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British bank trials a life like digital Avatar to serve customers better


Avatars and bots are getting more intelligent, and more capable, and while they are being increasingly deployed to help organisations improve customer service, there’s a very real toll on human jobs.


This week the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), who recently started using brain scanning technology during their graduate interview process to “find better candidates,” and which recently axed a quarter of its branches and announced thousands of job as it strives to reduce costs, announced that it is going to “deploy” Cora, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered, life like, digital avatar, which I have to note, will only get better, and look more life like, like this CGI rendering of a Japanese schoolgirl, or this fake news clip of ex President Obama, over time, to help support its NatWest customers if, and only if, the bank’s first female avatar passes her probation period. And in a few years time it’s looking increasingly likely that you’ll struggle to differentiate between Cora, and her other avatar buddies, like Amelia, being used by a London council, and a real customer services clerk.


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The digital teller, who wears a NatWest branded uniform and has an ear piercing and sparkling teeth, answers simple questions on getting a mortgage or what to do if a customer loses their card.

“Cora could create another way for our customers to bank with us on top of the usual services we offer and be used to help answer questions round the clock, whilst cutting queuing times,” said Kevin Hanley, Director of Innovation at NatWest.


See Cora In Action


Cora, which is undergoing advanced testing as part of a pilot program at RBS, could even be used to train members of staff, Hanley said on Wednesday.

The RBS experiment is the latest by an industry trying to adapt to changing customer behaviours, rapid technological change and the threat posed by new entrants, and initiatives range from now commonplace chat bots or installing tablets in branches to bolder forays into the future, such as deploying robot door staff. For example, last year Deutsche Bank’s CEO John Cryan said he thinks robots, of both the hardware and software kind, could replace 48,000 of the bank’s human employees, who were “too error prone and inefficient.” A damning indictment of the banks flesh bags indeed, although that said there are also experts, including Alibaba CEO Jack Ma that sees a day when CEO’s too are replaced by AI and robots, and on Wall Street we’ve already seen the emergence of Aidyia, the world’s first fully autonomous AI driven hedge fund, so perhaps Cryan should be careful how he picks his words…


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Meanwhile, back to Cora, Hanley said she’s capable of having two way verbal conversations with customers via computers, tablets or mobile phones and can learn from her mistakes, both things that will help the bank “boost efficiency and provide another channel for customers to get support.”

Cora “could free up human colleagues to deal with more complex issues,” he continued, although, like many organisations Hanley’s statement conveniently managed to skirt the topic of Cora replacing her co-workers, before finally adding that testing has suggested customers who have avoided digital services might be more inclined to interact with a “digital human”.

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