Buying a home? Here’s how technology can make it easier.

The Royal Bank of Scotland taps AI and cloud to help mortgage call centers

By | 3 minute read | March 3, 2020

Ramsay Garden, Edinburgh, UK | Photo by Emran Yousof on Unsplash

“Buying a home is one of the hardest things we’ve ever done,” said Andy Scoherty. “Mortgages are complicated, and it’s just hard for us to know if we had all the right information.”

Scoherty spoke to Industrious from the new home he purchased recently with partner Chris. It’s located just outside of Greenock, Scotland.

“It’s nice to see so much effort, planning and saving all come together in the end, especially as first-time homebuyers,” Scoherty said.

“Effort” is an understatement. To obtain a mortgage, potential buyers must be pre-approved, research interest rates, and meet with multiple banks. According to NPR, “After 10 years of paying for your house, you could have $121,000 worth of ownership built up — or you could have only $42,000.” No small difference. If buyers don’t make the right financial decisions early on, they (and their families) could be paying for them for many years to come.

For first-time homebuyers, the amount of information it takes to make an informed decision can be daunting. The Scohertys began their homebuying journey in 2018. They worked with Royal Bank of Scotland, which manages over £748 billion in assets.

Obtaining a bank-issued mortgage is usually one of the first steps in realizing the dream of home ownership. For banks, supporting customers during this process has become increasingly difficult. Regulations, products, and processes are continuously evolving. Keeping up with the most up-to-date information can be difficult, even for the most state-of-the-art banks.

To help the Scohertys, Royal Bank of Scotland needed to access and apply accurate policies to his unique set of needs throughout the homebuying process. Customer support teams needed information ready and available at all times. But this proved nearly impossible because of how spread apart the bank’s data systems were. To solve this problem, Royal Bank of Scotland turned to IBM.

“When we started the project, we quickly realized the bank’s data was sitting at a whole variety of separate on-premise solutions,” said IBM Consultant Peter Smith. “We needed to put it into a single cloud [to enable one single point of access for employees]. What we’ve developed is something that’s totally unique to what the bank needed: a customized AI platform, built with Watson Assistant, for the mortgage contact center.”

Sitting side-by-side, the Royal Bank of Scotland and IBM teams co-created an AI-powered, cloud-based platform that provides mortgage call center employees with information at their fingertips to support homebuyers.

The platform is called Marge. Launched on Valentine’s Day, she’s designed to be smart and approachable. Intentionally personified as a member of the Royal Bank of Scotland team, she even has her own, evolving (sometimes cheeky) personality.

“She does everything for us,” MaryAnn Fleming, Royal Bank of Scotland Head of Homebuying Services said.  “We’ve identified her as ‘Marge’ because she’s human, she’s empathetic. As far as we’re concerned, she’s a colleague. It’s very difficult to consider her as a platform, as a system with no emotion.”

Marge was built directly on the cloud, embedded in the bank’s existing data structures. She has access to new data added every minute via content updates and customer interactions.

For Royal Bank of Scotland mortgage call center employees, she’s their AI brain.

“Our contact center is key to our overall business,” said Fleming. “The challenge was being able to provide customers with the best possible service for their needs.”

The value of change, and variety of products and knowledge base Royal Bank of Scotland call center employees had to retain made it challenging for them to focus on the customer. They’d instead focus on getting the answer to their next question, according to Fleming.

Today, Royal Bank of Scotland employees can now get quick support from Marge by typing keywords into a console while they’re on the phone with a customer. Thanks to the easily accessible technology, the employees are now able to support new and existing home buying customers.

Since implementing the tool, the bank has seen a 20 percent improvement in customer feedback across the board.

As Marge evolves, Royal Bank of Scotland employees will be empowered to do great work, and the bank will continue on its journey to becoming a Cognitive Enterprise, IBM’s vision for the next generation business model.

For the Scohertys, that’s materialized in buying their first home.

“For us, the home buying process was made very simple,” Scoherty said. “The Royal Bank of Scotland supported us in every step of our journey.”