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Virtual assistants: Efficiency and customer self-service

With automation doing most of the heavy lifting, banking institutions can bring down costs while increasing call center productivity.

Sep 22, 2023 / Customer Experience

Artificial intelligence and automation are top of mind for bankers as they look for ways to enhance efficiency and productivity. This is not surprising given that, according to PwC, AI is expected to boost productivity by 40% in the workplace. 

Many banks have implemented virtual assistants as a way to leverage AI and drive self-service in both digital and phone channels. Still, it can be difficult to find the right approach to address today’s critical needs and plan for the future. Some banks may decide not to move forward with virtual assistants to thoroughly assess the pros and cons. While due diligence with new technology is a must, waiting too long also comes with a cost. IBM reports that 90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years, and AI technologies like ChatGPT are advancing to try to keep up with the volume. 

Many bankers realize that AI and automation can add value to their institutions. In a recent survey by Arizent, bankers ranked the top potential automation benefits as cost reduction, better customer experience and improved employee/operational efficiencies. Financial institutions that reap these benefits will find themselves well-positioned both internally and externally. 


Consumers are readily adopting AI technologies for convenience. Banking accountholders want service 24/7 to solve their financial problems quickly and expect their financial institutions to provide intuitive digital solutions and self-service options. Not only that, but research by Zendesk found that 89% of surveyed customers “will spend more with companies that allow them to find answers online without having to contact anyone.” 

Gen Z digital natives are leading the pack in self-service journeys. Though still in the beginning stages of defining their financial lives, they now make up more than 20% of the U.S. population and $360 billion in disposable income at their disposal. Their self-service expectations weigh heavily. Banks need to embrace these trends and start integrating AI for better customer experiences.  

Virtual assistants provide a promising AI-driven, self-service opportunity to connect with today’s banking customers. The global virtual assistant market is expected to reach $11.2 billion in 2031, up from $1.3 billion a decade earlier. Virtual assistants allow automation to do the heavy lifting for many service requests. Routine questions and general information requests, which account for the vast majority of customer interactions with front-line staff, can easily be offloaded to a virtual assistant. Operational efficiencies increase, bringing down costs and optimizing customer service representatives’ time for greater productivity. In fact, McKinsey discovered that harnessing big data can result in a productivity boost and a decrease in costs of up to 25%. 

With technologies advancing exponentially and consumers expecting self-service options, virtual assistants enable banks to stay competitive by meeting customer expectations. But with so many options in the marketplace, financial institutions need to proceed wisely. Banks maintain large amounts of proprietary data, so it’s important to find the best-fit virtual assistant to provide information seamlessly to customers. 

Many factors need to be considered when selecting the right solution. Here are three approaches that can help banks determine the best path forward with virtual assistants. 


Building a virtual assistant from the ground up allows banks to have a uniquely tailored solution with total creative control. Within niche business segments, such as mobile-home lending or a diverse customer base, customized virtual assistants can address specific needs and questions. This virtual assistant solution allows banks to create a unique user experience, even while it takes time and resources to develop. 

Specialized or complex workflows within the bank may also necessitate a build-your-own solution to ensure they can be captured properly for full efficiency. IT personnel is needed to build and maintain this customized solution, so banks choosing this approach should be prepared. 


Many banks may not need to build a virtual assistant from the ground up, which can be resource-intensive and time-consuming. An alternative is a turnkey virtual assistant with prebuilt use cases. Starting with a virtual assistant that is ready to go right out of the box allows banks to shorten the implementation time and time-to-value. These virtual assistants are also built for specific industries, like banking, and provide the added benefit of aggregated learning across many banks. 

Leveraging a larger data set and getting up and running in weeks versus months enables a faster return on investment and delivers a better user experience. Few, if any, IT resources are needed, and training is simpler for bank staff so they can focus on larger-value projects. 


Banks that want to provide a seamless customer experience need a solution that integrates the virtual assistant with all other interactions. This virtual assistant approach provides all the benefits of the turnkey solution and more. It enhances the customer experience, as the virtual assistant is able to transfer interactions and context to a live representative without skipping a beat. 

AI-enabled virtual assistants can contain 50% to 90% of engagements, but there are customers that need extra support, have complex or critical issues or run into roadblocks along their digital journey. Integrated virtual assistant solutions ensure that the customer can easily reach out—customer service representatives have time for these higher touch situations because the virtual assistant manages the routine inquiries. The result can be reduced abandonment and increased satisfaction while advancing digital transformation. 

The explosion of AI and automation provides an opportunity for banks to better serve their customers and grow their business through virtual assistants. Enabling virtual assistants can drives efficiency and productivity within the financial institution while meeting consumers’ self-service expectations. With the right approach to virtual assistants, banks can stay competitive now and into the future. 

Jay Choi is the chief product officer at Glia. 

We offer actionable insights on other digital evolution topics that can benefit banking institutions in the BAI Executive Report, “Keeping up with banking’s digital evolution.”