Artificial intelligence is primed to revolutionise every level of society, including banking — but those who’ve been wowed by recent advances in the technology might not realise how it’s already shaping their lives.

AI for CommBank customers

AI has long been the foundation of CommBank app features like Bill Sense, which predicts bills and forecasts cash flows so customers can stay ahead; Benefits finder, which has connected customers to $1 billion in unclaimed benefits and grants; and personalised shopping offers that help customers save money.

The CommBank app is used by 7.3 million customers, meaning AI can have a huge impact on how they manage their spending —especially valuable amid changes in the cost of living.

Dr Andrew McMullan, CommBank’s Chief Data and Analytics Officer, says these kinds of app features are only possible when AI is intelligent enough to understand and make predictions about vast amounts of data.

“AI allows us to be smarter with how we serve customers and provide an enhanced customer experience,” says Dr McMullan.

“In many instances we’re able to solve complex problems because of AI, in ways that are more sophisticated and effective than we were previously able with humans alone.”

A prime example of this is the AI-driven capability to analyse customer documents, a result of CommBank’s partnership with global AI leader

Interpreting millions of these documents would be an immensely time-intensive task for a human — but AI can rapidly read even hard-to-read documents and ultimately provide an easier, faster and more accurate experience for customers.

Protecting customers with AI

With Australians continuing to lose large sums of money as a result of fraud and scams, AI is playing an important role at CommBank in helping to identify possible fraud and keep customers safe in real-time.

The bank recently announced two scam detection initiatives underpinned by AI: NameCheck, which indicates whether customers are transferring money to the person they think they’re transferring to; and CallerCheck, which uses the CommBank app to verify that it’s a genuine employee of the bank contacting them by phone.

Andrew McMullan at H2O World Dr Andrew McMullan at the AI conference H2O World

“These two initiatives build on a suite of recent announcements from the bank aimed at using AI to help protect customers from scams, including behavioural security technology announced last year designed to detect suspicious and unusual behaviour,” says Dr McMullan, who is interviewed in the April 2023 issue of Qantas magazine about how Australian businesses are using AI.

AI is also deployed to address the small but deeply serious problem of people who send threatening messages in the description of small monetary transactions. CommBank launched a filter in 2020 that blocks offensive words in these transactions, and significant work has since been undertaken to use AI to identify messages as abusive even if they don’t contain abusive keywords.

CommBank won an iTnews Benchmark Award in 2023 recognising this work, which Dr McMullan says the bank is extremely proud of.

“This innovation is a world-first AI system that is protecting everyday Australians from abuse,” he says, adding that the bank intends to share the feature with other financial institutions to protect more people.

How AI and humans work together

As AI advances, a big question is: how far could it replace the work done by people?

While AI is limited in its capabilities, technologies change the roles humans play alongside them as they advance.

Dr McMullan explains that at CommBank, AI is already used as a tool for employees to deliver better experiences for customers. The bank’s flagship AI capability, its customer engagement engine — which makes 53 million decisions per day — allows frontline teams to have more relevant and personalised conversation with customers.

Nonetheless, “AI can’t do it alone,” says Dr McMullan, who recently spoke about the future of the technology on a panel alongside other AI experts.

“Human intervention and judgement are needed — clearly creativity, intuition and experience still play a really important role.”

The other big question about AI: is it safe?

Dr McMullan says CommBank is committed to developing AI that’s “explainable”, free from bias, and protects customers’ data and privacy. The bank is a leader in helping to shape Australia’s responsible AI framework — the principles businesses, government, universities and communities should use when using AI.

“We participated in the Australian Government’s Australian AI Ethics Principles pilot, and shared our learnings and experiences about employing AI when creating and designing Bill Sense,” he says.

He's an “eternal optimist” about the future of AI and banking.

“Considering the ground-breaking advancements in AI during the past few years, and the explosion in popularity of generative AI like ChatGPT, I’m looking forward to seeing how AI will evolve and develop,” he says.

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