Bank of NZ to launch text-to-Kiwi voice service

Teaches Amazon Polly how to speak te reo Māori and even some Kiwi slang.

Bank of NZ to launch text-to-Kiwi voice service

Bank of New Zealand will soon be introducing Āwhina, a BNZ "brand voice" based on Amazon Web Services (AWS) machine learning service Amazon Polly.

Amazon Polly converts text into lifelike speech.

Speaking with media via video as part of AWS's socially distanced local re:Invent conference across Australia and New Zealand, BNZ customer connection hubs general manager Bridgette Dalzell said Āwhina, which in English translates to "to help", will be the voice of BNZ.

"Āwhina can speak te reo Māori, so she has key greetings, key New Zealand words, she uses some key New Zealand 'Kiwisims' and some slang," Dalzell said.

"And as we move through training Āwhina, she will become more and more dynamic in how we assist our customers."

See also: AWS launches Amazon Connect real-time analytics, customer profiles, machine learning tools

Āwhina is natively embedded within Amazon Connect, a service that spins up call centres, and helps customers that call BNZ with banking inquiries, such as opening a bank account, obtaining a balance, or transferring funds.

BNZ is aiming to teach Āwhina to discuss new products or services, or create an AI-powered customer service chatbot using Amazon Lex, which is a service for building conversational interfaces into any application using voice and text.

"Āwhina will use its interactions with customers to continually improve how it best helps to direct customers to the information and bankers they need. We're excited to see how our customers interact with Āwhina … she reflects the values of BNZ and is consistent with what customers expect when they call up," Dalzell said.

BNZ is transitioning around 800 staff from its on-premises contact centre to Amazon Connect, hoping to reduce wait and hold times, and improve accuracy by aspiring to match customers with the right banker on the first try.

"Particularly during lockdown, we found that our customers wanted … easy access to us … they want good online banking services and they want technology that's going to work with them, where our customers get to the right banker the first time," Dalzell said.

She said contact with BNZ is up 30% post-COVID.

"Amazon Connect will be our technology game changer of the future," she added.

"This is the first time we will put AI techniques to work to deliver a richer and more accurate experience that adapts to our customers' evolving banking needs, and having a Kiwi voice on the end of the line will help keep the experience grounded here in New Zealand."

See also: Bank of NZ prepping for open banking using tech and a new way of thinking

BNZ is owned by the National Australia Bank (NAB). NAB also uses Amazon Polly for its own text-to-speech persona.

"We are looking to Amazon Connect to help us improve the experience customers have when they contact our call centres. For that reason, it was also important that the voice we created using Amazon Polly Brand Voice felt both uniquely NAB and consistent with our position and what our customers expect when they call us," NAB digital and assisted channels general manager Laurent De Segur said in February.

The bank's executive general manager of digital and innovation Jonathan Davey previously cited the importance of voice-activated assistance within banking.

"We fundamentally believe as an organisation the way we need to be able to provide services to customers is changing and we're in a unique position where we're fortunate enough to be able to work with some of the most interesting and innovative companies around the world," Davey told ZDNet at the time.

MORE FROM NEW ZEALAND