Microsoft and Nationwide team up for week long botathon

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What are Bots?

One of the hottest topics in innovation at present is the use of Bots to provide a more effective human centred experience for colleagues and customers in Financial Services.

‘Bots’ can improve channels of communication with users without necessarily requiring an app to be installed. They sometimes use machine learning, which allows computers to display human like characteristics - i.e. reading sentences.

How could Bots benefit customer service?

Bots can be taught to learn what people write and then respond accordingly. A user can communicate with a bot that provides a service through this type of conversation via Skype, Facebook messenger or other routes. So a banking customer might connect to their bank's bot to enquire about their bank balance using Skype or perhaps ask to transfer money via a message application such as WhatsApp or Messenger.

The Microsoft & Nationwide Botathon

To explore this hot topic further Microsoft and Nationwide ran a ‘Botathon’ running from the 18th - 21st July at Microsoft’s UK Headquarters in Thames Park, Reading, UK. This was a truly collaborative effort involving mixed teams of Microsoft Developers, the Nationwide Group Innovation team and the Technical Development Programme.

The purpose of this event was to demonstrate technical innovation, collaboration and teamwork. The five teams – “Botty McBotFace”, “Hack Attack”, “Artificial Intelligence”, “ByteMe” and “#Haccd” had to each come up with an idea that demonstrated how “Conversation as a Service” can be applied to a financial services scenario. They then had to pitch the idea and build a prototype to demonstrate value to a panel of selected judges. 

“ Having grown out of an original need to provide a straightforward ‘end of year’ project for the TDP group, this event has massively exceeded expectations and raised the bar in terms of the potential application of cutting edge technology to improve the customer experience for our members. ”

Mark, Technical Development Programme Manager

During the event, a number of suggestions were explored, including:

• A personal assistant hosted within a banking app to provide product information tailored by customer’s natural language questions and so avoiding a manual trawl through numerous web pages
• A support tool hosted within branches used by employees which could answer general queries quickly, efficiently and with a human touch
• A tool to provide a natural way to query Management Information (MI) and provide business insight which doesn’t require the user to be an expert in any particular MI application.  

“ It’s really great to see the team spirit and seeing the guys trying to solve real business problems. I’ve been really impressed with the pitches. ”

Ben Roscorla Senior Application Development Manager, Microsoft

As well as providing a demo of the technological solution the teams were also asked to consider how they would overcome potential issues with the application of this technology in the real world – for instance:
• How would they deploy these tools ensuring that the customer experience remains positive and trust is maintained?
• How would they deal with the potential risks to reputation and regulation should these tools not provide accurate up to date information?
• How would they manage the handoff from the ‘bots’ to real people should the bot not be able to answer a more complex query? 

“ The level of technical innovation was way beyond what I was expecting, I'm looking forward to progressing some solutions within Group Innovation. ”

James Lead Engineer, Group Innovation

Following the ‘botathon’ one more challenge awaits the teams – to pitch their ideas to a panel of senior Microsoft and Nationwide managers in August. The winners walk away with both prizes and bragging rights! 

“ It's been really interesting to work with a wide range of technologies some of which have been mature and established and others which are truly at inception. ”

Thomas Technical Development Programme, Nationwide

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