Delivering for Turkish banks and society during the crisis

Efma feature

03 April 2020

Mete Aktas, CEO of CBOT, explains how CBOT is helping banks face the challenges of the COVID-19 outbreak.


Besides the humanitarian burden and tragedy it is currently causing, the outbreak of COVID-19 has profound effects on many industries and banking is one of the most visible. Banks have to manage remote working systems for their employees, continue to serve their customers properly, and even increase support of the financial wellbeing of their customers in response to needs that arise due to this extraordinary situation. It is an incredibly tough task that has emerged in addition to the already challenging banking environment.

There is no doubt that such a huge and global outbreak has already started to change customer expectations and accelerated digitalization at a large scale. The dramatic and rapid change affects various areas of a bank such as human resources, information technologies, risk management, digital banking, branch management, corporate communications and marketing. According to McKinsey, the initiatives that bank leaders are most commonly adopting are “taking proactive steps to protect the health and boost the morale of their employees, establishing an interim operational model for branches, and developing a support model for remote working”. Even agile ways of working have been adopted rapidly, which would normally take months under typical conditions in terms of both cultural change and technical requirements. Therefore, the coronavirus made this difficult transformation faster and more necessary.

From the perspective of an individual customer’s daily financial life, the main issues are to enable safe and hygienic payments, receive banking services via digital channels, visit branches less, access cash when needed, and get faster responses to their questions. Customers want banks to provide ready access to products and services. On the other hand, banks’ abilities to provide physical experiences through branches, ATMs, POS, and call centers has been limited by the current conditions. In some countries, working hours for branches have been modified, in other countries different shifts have been implemented and some branches have been closed or staff reduced. Regarding call centers, the situation is very challenging as keeping those crowded teams together may result in virus contamination and is thus very risky. Therefore, banks are developing remote call center models. Meeting customer expectations while adapting the operating model to the reality of the current pandemic is an unprecedented challenge for banks. It is highly important for banks to make customer interactions with the bank as easy as possible. In such an environment, where customer expectations have risen and queries have been varied, the adoption of conversational banking by the banks and engagement of customers in these new channels will be faster. Digital channels like internet branches and mobile applications remain far from satisfying all customer demands who expect to learn about something by talking to someone instantly. Customers will seek an experience closer to the experience that they get from branches or call centers. More specifically, many bank customers who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus, especially the elderly, are not active users of internet banking or mobile banking, but they can more easily use a conversational channel, like a chatbot or a voice assistant, as it is more natural, direct and intuitive. Therefore, conversational banking and tools like chatbots and virtual assistants will be adopted by more banks in a shorter time than normal conditions.

At CBOT, even before the COVID-19 outbreak, we already believed that in the current environment where the relationship between humans and technology is transforming to be natural, direct and intuitive thanks to AI-based technologies, conversational platforms powered by AI will be a huge trend with more successful use cases. However, the pandemic accelerated this process. We have seen an obvious rise in the number of users and the dialogues in our live chatbots  and expect an uptrend in usage. Now conversational AI is a must-have, just like a customer virtual assistant, call center virtual agent, or an HR / IT virtual assistant helping employees dealing with this new way of working, all the remote working tools, and many practical questions. We help banks respond to this huge trend of rapid digitalization by satisfying customer needs, and helping employees work remotely in the most efficient way by providing them with AI-based chatbots and human + AI solutions for call centers.

Since the outbreak, we have witnessed a rise in the demand for AI-based chatbots and every institution says they need a solution which can go live in a very short period of time as the situation is extraordinary that requires a rapid reaction. We are able to meet this demand thanks to our domain expertise and experience in developing and deploying banking chatbots in a very short period of time. We have developed the necessary tools to accelerate the time necessary for AI-training and testing, and to design sophisticated dialogue flows without any requirement for any code. We believe it is a very important capability these days as banks have to respond to rapidly changing conditions in the same manner. It is obvious that static Q&A type conversations will not be adequate to satisfy customer expectations, but personalized responses with integration points into the banks’ systems, even advisory and proactive systems, will be required. We have our own NLP engine and machine learning infrastructure that we combine with our dialogue design and management skills. It is also important to be present wherever the customers need to reach their bank whether it is a messaging platform like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, or a voice assistant like Google Assistant, or Amazon Alexa or even just the bank's website or mobile app. With the experience of six banking chatbots in Turkey, we have invested a lot to solve these challenges and provide a conversational experience to customers in the most effective and efficient way. The successful live use cases that we created with the largest private banks in Turkey, İşbank, ING, Garanti BBVA, QNB Finansbank, Fibabanka and Turkey Industry and Development Bank, helped us develop a deep expertise in banking chatbots since 2017.

Considering that each and every organization can contribute to the global fight against COVID-19 pandemic, we, as CBOT, developed a chatbot, called “koronabot” hosted in www.koronabot.com, providing instant responses to public queries on coronavirus and COVID-19. The most popular news portal of Turkey, CNN Turkey, hosted this chatbot so that people could easily reach it and get information based on reliable sources. Koronabot, crawls the most updated information to inform people about global or country based statistics as well as information published by the Ministry of Health in Turkey. Besides the local koronabot that helps people in Turkish, we have also developed another version in English that serves on www.botcorona.com and provides information according to World Health Organisation updates. We designed and developed these chatbots that we consider a social responsibility project within one week. This situation requires fast reactions in order to prevent false and unconfirmed information from spreading quickly.

All in all, we believe that the solution we provide to banks and other financial institutions is very crucial in this current situation as remote services are of vital importance in the operating models of the banks. We are ready to help banks overcome this crisis by keeping their employees and customers safe, enhancing the customer experience, and increasing efficiency in their operations.

Keywords : AI/Robotics , Covid-19

Geography : Turkey