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Nordnet drops AI assistant while SEB deepens collaboration

One Nordic bank decides to stop using cognitive agent Amelia to focus on other AI technologies, but another widens the use of the software

Nordnet’s decision to discontinue development and use of cognitive agent Amelia in its evolving artificial intelligence (AI) services framework is a setback for supplier IPsoft in Sweden.

IPSoft can however take comfort from the fact that another Swedish bank, SEB, appears generally pleased with Amelia’s functionality and overall performance to date. SEB plans to continue to utilise the Amelia-AI “digital employee” platform to enhance its customer service offerings.

The fundamental difference between SEB and Nordnet’s strategic thinking and views on Amelia are largely based on the size and resources available to each organisation. One of Sweden’s top five banks, SEB has a much larger digital development budget and more expansive AI-services programme than the minnow-sized and cost-focused Nordnet.

Nordnet CEO Peter Dahlgren went to great pains to emphasise that its decision to terminate Amelia had more to do with the niche online bank’s need to prioritise AI investments from a tight budget than any stand-out deficiencies in the customer support service robot’s core capability to deliver viable digital functions. 

“This is not about a negative attitude to Amelia. We are driven by the ambition to develop and provide the most advanced AI-applications and services to our customers,” said Dahlgren. “Right now we need to maximise the use of our resources and prioritise the key areas of AI where we believe it is most important for us to invest. We tested Amelia with customers and the results were satisfactory, even if they were not spectacular.”

Nordnet’s foray into value-added AI-platforms will see the bank refocus its attention on high-performance but cost-efficient automated customer service applications. The focus on AI and machine learning forms an integral part of the bank’s long-term plan to broaden its product and services offerings. Long-term, the bank wants to expand its geographical reach and customer base for mainstream savings and investment products in Scandinavia and to markets beyond Nordic shores.

“This is about rearranging our AI priorities so we can have a greater impact on customer support and benefits in other areas,” said Dahlgren.

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The dropping of Amelia, however driven the decision might have been to prioritise certain AI resources, is nevertheless a disappointing outcome for Nordnet which held out high hopes that it could build digital employee platforms based on IPsoft’s software.

Nordnet’s collaboration with IPsoft commenced in August 2017. Built on years of pioneering and cognitive research, Nordnet viewed the Amelia-AI platform as instrumental to growing its long-term online banking presence.

The bank set out to use AI to bolster its automated customer services offerings and at the same time enable it to better control costs as the bank spread its wings domestically in Sweden and across borders.

Likewise, the loss of Nordnet as a customer and long-term partner for Amelia was also bad news for IPsoft, which has around 550 customers worldwide using Amelia.

IPsoft had hoped that its collaboration with Nordnet would lead the bank to integrate the Amelia-AI platform to enhance its various customer support programmes. Within this envisaged process, a range of new applications and offerings would be developed around Amelia to initially serve Nordnet’s customers in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.

Both the customer and supplier hoped the partnership would enable the bank to scale customer interactions as Amelia was rolled out to an ever-larger number of Nordnet’s investment and savings customers.

Platform integration

Tentative actions to integrate the Amelia-AI platform across core areas of Nordnet’s customer support operations commenced during the fourth quarter of 2017. In its initial role, Amelia was deployed to support new bank customers through the onboarding process. It provided voice-based, step-by-step and interactive tools to help new customers activate their account.

One of Nordnet’s primary requirements was that Amelia’s embedded capabilities could be leveraged to learn quickly, manage complex dialogues and respond to analytical triggers in real time.

Of significant value to Nordnet was Amelia’s 24/7 availability and its capacity to allow customers to “set up” new services at times convenient to them. Moreover, the Amelia-AI platform’s ability to connect conversations to data and processes, as part of providing a personalised service to customers at scale, also attracted Nordnet to IPsoft’s offering.

Despite the setback encountered with Nordnet, IPsoft continues to deepen its relationship with SEB Bank, which is now the American company’s biggest AI-customer in Sweden. SEB deployed Amelia in late 2016 within the bank’s internal IT support unit. The bank views AI-service platforms as a key differentiator in the competition for customers, said Rasmus Järborg, SEB’s chief strategy officer.

“Amelia is an additional means for the bank to increase accessibility for our customers and individualise our services to a greater degree,” said Järborg.

Integration and expansion

The integration and expansion of the Amelia-AI platform’s role at SEB is being closely monitored by CEO Johan Torgeby.

“Going forward, we believe speed will be even more important, and that anything that can be automated will be automated,” he said. “The transformation of the bank is accelerating. This will include changing the ways we work and becoming more data-driven.”

The SEB AI-agent Aida is one service to emerge from the Amelia platform and SEB’s partnership with IPsoft. The Aida chatbot provides assistance both in internal IT support as well as in answering “chat” questions on the bank’s primary customer website seb.se.

The Aida project was launched with narrowly defined application areas. Its main objective is to create an entirely new channel in which customers can solicit and receive answers to their questions 24 hours a day.

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