We are extremely proud and honoured to be one of three South African AI startups chosen for the prestigious Young Enterprise Initiative (YEI) program (2019-2020).
The #YEI program by the French government and partners identify and promote highly innovative AI companies around the world with a view to assisting and promoting program laureates, and fostering relationships with France's well-established AI and technology ecosystem.
The selection panel for the award was made up of French officials, the South African Department of Science and Technology and tech industry experts. One of the main criteria based on which companies were chosen, according to the YEI website: "You are deeptech: your project is based on a scientific discovery, an advanced technology, a complex engineering process or an innovative application of an existing technology- Your idea is really innovative in the way that your project lies in the latest international state of the art".
Ubiquity AI - based in South Africa and France - has been immersed in R&D since 2016 to develop an AI communications solution that broaden access to financial services in South Africa, culminating in #Simone - the world's first AI chatbot designed to identify indicators of consumer distress and help consumers. Simone started out as an ambitious technology project to put and end to inefficient one-way communications between financial services companies and their customers - making letters, SMSes and emails from unattended boxes obsolete. The idea was simple - automate ALL customer communications through two-way channels - in a way that empowers customers and saves companies a ton of money, while mitigating their risk. Achieving the goal was a different matter altogether.
"#Simone is the world's first AI chatbot designed to identify indicators of consumer distress"
Simone will ultimately manage 100% of all customer communications and shortly, we will begin incorporating and testing blockchain technology that will enable Simone to transmit confidential and highly sensitive materials like contracts and bank statements directly on her chatbot platform. In doing so, (1) Simone can explain any communication or document coming from a financial provider - from a new agreement to a statement - in plain language that a consumer can understand and (2) enable and encourage two-way communications with the customer, which Simone can then hand over to a real customer agent if required. We think this is a game changer in the financial services sector, not just in South Africa, but globally.
Simone's underlying technologies incorporate AI, #blockchain, robotic process automation (#RPA) and natural language processing (#NLP) - and we are very confident that no similar technology - including the combination, the application, or execution of these technologies - exists anywhere in the world.
The inspiration behind Simone
While the Simone project started out as a fintech tool, we really zoned and focussed on addressing specific problems in the financial services sector after Ubiquity AI participated in South African Parliamentary deliberations about the "Debt Relief" bill - a two-year legislative process culminating in the National Credit Amendment Act. In those hearings, there was agreement from both government departments and the financial services industry that poor consumer education/literacy and access to advice were leading contributors South Africa's consumer debt crisis. And yes, we are in a debt crisis. We believe that over-indebtedness is a barrier to upward mobility and destroys lives. There are currently no feasible and cost-effective solutions on the table to address this crisis and we believe new thinking and a disruptive approach could present answers.
Ubiquity AI took the challenges and issues identified in South African Parliamentary hearings by the National Credit Regulator (#NCR), National Treasury, the Department of Trade and Industry and Competition (#DTIC), the banking Association of SA (#BASA), the Debt Counsellors Association of SA (#DCASA) and others, and directly developed Simone's AI algorithm around those issues. Simone not only represents one of the most customer-centric technology leaps in years in the financial services sector, our technology can also be used by financial services providers and the NCR to gain real-time insights into consumers, including behavioural intent, awareness or the level of complaints against credit providers.
"Ubiquity AI took the challenges and issues identified in South African Parliamentary deliberations around the Debt Relief bill and directly developed Simone's AI algorithm around those issues"
Simone's core functions
Identifying customers in financial distress before a payment default and providing education and assistance
Improving customer-centricity - automating aftercare functions, which is expensive and not well done
Dealing with issues that customers find too embarrassing or fearful to speak to a real person about
Handling and monitoring complaints to resolution
Transmitting all documentation securely via blockchain - and explaining what they mean
Providing managers with real-time dashboards into customer issues and employee performance
Promoting positive credit behaviour
How Simone works
Simone is an AI chatbot that integrates with a provider via API. The system reaches out to a customer database or subset denied by the provider. A customer chooses opts in (or not) on secure platforms like WhatsApp.
On the backend, Simone is connected to our process automation system, in which she can directly escalate a ticket from natural language conversation to a company agent via our own app.
Ahead of a payment event (an instalment or premium payment), Simone will reach out to a customer, designed to trigger a customer reponse, to determine a consumer's payment intent.
Based on the customers response (or lack thereof), Simone will autonomously execute processes to keep the provider informed and assist the consumer if the consumer needs help. For example, if a customer was retrenched, Simone will explain the customer's rights to him/her under the NCA, tokenise the conversation and escalate the the conversation to a human agent to provide the customer with options.
The human hand-off process (hand-the-baton model) is managed and tracked by Simone until resolution, to ensure a customer will only need to contact her. In cases where a consumer MUST speak to a person, Simone will explain and set it up and the agent must update her ticketing system accordingly.
Our natural language technology is not only developed to understand South African much better, it is also designed to structure and store conversational snippets and trigger the automation process. Simone will also be available in local vernacular languages, as we strongly believe in connecting with people in their mother-tongue.
Demo - How Simone determines payment intent and deals with customer distress
Our aim is to have Simone close the conversation loop 100% of the time - even if she hands off an issue to a human. Human-machine collaboration is hardwired in our technology philosophy, which can best be described as a hand-the-baton model. These are two critical precursor for AI agents to gain public trust and confidence, and for chatbots to become mainstream. While we are focussed on financial services, we've also identified other areas where our technology can improve lives, like preventative healthcare and disease-management, improving access and accountability for public sector service delivery, and improving and driving down the cost of education.