BANKING interaction could reach a whole new dimension thanks to a big-eyed, head-shaking, cute and helpful robot created by a talented and imaginative bright young Bahraini intern.
Shaima Almeer was given the green light to take the project forward and her working prototype has impressed bosses at Bahrain Islamic Bank (BisB) and amazed visitors at a recent technology exhibition.
The banking industry is making giant strides by introducing FinTech elements into everyday activities and artificial intelligence looks set to be another step towards attracting tech-savvy clientele and making financial services more user-friendly and fun.
The Bahrain Polytechnic student, who celebrates her 23rd birthday today, lives with her parents in East Riffa. She named her creation BisB AI-Agent. “Artificial intelligence has been a fascinating concept of science fiction for decades, but it was never as popular as it is today,” said Shaima.
“I undoubtedly point in the direction that AI will herald a transformational change in the banking industry, for it can dramatically save costs! However, it all depends on the customer’s level of comfort with AI.
“In my perspective, AI is just a powerful business tool that supports companies into producing a finer customer experience. Also, it may become an essential tool, not just a ‘nice to have’, but a ‘must have’ technology.
“I love FinTech because it supports young generations to take initiatives into developing and accelerating their ideas. Moreover, it is known for its innovation labs, accelerated programmes and educational opportunities.”
As part of her senior project at polytechnic, she was required to collaborate with one of the industries in the kingdom to identify and investigate a current challenge and to come up with an effective ICT solution.
She had been a trainee at BisB for almost a year, on-and-off, and with the guidance of Osama AlNasr, head of ICT, took on her project internship with the award-winning bank.
She came up with her innovative concept and proposed its development with her industry mentors, Abdulsalam Alasaadi and Asma Alsayed. “After pitching my idea, both the mentors directly signed off my proposal and I was ready to go with the project,” she said.“I utilised several programming languages to develop an artificial intelligence system to be deployed on the robot.
“The system enabled BisB customers to view the latest and trending services, view video-graphical tutorials on how to perform certain tasks, view the maps of different branches via QR codes and rate their experience.
“I also configured six different touch sensors with five speech dialogues enabling customer physical interaction. Also, I integrated a user-defined voice, where customers were able to communicate with the robot via a speech manager and speech recognition.
“The following implementations were hosted on Amazon Web Services, providing a highly available, redundant, decoupled and secure cloud infrastructure, to better serve BisB customers.
“Sanbot was not like a normal banking machine, for she does not execute fund transactions but rather she provides an innovative, digitalised and entertaining means for BisB customers to learn more about services and offers.
“Sanbot is her default name, given by her manufacturer. However, for the current project, I named her ‘BisB AI-Agent’. I specifically chose this name as it summarised the entire concept of the project.”
The presentation took place at Bahrain Polytechnic as part of a recent information and communication technology exhibition. This exhibition occurs every semester allowing students to showcase their projects.
“Visitors and Bahrain Polytechnic management were astonished and excited to learn more about what the BisB AI-Agent was able to do,” said Shaima, who posted it interacting people on social media to much acclaim and generating thousands of views.
“BisB AI-Agent gained mass attention from the public, for she is the first of her kind in the Kingdom of Bahrain. The project is still in its testing phase. The bank would like to investigate and study customer reaction towards having such a kind of advanced technology at hand.”
BisB recently emerged a winner as the ‘Fastest Growing Islamic Bank in Bahrain’ at the 13th Islamic Business & Finance Awards held in Dubai, much to the delight of CEO Hassan Jarrar. This marked the third win for the bank which has previously been recognised for its role in pioneering the kingdom’s Islamic finance industry and contributing to the country’s digital evolution securing both ‘Best Online Bank Bahrain’ by Global Business Outlook, and ‘Most Innovative Islamic Bank’ by International Finance Magazine.
Mahmood Qannati, BisB’s head of marketing, brand & corporate communication, told FinTech Focus: “We first met Shaima Almeer as a bright young Bahraini student from Bahrain Polytechnic University when she interned at the bank.
“Given her contagious enthusiasm and positivity, we gave her the challenge of working on an artificial intelligence robotics application, which ultimately aimed to simplify banking services for our customers.
“The bank’s strategy is to continue to expand and embrace the digital mind-set. With customers in mind, the bank is continually deploying state-of-the-art digital platforms and innovative product and service offerings.
“In the past few years, our main focus at BisB has been to deliver more innovative products and services for our customers, to simplify their lives by enabling them to conduct faster hassle-free banking transactions. Therefore, one of our key strategies in the past few years has been paving the way for the industry’s digital transformation and contribute to elevating the standards of banking in the kingdom.
“This inspired us to launch an in-house Innovation Lab, to instil a fresh work environment that encourages our staff to ‘think outside the box’ and brainstorm new ideas. We equipped the lab with various new technologies to test pilot our new products and services and Sanbot was the perfect addition: an intelligent robot!
“Today, we are looking to invest in other advanced technologies, including chat-bots, to further simplify our banking services and improve customer experience.”
The bank is also keen to ‘support and develop’ young Bahraini talent. True to form, it has invested in workshops and has also launched a Summer Training Programme for undergraduate students for them to gain knowledge about the inner workings and its various departments.
It has also gone beyond traditional work experience too by sponsoring students’ trips to underdeveloped countries to increase their cross-cultural awareness. These exchange programmes ‘are truly an excellent way to develop young minds in a holistic manner’, said Mahmood, adding that new projects for the young were in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, Shaima remains keen to develop her skills further and make a name for herself in the sector as banking really is in her blood. Both her parents Shawqi Almeer and Samira Alsalman used to work in banks. “I would like to thank them for always being my Number One motivators,” she said. “I would also like to thank my grandparents for their continuous prayers and support. Ali Shahbaz, my academic supervisor, also had a huge impact on the success of my project.”
As for BisB, it recognises talent when it sees it. “As a general rule of thumb, we give priority to our interns when looking to fill in any internal vacancies, as they are already familiarised with the bank and how we function. We have no doubts on Shaima’s future success, in the short five months she has worked with us, she left a great first impression, and has truly excelled in her role and overall job performance,” added Mahmood.
Stanley Louis Szecowka
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