News & Views - Savantor

YBS Virtual Assistant

Monday, 02 January 2006

Have we seen the first tentative steps towards the finance industry's acceptance of customer-facing virtual technology? During the latter part of 2005, Yorkshire Building Society (YBS) introduced the world to "Helen", an entirely virtual assistant offering online mortgage assistance to its customers (

Helen has proved, at least initially, something of a success with over 3,000 users taking up the challenge to converse with her and, as was inevitable, trying to trip her up. Only time will tell on her long-term appeal, but its good to see a building society committing to new possibilities to this degree.

From a technological perspective, the feature that stands out with this YBS initiative is the natural language interface, enabling customers to converse in plain English rather than specific keywords being picked out or the customer needing to select from a set of predefined questions.

Savantor has regarded this move as an inevitable step for some time, although inertia within the industry towards the adoption of unassisted customer-facing technologies has not helped its progress.

In 2001, Savantor investigated and prototyped the use of virtual worlds for precisely this type of business environment, to offer customers financial services and advice across the internet in a new, engaging and memorable environment. At the time, we found that the traditional approach of financial institutions hampered investment, despite individuals recognising potential benefits.

Following this bold step from YBS, we hope that more banks and building societies will start to look at improving everyone's banking experience by embracing new and exciting technologies in the same way. We'll be watching closely to see where this ultimately leads and what other areas could benefit from Helen's expertise. 

If you are interested to learn more about the business uses and customer benefits of this technology then email us at

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