing Luvo through its pilot with select customers and agents in conjunction with IBM Watson. Popple said: “We are currently in the process of negotiating to figure out who else is in the market and whether we continue with IBM or not.”

Platform integrations

Popple said that RBS customers are engaging with their banking apps more than ever, with four million RBS customers checking their mobile banking app an average of 45 times per month. That’s up from 20 times a month just two years ago.

RBS wants Luvo to integrate with traditional platforms like the bank’s websites or apps, as well as the platforms people use today, regardless of device. As Popple said: “The opening of distribution platforms, Facebook in particularly, creates a big opportunity.

“We want to be everywhere, 24/7. We want it inside other apps and devices, so it doesn’t have to be constrained into the things that we own. I have a working Luvo inside my Telegram messaging app right now. With really cool interesting interfaces like [Amazon’s] Alexa with its open APIs. We can put Luvo into the APIs of existing distributions mechanisms like Facebook, Amazon, you name it.”

He added: “AI is not something you can just put off to the side, we are not going to have Luvo as a virtual assistant, avatar that sits off to the side and add to the very long list of things you can use on our website.”

Popple says that the business case he made at RBS around investment in AI read: “Make digital customer support as powerful as face to face.”

Challenger banks

This move by RBS comes at a time when there are new entries to the UK banking sector, with four challenger banks promising to offer digital-first banking. Fintech banks like Atom, Mondo and Tandem promise mobile-banking with API integrations and human-free customer service, but none have spoken about using AI technology yet.

Read next: The UK’s new breed of challenger banks - ranked

It will be interesting to see how these more agile lenders integrate AI technology into their products, and also how traditional rivals like Barclays continue their drive to digitisation with unique products like Luvo.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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