By Jelena Lapčević, Raiffeisen banka in Serbia |

As in all markets, banks in Serbia are joining the race to introduce innovations: Who will be the first to implement some cutting-edge feature in banking business? Who will be the first to offer an innovative service or product? Raiffeisen banka in Serbia has always been among the first, when it comes to digital innovation. It was the first bank in the market to offer electronic banking to its clients back in 2003. In the past 16 years, the bank continually improved its digital services, so they would not fall much behind those in developed markets. Last year it received the title “Best Digital Bank” awarded by Global Finance magazine.

However, the “race” intensified in the past years to such an extent as to become in fact a short-distance sprint and at the start of 2018, Raiffeisen banka took the lead by introducing an innovation so far unknown to the Serbian banking market. A “banking officer” was officially introduced whom you will neither find in a branch office, nor in the contact center. Her name is REA (Raiffeisen Electronic Assistant) and she can be contacted via Facebook Messenger or Viber 24/7! But the most interesting thing about REA (apart from her attractive appearance, which will be commented on later), is the fact that she operates based on artificial intelligence. By implementing this solution, Raiffeisen banka became the first bank in the country to offer a completely new and unique service so far – a platform based on artificial intelligence that enables clients to communicate with the bank.

Apart from gaining competitive advantage, the bank wanted to respond to the market’s growing need for obtaining information fast, so that all clients, but also those who still are not, have a much easier way to receive all necessary information concerning doing business with the bank.

The chatbot software solution has been developed in cooperation with the company Saga from Belgrade and the application is innovative also on an international scale. Unlike other communication solutions based on so-called decision-tree communication, REA is an “enterprise bot” and operates based on artificial intelligence and a complete understanding of natural language. REA speaks Serbian and English and converses interactively with the clients, very similar to communication between two real people. Thanks to the platform being integrated into systems within the bank, REA can offer personalized information, like a conversation with an employee in the bank’s contact center.

This solved the problem of potential depersonalization in communication and REA’s creators also made an effort to give her a humane touch, so that users are sometimes surprised when she sends them a nice joke or a message in contemporary Serbian, showing a rich vocabulary.

In regard to concrete banking topics, for the time being REA can help clients by responding to enquiries about the bank’s products and services, finding the nearest ATM or branch office, arranging meetings, even solving some complaints. REA can also process longer messages or more comprehensive requests and enquiries, as well as return to a previously started topic, or continue communication with the client after completion of the registration process.

Since it is based on AI, REA is improving with time and the scope of information she can provide grows. The team working on the task of enabling REA to constantly develop and learn made it possible for her to perform more complex transactions, such as selling the bank’s products, transferring money through the “Mobile Cash” service, generating codes for settling credit card or loan debt, checking account balance per loan products, etc.

The bank focused on the fact that REA should not just be a smart (and boring) banking chatbot, so special efforts were invested into designing a female character. With a likeable appearance, blond hair and heterochromatic eyes (the association with David Bowie is unintentional), REA won the hearts of many users, especially the younger ones. Some attempts at courting and asking her out on a date were also noted, which REA, as a professional banking officer, politely declined of course.

Her “popularity” is best illustrated by numbers: in a year of communicating with clients, REA had 550,000 interactions with users, and at the moment 100,000 Viber users! REA Viber stickers adapted for everyday communication were also available for several months and were used more than 200,000 times.

Raiffeisen banka’s last-year’s advertising campaign that was designed to promote the bank’s digital services additionally contributed to REA’s popularity, since she is the main character in the TV commercial and “leads” clients through all the possibilities the bank offers in the digital channels segment. The campaign itself is a novelty in the Serbian banking market, since it introduces an animated character as the bank’s new face, as is fitting for a bank that aims to be a leader in the digital banking segment.

Serbia has around seven million inhabitants and Raiffeisen banka counts around 572,000 retail clients, but the percentage of digitally active clients is still not at a very high level. Nevertheless, REA won the clients’ hearts and it can be rightly said that she is a likely candidate for the title of the most loved banking officer in Serbia.