NatWest’s virtual ‘assistant’ handling double the number of customer queries

NatWest has doubled the number of queries it handles through its “digital assistant” Cora, as it prepares to deepen its use of generative artificial intelligence to speak to banking customers.

The UK banking giant is piloting a new version of its chatbot, dubbed Cora+, from Monday.

NatWest revealed the virtual chatbot handled 10.8 million queries over 2023, up from about five million in 2019.

  • Cancelling a transaction

  • Changing an address

  • Asking for a bank statement

  • Requesting a new bank card

  • Opening an ISA

The top five questions being asked via Cora are about cancelling a transaction, changing an address, asking for a bank statement, requesting a new bank card, or opening an ISA, according to data from the bank.

Major high street banks have been making strides in recent years to modernise their online and mobile banking services, which they say has coincided with fewer customers visiting their branches.

NatWest announced the closure of nearly 50 of its branches this year, after announcing more than 100 closures throughout 2023.

In May, it suffered outages affecting its online and mobile banking for about four hours, leaving customers unable to access their accounts.

NatWest said it is one of the first banks in the UK to deploy generative artificial intelligence (AI) through a chatbot, which will enable it to have more human-like conversations with customers.

Generative AI is a more advanced form of automation whereby machines can create something completely new based on a vast set of data.

It means the chatbot can give more personalised responses to questions and direct people to more relevant links.

The bank is hoping Cora will be able to have even more human-like capabilities once it is fully rolled out, including making proactive suggestions about what a customer can do to manage their finances more effectively.

The system, which was created with IBM, will then store information and share it with a “human agent” who can step in if a customer needs more support.

David Lindberg, the boss of NatWest’s retail bank, said Cora+ will “transform the way our customers interact with us on their day-to-day banking needs”.

“Cora+ is better able to anticipate their needs, make suggestions and respond in a more ‘human’ way to questions,” he said.

NatWest’s chief executive Paul Thwaite last week said that he was focused on driving more automation across the bank, which could include reducing its reliance on call centres.

The bank also announced on Monday that the Government had sold down its stake in the lender further.

The latest share sale has seen the Treasury reduce its holding to 21.93%, down from 22.15%.

NatWest received several multibillion-pound bailouts during the financial crisis in 2008 and 2009, leaving the Government with an 84% stake in what was then known as Royal Bank of Scotland.