UBS is testing a cognitive agent on its back office employees

UBS is testing an intelligent virtual assistant on some of its back-office employees, with the hopes that it will eventually help customers navigating through the UBS website.

The bank wouldn’t say when Amelia, the virtual employee’s name, will be deployed to help customers. But UBS said it hopes the virtual employee will help customers retrieve lost account information when they can’t log in and set up bill payees. Meanwhile, a pilot with employees has so far yielded encouraging results.

“We did not share that they were interacting with a cognitive assistant,” said Tom DeCarlo, managing director and head of client services at UBS. “[Many] thought they were talking to agents on the floor.”

UBS began an initial U.S. pilot with a dozen client sales assistants in mid-January of this year, an exercise which wrapped up in March. The bank said it plans to get the application up and running for its client sales assistants around the world by 2018. An additional Amelia pilot with the bank’s internal tech desk is currently underway in the U.K. and another one is planned for Switzerland. UBS working with software company IPsoft, which developed Amelia to help finance companies more efficiently deliver service to clients.  For the UBS U.S. pilot, DeCarlo said Amelia worked with client sales assistants responsible for moving funds from deceased account holders to beneficiaries. Amelia helped UBS staff confirm information and fill out forms.

“The folks that take those calls within the service organization today have roughly 10 to 15 years of experience, at the desk or within operations as there are many different variables that could come into play when outlining the document requirements and signatures relative to deceased retirement distributions,” DeCarlo said.

The move is part of a larger push from UBS on automated service enhancements. For instance, last year, the bank announced a pilot program with Amazon Echo to let clients and non-clients of the bank get answers to financial and economic questions. And the bank has been using basic bots to handle simple back-office tasks for over a year.

While Amelia has voice capability, during the pilot, UBS employees communicated with Amelia through a chatbot interface. Compared to basic bots, Amelia has the capability to deal with unstructured data that requires thinking and organization, which could be a major advantage in helping the institution deal with complicated processes and documents. And Amelia’s ability to think on her feet lets her to pivot easily based on learned behavior. “There’s two types of learning, that which is observed from rules, and there is also event-based episodic learning — if you have episodic learning, agents can learn very adeptly,” said IPsoft CEO Chetan Dube in a recent interview with Tearsheet. UBS’ emphasis on virtual human assistance dovetails on efforts other major banks have been taking, including Bank of America’s virtual assistant Erica.

The bank said bringing Amelia on board won’t result in any job losses, as it sees people migrating to new roles as they work alongside the technology. And since Amelia is fluent in a dozen languages, the bank can easily deploy her to help employees and customers around the world. DeCarlo said those who fear getting stuck when Amelia can’t resolve an issue can take comfort in her ability to sense when to escalate matters to humans.

“She’ll ask additional probing questions until she gets to a point where her confidence level is less than 99.9 percent, and then she will conference in a supervisor or subject-matter expert.”


UBS steps up its ability to launch, maintain consumer apps in pursuit of digital transformation

appdynamics and ubs deal

As clients of UBS demand more from technology, the bank has become increasingly attentive to their customers’ requirements. Today’s banking client is more sophisticated in the level of interactivity and responsiveness he expects from his financial institution. One snafu at a local ATM or on a user’s mobile device can quickly escalate onto social media and become a much larger deal. This dynamic hasn’t been lost on UBS management.

With the scale and breadth that UBS has, ensuring technology is always operating the way it should is a daunting task. Large financial institutions are increasingly turning to Application Performance Management (APM) firms for help with monitoring, troubleshooting, and analyzing the performance of their banking apps. In UBS’ case, the firm recently expanded its relationship with AppDynamics after an extensive evaluation.

According to Paul McEwen, CIO of infrastructure services at UBS, “Using AppDynamics, we have been able to improve the speed at which we identified and remediated application issues, as well as avoid incidents in the first place.” The multinational bank plans on rolling out AppDynamics’ Application Intelligence Platform across the company’s technology stack to proactively monitor issues before they impact critical business services.

It seems to be working — according to the bank, the initial AppDynamics deployment enabled the IT and product teams to spot and fix critical problems in minutes, rather than days, deliver a 4x reduction in the number of alerts generated by the system and a cut in staff onboarding time from one month to just a single day.

UBS, like other large multinational banks, is also transitioning technology infrastructure to its own private cloud. That means hundreds of internal applications, as well as those that customers interact with, need to work seamlessly across geographies. One of the services UBS plans on working with AppDynamics to support is Neo, the firm’s ambitious investment platform. By the end of 2016, UBS plans on offering 1 million of its clients a more efficient way to access the firm’s investment bank research, collaborate, analyze, and trade a variety of assets. AppDynamics can deliver its technology as an on-premise solution as well as via SaaS.

Using a leading APM provider also fits into UBS’ intentions to transform into a more digitally-enabled bank. Today’s banking customers don’t want different experiences and service levels from different banking channels. Delivering one experience via a mobile phone while an entirely another over the Internet doesn’t resonate well. Paul McEwen also notes, “As part of our integrated monitoring strategy, the AppDynamics platform helps us achieve some of our strategic IT goals – updating our platforms, increasing stability, boosting operational efficiency and agility, and creating a consistent user experience across all of our services.”

AppDynamics was recently named the fastest growing APM provider according to Gartner and based on 2014 revenue. In addition to UBS, the company counts Barclays, Nasdaq, and the Reserve Bank of New Zealand as financial industry clients. The company closed a $158 million investment round in January of 2016 led by General Atlantic and Altimeter Capital, with participation from Goldman Sachs and others.

The company, which was founded in 2008, also recently recruited tech exec, David Wadhwani, to take over the helm as CEO. Wadhwani, who joined from Adobe after a 10 year stint, is credited with leading the team that transformed the maker of Photoshop and other software editing tools transition to a fully digital firm, using software subscriptions rather than selling boxed products and yearly upgrades.

The company is expected by many in the industry to try its hand at an IPO in 2016 and Wadhwani seems poised to lead the company in that direction. “AppDynamics wins because we have a great product that targets a real need; there is a massive market opportunity — everyone will need what we supply; our investors have a long-term view; and we are proving that we have the management discipline to run on our own,” he told Forbes in an interview at the end of 2015.