North Side wins Efma Fintech PFM-Payment Award for VerbalAccess

Efma feature

25 April 2016

Canada’s North Side has won the Efma Fintech PFM-Payment Award for its VerbalAccess solution. Eugene Joseph, who leads research and development in natural language understanding, told us how the solution enables plain-English access to financial services and large document databases through mobile and web channels.

Please give us an overview of your solution
VerbalAccess is a personalised virtual telephone banker/advisor. You communicate with it in plain English, in your own words, and it does transactions for you and answers your questions. These can be questions about transactions or fees (so in the authenticated environment), or generic questions, for example about how you could increase your credit score.

Payments is one of the VerbalAccess functions: it lets you talk about payees in your own words: by category (gas, phone, hydro, etc) or relation (sister, friend). You can talk about time and place in fairly imprecise ways (Christmas, Spain) and VerbalAccess will resolve your references to the actual dates and places. It can assist you with almost anything a live banker does.

It can also answer questions about what it takes to qualify for a mortgage or port a mortgage, amortisation for a particular term loan or non-revolving credit products such as overdraft protection, lines of credit and various credit cards and their benefits. It can also handle commercial and small business products.

What makes the solution unique?
It is able to deal with incomplete or ambiguous information, and clarify it. It can handle long, involved, multi-step conversations and I haven't seen other products that do this really well. A customer can use his own words, not necessarily the bank’s terminology – again, I'm not sure if other offerings have a strong paraphrasing ability. It understands more, better. It is also easy to interface – it will call the same APIs the bank’s mobile app or online software calls.

How does it help banks and insurers?
Personalisation has become a hot topic. Yet, how can a bank offer truly personalised service if the customer has no way to say what she/he wants? While learning about a customer’s recurring transactions, asking about their membership renewals or detecting that the customer is in a particular location is useful, it is not a complete personalisation solution. To personalise service, you have to put the customer in control. The customer has to have a way to tell the bank what’s on his mind, and the bank should act based on that.

In terms of bottom line, VerbalAccess can handle many calls handled by human advisors in call centres, saving money in the process – and this is particularly appealing to Gen X and Gen Y customers who insist on self-service (and don't like to wait). VerbalAccess will know the products a customer has, his transactions, his past questions, his credit score – so it is able to propose solutions that make sense for that customer. That means new sales. It eliminates waiting for service, so more retention, which directly impacts profitability. In insurance, claim taking would be a natural first application.

Do you already collaborate with banks or insurers? If so, what has the experience been like so far?
We have a project with a large bank where we’re using our linguistic, reasoning and ontology knowledge to assist them with intelligent search – getting to the information various people need to do their jobs. And they have A LOT of information.

How do you see your solution changing the future of banking?
Speaking or typing to a bank is much more natural than having to navigate the bank’s screens and menus (graphical user interface). It is the ultimate user experience. It is such a cool experience to do your banking when you drive or walk, naturally, using your own words – and you get more done. And customers who do that will talk about this cool experience with their friends, so the bank that has it will benefit from referrals.

The Fintech portal has been created by Efma, Microsoft and Avanade and provides a library with hundreds of fintech solutions. Following the launch, financial organisations can visit the portal at to identify disruptive solutions and find the right fintech partners for their business needs.

If you are interested in being listed on the Efma Fintech portal and contacted by banks, go to and fill in the relevant information about Efma and your solutions (submission is free).

Keywords : Fintech , PFM/BFM , Financial advice , Contact centre

Geography : Canada