Ms Hatton said UBank staff were not worried about AI taking their jobs as they had been involved in the process of creating Mia and her personality, and realised it would be used to handle simple queries, so they could handle more complex or personalised questions.
She said it was not on the plan for AI to be approving homeloans, but that the adoption of open banking standards, meant AI would soon be able to work with richer data to perform more complex tasks.
“It’s going to be a great way for people to get immediate answers whether they’re filling out an online application at 5am on Saturday or 11pm on Thursday,” Ms Hatton said.
“With Open Banking just around the corner, we are getting closer and closer to this idea of a four-click home loan. When you apply AI to any data set, the use cases are almost limitless, but it’s about finding the right use cases and the right moments to apply it so you can liberate customers from their finances.”
The ‘human’ face of UBank
Ms Hatton said UBank had taken a significant length of time to design Mia, to effectively be a “human” face of UBank. She said it had also been a technical challenge to program her conversational skills, in comparison to the text-based AI chats conducted by its existing RoboChat.
“When we tried to train Mia with the same answers as RoboChat uses, it didn’t work, because how you write something is very different from how you say something, so we had to tweak the language,” she says.
“We also wanted Mia to look and feel different than any other chatbot, especially because we’ve never had a face for the brand before.
“She looks like a UBanker from vibrant shirt to the way she tells you a joke. It took us time to get it right, and it was something FaceMe really guided us on so we could create the ultimate emotional connection to the UBank brand.”
The topic of increased use of AI assistants is not without its controversies. Due to a gender imbalance in the number of AI programmers in favour of men, there are notable fears that sexist attitudes will be imbued on digital humans.
The greater prevalence of “female” AI assistants to be ordered about, has also been raised as a problem in entrenched sexism.
“We did consider this … but we also know women can multi-task better than men,” Ms Hatton said.
She said UBank wanted Mia to reflect both customers and the human team at the bank. She said UBank employees were nearly 50-50 on the male/female split across, and its leadership team is 55 per cent female and 45 per cent male.
“We also know women play a really important role in financial decisions in Australian households, and we decided we wanted Mia to be a proud reflection of that,” Ms Hatton said.
“Given the diversity in our team, and how we wanted to represent them, we didn’t focus on race but rather nationality and ensuring she was an Aussie through and through, just like our 100 per cent Aussie-based team.”
‘The potential is incredibly exciting’
Despite being part of NAB, the technology will not be rolled out imminently across the wider bank. Ms Hatton said UBank was often viewed by NAB as an area where it could experiment with ambitious ideas, before potential wider deployments later on.
FaceMe CEO Danny Tomsett said, while it was great to work with clients like UBank, there were rapidly advancing opportunities to implement virtual human chatbots into many different areas of business and society.
He said he believed AI would be central to solving some of the greatest challenges related to health and wellbeing, education, energy, environment, and other domains.
“We really love seeing our clients and partners bring ambitious plans to life – like the digital human mental health coaches which FaceMe is working on with mental health champion John Kirwan, and even a digital human cardiac coach who will provide heart patients in-home care,” Mr Tomsett said.
He said that, using computer vision that could read expression and body language, digital humans would irrevocably change how companies embody themselves and serve customers.
This would open up new ways to connect with customers on an emotional level to drive loyalty and sales conversion, he said.
“In banking in particular, fast forward a few more years, and digital humans will comfortably be able to chat to two clients at once, for example a couple buying their first home,” Mr Tomsett said.
“If one was anxious to understand the implications of an interest rate hike on the monthly budget, the digital human would be able to respond with empathy, taking its clues from the question as well as a look of concern … The potential is incredibly exciting.”