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NatWest brings generative AI chatbot to customers after announcing branch closures

The bank says its AI-infused chatbot will help with "more human interactions" as it shuts down physical locations around the country.

By Matthew Gooding

NatWest will use generative AI to communicate with its clients after incorporating the technology into its customer service chatbot. The news comes after the company announced a new wave of branch closures, meaning it will have shut down 143 physical locations across the UK by the end of the year.

NatWest is getting into generative AI thanks to a partnership with IBM. (Photo by Simon Vayro/Shutterstock)

The bank has worked with IBM to develop the enhancements to its Cora virtual assistant and says it will be among the first in the UK to deploy generative AI with a virtual assistant. It will enable users to access information about NatWest products and services through conversational interactions.

Natwest and IBM introduce Cora+ AI assistant

The assistance has been designed to “provide a more accessible and human interaction for customers looking to compare products and services across the product suite, or who are looking for information across the NatWest Group websites”, according to today’s announcement

Cora+ will be able to access information from multiple secure sources that were previously inaccessible through chat alone, such as products, services, information about the bank and career opportunities. Customers can ask questions and receive responses in a more natural, conversational style and are provided with links to requested information, which they can either view immediately or bookmark for later. Customers will continue to have the option to speak on the phone with branch representatives during business hours, the bank said.

Wendy Redshaw, chief digital information officer for retail banking at NatWest, said: “We are a relationship bank in a digital world, building trusted, long-term relationships with our customers through meaningful and personalised engagement. 

“Building on Cora’s success over the last five years, we’re working with companies like IBM to leverage the latest generative AI innovations that will help make Cora feel even more ‘human’ and, most importantly, a trusted, safe and reliable digital partner for our customers.”

The move is part of NatWest’s digital strategy, Digital X, which focuses on three pillars: engineer, protect and operate. It is working with a range of tech vendors, including IBM, to deliver more digital services.

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John Duigenan, distinguished engineer and general manager for global financial services industry at IBM, said: “NatWest and other forward-thinking leaders of financial institutions around the world are exploring the potential of AI technologies as part of their competitive business strategy.

“With the appropriate guardrails and governance in place ensuring that AI is open, trusted and targeted, banks can deliver an empowering value proposition enabling an even deeper level of customer loyalty.”

AI adoption comes as NatWest closes branches

Financial services institutions are rushing to adopt AI across a number of use cases, with chatbots being one of the most popular consumer-facing deployments. The technology is also being used in risk management systems.

Research conducted by the Bank of England and financial regulator the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) last year found that 72% of businesses in the sector polled reported using or developing machine learning applications, with 79% of these applications in the latter stages of development, being either deployed across a considerable share of business areas and or being critical to some business areas.

However, while banks claim AI is making them more efficient and offering superior customer service, it comes at a time when many of the biggest names in retail banking are closing branches, meaning customers are being forced to use more digital options.

NatWest is one of those making cutbacks, and in July it announced 36 branches would close, meaning 143 of the group’s banks will have closed by the end of 2023.

The company said the way people bank has changed “dramatically” in recent years, with many consumers favouring online and mobile banking options.

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