by Don Quijones, Wolf Street:
“With Amelia, we graduate into automating the knowledge worker, the customer service agent.”
The last ten years have been a rough time for many bank employees in Spain. The country’s lenders have laid off 89,500 workers on the back of narrowing margins, industry consolidation, mass closures of branches and gathering digitization. In 2008, when the financial crisis struck, Spain was home to some 278,000 banking professionals; today there are just 195,000. Another 3,000 redundancies are expected in the coming months, as Santander and Bankia plan to further streamline their businesses, pushing the total number of layoffs close to 95,000.
The job losses are unlikely to end there. In fact, they could accelerate, especially if a potential new threat to traditional branch and front-office jobs materializes: artificial intelligence (AI). As Finextra reports, BBVA, Spain’s second largest banking group, is on the verge of enlisting AI “agent” Amelia, developed by New York-based IPsoft, for many of its customer support functions:
BBVA has become the latest bank to employ Amelia, calling in the virtual assistant’s creator IPsoft to help develop AI-powered digital customer support services. The technology has already been trialled at BBVA’s call centre in Mexico to address customer complaints and enquiries. Now it will be extended to other markets and areas, as the bank seeks to digitise sales, advisory and support services.
Amelia is capable of detecting and adapting to caller’s emotions, as well as making decisions in real time, and can even suggest improvements to the processes for which ‘she’ has been trained.
Javier Díaz, CEO, IPsoft for Spain and Latin America, says: “Amelia is the result of 20 years of research during which we have tried to emulate the way the human brain works.”
It appears to be working. Amelia’s marquee clients already include around 20 Fortune 100 firms. The company is also in the process of developing pre-trained, limited-function mini-Amelias for small and medium-size businesses.
Amelia has a big advantage over less developed AI products on the market, according to IPsoft’s CEO, Chetan Dube: “her” ability to simulate the neocortex, the part of the brain that makes humans unique. This enables her to emulate a human being in order to forge “an empathetic connection, an affective connection, an emotional connection” with the customer. This, says Dube, is what’s ultimately needed to be a versatile customer service agent, whether the agent is human or Amelia: