Hello BankBot!

Banks and insurance companies replace  voice response systems with  robotic chatbots
Bangalore, October 2 2017: For nine months now, users of Facebook Messenger have been able to utility bills, avail  travel services or make movie bookings  by just chatting with a cool robotic tool:  HDFC Bank's chatbot, OnChat. The  Artificial Intelligence-driven,  chat tool   has  made so many friends,  that the bank has been able to turn one in four users into customers... an amazing conversion rate considering  HDFC had achieved  a rate of  just 1.4%   or one in seventy, by earlier traditional methods.
Businesses led by banks and financial institutions in India are  only just realising the untapped potential of  leveraging    the smart new tools of Internet and social media to  acquire new  customers and retain old ones. And innovative startups are helping them do just that.
Nitin Chugh, Group Head, Digital Banking at HDFC Bank, explained  at a media event earlier this week that  OnChat which replaces conventional mechanisms like Interactive Voice Response ( IVR),  is clever enough to understand  language combs like Hinglish  and sends personalized  reminders and notifications to  customers.  For its foray into 'conversational banking' HDFC turned to Bengaluru-based  startup  Niki.ai   whose creative team harnessed   Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to craft the tool.
It is a fast learner: If after two attempts the chatbot fails to understand the user, it  ploughs back the experience to refine its tools.  
Said  Niki.ai CEO and founder Sachin Jaiswal: "In partnership with HDFC group companies, we are also  working on creating an insurance bot and a stock broker which will take the overall banking experience to another level, through simple conversations.”
For its  existing banking customers, HDFC Bank  offers another  chatbot, EVA -- Electronic Virtual Assistant -- on all its digital platforms including Web and mobile. The banking bot was  built by Senseforth AI Research.
Explains  Senseforth CEO and Co-Founder Shridhar Marri: “EVA currently handles 50,000 plus semantic variations for thousands of banking related intents. Eva tracks and analyses everyday customer issues and gains a deeper understanding of their behaviour patterns...EVA never sleeps and her learning never stops!”
HDFC is not alone in hitching its wagon to the  intelligent agent trail. 

  • ICICI Bank and  its insurance mate ICICI Lombard have also turned to Senseforth  to create  chatbots for them.
  • The State Bank of India (SBI) is  soon to launch its own chatbot, SIA or  SBI Intelligent Assistant to  take on customer queries and introduce  to the bank's various products . SIA  was created for SBI by another startup, Allincall led by IIT Mumbai and Kharagpur alumni. 
  • Axis Bank  turned to Singapore - headquartered  Active.ai  to develop  its customer-facing chatbots. Active.ai does most of its development in Bengaluru.

Finacle, the  banking solution from Infosys, now offered by group company EdgeVerve,  has global customers  for its  core banking tools.  Niki.ai has also developed a chat-based e-commerce solution for Infosys Finacle. The chatbot  named Niki  will be offered by  Finacle, as a  smart-purchasing tool along with its  own  suite of  banking  solutions.  
Says Sanat Rao, Chief Business Officer, Infosys Finacle: “As AI technologies mature, they present an opportunity for banks to automate interactions and enhance customer experiences. This partnership will enable Finacle to provide a virtual assistant that banks can use to expand their commerce footprint through a large pre-integrated ecosystem. This will further help banks to enhance their revenues as well as improve customer stickiness.”
Today's banking customers spend significant parts of their life using mobile devices. Chat  comes naturally to them. Yet for the most part, the mobile banking experience has been underwhelming. That may change  when more banks and financial institutions embrace new user interfaces like chatbots.  Suggests   Sudhir Nain, Editor, The Neobanker and himself a designer of  fintech products in his blog : "A truly digital bank reimagines the way people access their services on mobile devices."  Goodbye, menus, icons and  click. Hello bankbot!
Anand Parthasarathy