Three credit unions used the power of collaboration to bring an artificial intelligence-driven virtual financial assistant to market.
Representatives from three credit unions—$2.6 billion Connexus Credit Union, Wausau, Wis.; BCU, Vernon Hills, Ill.; and STCU, Liberty Lake, Wash.— stopped by the exhibitor booth for Abe.ai during the 2018 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C.
“We were all seeing the rise of virtual assistants in the market and learning more about the rapid advancements in voice technology” says Paul Kurth, digital branch manager at Connexus. “After the conference, we began talking and soon realized we shared many of the same project goals.”
The three credit unions share the same digital banking partner, Alkami, along with an appetite for collaboration.
In its initial deployment, the voice assistant’s artificial intelligent-driven services are available via text message and Amazon’s Alexa. Future enhancements will include access through Google Assistant, Facebook Messenger, online chat, interactive voice response, and mobile banking.
In addition to answering basic questions about the credit union, such as operating hours and ATM locations, the assistant can carry out basic account-related functions, including money transfers, loan payments and balance requests.
Carey Price, BCU’s senior vice president, digital strategy and delivery, says the project “embodies the credit union spirit” as all three credit unions worked together for the good of their individual memberships.
‘The credit union structure affords us the nimbleness to push technology solutions to execution at a faster velocity.’
“The credit union structure affords us the nimbleness to push technology solutions to execution at a faster velocity,” Price says. “It is accelerated when you have smart, like-minded digital transformational leaders to work alongside to promote new technology to members.”
This collaborative approach allowed the three credit unions to share costs and resources, Kurth says. “When one of us found an issue during the testing process, the fix would resolve the issue for all three of us at the same time.”
The group approach not only created efficiency, it produced better results, says Jeremy Long, STCU’s director, digital channel experience.
“Many credit unions have smaller testing and marketing teams,” Long says. “When you collaborate with other credit unions and share your results and ideas, you achieve a more successful end product.”
The collaboration also helped with compliance and the member experience, Kurth says. “When you can bring three teams together to outline a new technology in simple terms and discuss any variations in interpretation, it makes it a better experience for the member.”
Another advantage of the group approach was the ability to share the application’s learning capabilities. For example, members can ask to move money in multiple ways.
The digital assistant learns to recognize those differences. “The assistant uses machine learning to understand how people ask a little differently for the same thing,” Kurth says. “With three credit unions from different parts of the country, the learning capabilities are more robust.”
“The strength in numbers was definitely a key to the success of this launch," says Rob Guilfoyle, Abe.ai's CEO/co-founder. "All of the machine learning models are feeding each other, creating an economy of scale that allows the intelligence of the product, and ultimately the member experience, to increasingly mature.”