UBank touts disruptive success with the security of a NAB-provided banking licence

UBank is toying with artificial intelligence to disrupt the way a bank operates, its CEO has said.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The National Australia Bank (NAB) in 2008 stood up UBank with the genesis, according to UBank CEO Lee Hatton, of being to challenge and disrupt NAB.

"It's a really bold statement to make, because it sounds like a good idea, but of course culture gets in the road because we know what we know," Hatton told IBM Think in Sydney on Wednesday. "Our opportunity 10 years ago was to completely change the way banking was seen by customers."

According to Hatton, the customer became the DNA of UBank. It now boasts 500,000 of them that she said are "very vocal".

UBank also has 220 staff based in North Sydney, as well as the support of NAB.

"Hugely supported by the NAB group, which means we've got that safety and security of a banking licence," she said. "We are there to run, experiment, try new things, and really get into the future of banking."

Hatton said the opportunity created by UBank, and its overarching mandate, is to disrupt banking. A good example of this, according to Hatton, is the organisation's chatbot Mia that it launched in February. 

When UBank was looking at customer pain-points, home loan applications were flagged as one segment that needed to change.

UBank started working with IBM at around 2016, specifically with the Watson team to look at how it could use artificial intelligence (AI) to make things simple. The relationship kicked off when IBM walked in and said it could do "something special" for the bank, Hatton recalled.

SEE ALSO: How IBM Watson is revolutionizing 10 industries (TechRepublic)

"So we did what all good fintech startups do and we had a hackathon," she said.

"We basically got a group of people together -- not too many because our size and scale is pretty small -- from all levels of the organisation, and that gave us the chance to really sit down and look at the problem -- and in financial services, we have a few."

She said it allowed UBank to look at how it could get customer-facing AI that was leveraged with speed, which began its "robo-chat" play.

Robo-chat developed into Mia with the help of New Zealand-based company FaceMe.

"We took the opportunity to really take Mia to the next level and have her answer questions for customers in the comfort of their own home, give them the experimentation and delight of experiencing a virtual assistant in a different way," Hatton continued, noting the questions are to be "reasonably simple" to ensure success.

"What we found was 80% of the calls we were taking in our contact centre they were really consistent and they were pretty simple questions. Things like, what is the fixed rate, how do I calculate my expenses, we wanted to have people able to do that whenever they want to."

With robo-chat the name for UBank's customer-facing AI initiative, robo-brain was the name given to the customer service team.

"It saved them over 77% of time, they get all our documents in one place and almost like a query, are able to answer a question for a customer in the same way that robo-chat enables our customers to, answer the questions for themselves.

"We want to be Australia's most referred brand; we've removed the mentality of being a bank, so again it just puts the customer at the centre of what we what to be there for and what we stand for," Hatton said.


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