Singlish OK for OCBC's new voice-activated service

OCBC Bank customers can use simple Singlish to make mobile banking requests via a voice-activated virtual assistant that is up and running on the bank's mobile app.

A customer speaks to the Banking Assistant on the app as if conversing with a human and the request task gets done.

It can process requests made using "unstructured phrases" commonly used here such as "Can pay my bill?" and "How much I spend on dining?", said OCBC yesterday.

Besides paying bills and tracking expenses, it can give ATM locations and change banking PINs.

The new service has helped with more than 20,000 voice requests since Aug 19, said OCBC.

Half the requests sought information on spending categories and budgets, while 30 per cent were about past banking transactions.

The Banking Assistant was developed with Clinc, a United States-based fintech specialising in conversational artificial intelligence.

While it was available for use outside Singapore, it had to be re-engineered for the local context and integrated into OCBC's banking system to enable bills to be paid seamlessly - a process that spanned around 13 months.

The Assistant was configured to process the way Singaporeans talk and to "understand" potential requests made in simple Singlish in order to pull up the right information or launch the right service, said OCBC.

It was also trained to incorporate "logic" in its responses. So, if the customer wants to pay a bill but does not mention the bank account to debit, the Assistant will prompt him accordingly.

"Ordering up and carrying out commonly used banking services just by talking to their smartphones will make it much easier for our customers to manage, move and multiply their finances on their own terms," said Mr Aditya Gupta, OCBC's head of digital business for Singapore and Malaysia.

"Voice-based conversational banking is one of our high-conviction bets."

OCBC customers have been able to use Apple's voice assistant Siri to check their bank balances, credit card information and make e-payments since February last year.

The Google Assistant was integrated with OCBC's services in April, enabling conversations about retirement planning, a new home, and saving for a child's education, besides getting financial market updates.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2019, with the headline 'Singlish OK for OCBC's new voice-activated service'. Print Edition | Subscribe