Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and the exploding popularity of mobile messaging apps have enabled the rise of virtual personal assistants (VPAs) or chatbots. More banks and insurance companies in Hong Kong are jumping onto the VPAs bandwagon to provide new personalized customer experiences while saving operational costs of call centers.
VPAs, also called chatbots or conversational agents, are artificial agents that are able to communicate with humans using AI. Users can use natural language to chat with them, which process spoken or written language, and generate responses pertaining to users’ queries in real time.
“Organizations are beginning to use some of the AI-powered conversational technologies especially in the contact or support centers to reduce operational costs—the biggest driver of using VPAs or chatbots,” said Anthony Mullen (pictured bottom left), Gartner’s research director at an interview with Computerworld Hong Kong. “They also want to improve customer experience and begin to explore opportunities for conversational commerce.”
In the early days, VPAs or chatbots appeared as instant messaging chat boxes on websites. In recent years, they are increasingly integrated with mobile messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger and WeChat. As such, users do not need to install a new app and struggle to learn a new user interface.
The maturity of the use of messaging platforms bodes well for chatbots in Asia such as Hong Kong.
“The plus for Hong Kong in this space is that English and Chinese are well catered for by many of the major chatbot frameworks. HK businesses should be sure to pick a narrow enough use case that can deliver value and not underestimate the time taken to move from a proof of concept to operationalizing the bot,” he said.
Chatbots of financial institutions
More financial institutions such as banks and insurance companies are jumping onto the VPAs bandwagon.
DBS Bank Hong Kong is piloting a Cantonese chatbot with its employees. “Early results are extremely encouraging and we are looking to expand this offering to customers across various segments soon,” said Nimish Panchmatia (pictured top right), managing director and head of technology & operations, Hong Kong & Mainland China at DBS Bank.
The Bank debuted its first chatbot in India in 2016, and launched another one in Singapore this January through its subsidiary bank POSB.
Named POSB digibank Virtual Assistant, the service allows customers to enquire about the bank’s branch locations, foreign exchange rate, products and services via Facebook Messenger.
By the second quarter of this year, customers can also conduct banking transactions such as balance enquiries, fund transfers and card payments. The service will be extended to other mobile messaging platforms like WhatsApp and WeChat in the future.
Like DBS Bank, Mastercard has also launched its bot on Facebook Messenger.
Mastercard announced last October that bots will be available for both its bank and merchant partners in the US early this year. Named Mastercard KAI, the bot enables consumers to ask questions about their accounts, review purchase history, monitor spending levels and learn about cardholder benefits.