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ITWeb TV: Absa prioritises AI for digital banking accessibility

Lungile Msomi
By Lungile Msomi, ITWeb journalist
Johannesburg, 15 Mar 2024
ITWeb’s Lungile Msomi sits down with Subash Sharma, chief digital officer: Everyday Banking, Absa, to discuss AI adoption by the bank, including ChatWallet, as well as AI, regulations and digital transformation within the fintech sector. #ITWebTV #Fintech #AbsaEverydayBanking

In the fast-paced world of digital banking, providing seamless and intuitive experiences for customers is paramount.

Recognising this need, Absa is harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and natural language understanding (NLU) to transform the way customers interact with its banking services.

NLU is a branch of AI that enables computers to understand the meaning and intent behind human language, allowing for natural, conversational interactions between humans and machines.

In an ITWeb TV interview, Absa Everyday Banking chief digital officer Subash Sharma revealed the financial institution's plans to integrate AI and NLU across its digital platforms.

He highlighted that the move aims to enable intuitive, conversational interactions and seamless transaction fulfilment for Absa’s customers.

Absa recently launched ChatWallet, a WhatsApp-enabled wallet to provide users with banking services directly through the messaging platform.

Sharma emphasised ChatWallet's NLU capabilities, which allow users to conduct transactions using natural language commands, like “pay my wife R50”.

By integrating this tech, Absa aims to eliminate the need for complex menus and streamline the banking experience, making it as intuitive as conversing with a human assistant.

“One natural language instruction is all it takes after your first transaction. We're moving beyond answering questions, to fulfilling requests. Imagine asking for your statement and the bot delivers it right away. This aligns with the growing demand for seamless digital experiences," explained Sharma.

Absa’s Subash Sharma. (Photograph by Lesley Moyo)
Absa’s Subash Sharma. (Photograph by Lesley Moyo)

To support these initiatives, Absa has invested heavily in data and technology infrastructure, including developing facial biometric databases in SA to enable secure identity verification and password resets without requiring in-person branch visits.

“We use our own facial recognition software across digital channels, allowing customers to safely reset PINs and passwords without visiting a branch. It also simplifies onboarding, while ensuring only authorised users can access the service,” said Sharma.

The bank is also working closely with regulators and industry partners to establish best practices and address concerns around transparency and ethical use of AI and NLU.

“We have a responsibility to protect our customers' data and money. Our investments in AI and NLU are aimed at enhancing security and convenience, not compromising either,” noted Sharma.

The big-four bank plans to extend the integration of AI and NLU capabilities across its digital platforms, enabling customers to complete a range of tasks and help its employees to better serve its clients.

“As an example, with our extensive range of products and services, it's challenging for colleagues to have immediate knowledge of everything. AI systems give our colleagues the information they need at their fingertips, allowing them to provide the best possible support to our customers.

“This is a key focus for us, both in projects currently underway and future initiatives,” concluded Sharma.

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