CIMB's chatbot EVA is now a huge success. Source: Shutterstock

CIMB’s chatbot EVA is now a huge success. Source: Shutterstock

How CIMB got it’s chatbot EVA off the ground

FIRST prepared for commercial applications in 2010, chatbots have evolved to help businesses better engage with their customers over the years.

In fact, in today’s day and age, with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language programming (NLP), chatbots are quite difficult to differentiate from human assistants and representatives — and provide customers with a great, on-demand, digital support — on a device and platform of their choice.

Although chatbots are a great choice for most businesses, they’re difficult to implement in the banking and financial services space.

The landscape is quite strictly regulated in any geography and the needs of the customers tend to be quite nuanced, which means, the chatbots need to be more advanced than the ones used in the restaurant or manufacturing industry.

However, quite a number of bankers in Asia are aggressively looking at implementing chatbots because of the value it brings to customers.

To better understand the process, Tech Wire Asia caught up with Samir Gupta, CEO, Group Consumer Banking, CIMB Group.

“We believe that the future of digital banking lies in conversational user interface (UI) as the central point of focus with products and services built into or around that messaging app,” explained Gupta.

“Coupled with the rise of AI and affordable computing power in recent years, we believe that a conversation based banking app will enable the delivery of digital banking products and services to much wider demographics in the region,” added Gupta.

That was the vision that drove the CIMB team to conceptualize the CIMB Enhanced Virtual Assistant (EVA) chatbot project.

“We kick-started CIMB EVA as a skunkworks project where a small dedicated business and technology team created a working prototype,” revealed Gupta.

The goal was to build a working Minimal Viable Product (MVP) that allowed the customer to inquire about balances, view their portfolio, and transfer funds to other accounts — which it met in November 2016. The team decided to launch the first version of CIMB EVA to test the market and learn from customer feedback.

Up until September this year, CIMB EVA handled more than 1.4 million bill payment, mobile reloads, fund transfer transactions and other service requests from 212,000 app users in Malaysia.

Obviously, the CIMB EVA project has been a success — and they’ve recently won the IDC Digital Transformer of the Year award to prove it — but there were several challenges that the bank had to overcome. In Gupta’s words:

  • It took time and effort to change mindset so that we could put a product in the market to test its viability and learn the requirements of users as we move along.
  • To give the CIMB EVA team complete autonomy away from the usual technology and business units, so they can work on faster time-to-market.
  • Training the AI engine took time. For example, we need to integrate context into the chatbot, train the bot to understand natural language to ensure it is well-equipped to answer consistently and meaningfully.

However, the overall exercise seems to have been a success. Not only did it allow the bank to quickly develop and take CIMB EVA to market but also helped “better streamline business requirements and technology development through the creation of an agile team that works closely together”.

The success, in fact, encouraged further digital initiatives:

“We continued to invest in end-to-end digitization as evidenced in our CIMB 1-Minute Auto Financing InstaApproval hire purchase and CIMB 1-Minute Home Financing InstaApproval mortgage application processes where a new customer could get a loan approved in one (1) minute through our digital sales engine,” emphasized Gupta.

For banks that are yet to get on with their digital transformation agenda, it’s important to realize that starting small — maybe with a chatbot project of their own — could help jumpstart the process. Not only could it help acquire the tools and capabilities to take on bigger and more impactful projects but also drive the necessary change in the culture and mindset of the organization.