Westpac switches on AI chatbot as productivity pressures mount

Westpac switches on AI chatbot as productivity pressures mount

Westpac is introducing a new AI-powered chatbot to its 4.6 million digital customers as part of a programme to raise productivity and cut costs in the face of a challenging business environment.

Dubbed Red, the bot let customers text or ask questions on their smartphones or desktop, reducing demand on time-pressed call centre staff. Initially rolled out to laptop users in December, Red is now making its full-scale mobile debut, having successfully answered 70% of 215,000 questions posed by customers.

The launch comes as the bank posted a disappointing first half, with profits down 24% as it battles to keep up with the pace of digital change and handle customer compensation costs in the wake of the Hayne royal commission report on mis-selling scandals in the banking sector.

Westpac has set a goal of achieving $400 million in productivity savings over the full year and is investing heavily in technology, closing branches and removing ATMs as more customers move to digital channels.

One of a suite of digital initiatives launched by the bank over the past year, Red is powered by IBM's Watson AI conversational engine.

Watson also provides the brains behind Astro, which answers any questions Westpac bankers have about lending and provides the relevant policy within seconds. Already in use in the bank's regional brands, Astro will gradually be introduced across the bank over the course of the coming year.

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