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Bankers and chatbots: ‘She still doesn’t know a lot of things’

(Bloomberg) -- Her name is Aida. She’s the artificial intelligence unit that SEB AB, one of Sweden’s biggest banks, is using to replace humans for selected functions.

According to the bank’s chief executive officer, Johan Torgeby, she’s great at some things and not so good at others. But with SEB moving ahead with the technology much earlier than most others, he says that’s part of the learning curve and he’s not worried.

“It takes time, so it’s not particularly impressive right now,” he said in an interview in Stockholm on Tuesday. “I wouldn’t stand here bragging about it.”

“She still doesn’t know a lot of things, but we are not disappointed,” Torgeby said. “We knew this was cutting-edge. We were one of the first banks in the world trying it out.”

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An SEB logo sits on display outside an SEB Banka AS bank branch in Riga, Latvia. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Among the hurdles that Aida’s trying to overcome is a linguistic one. “We do struggle with Swedish, particularly some dialects. And we’ll get there,” the CEO said.

SEB launched its chatbot last year in order to help free up its human employees for more complex tasks. Torgeby says the bank is actually hiring about 1,400 to 1,500 every year to help it fulfill its digital ambitions.

Not all efforts to add technology to Swedish banking services are proving successful. Earlier this year, an online securities trading provider, Nordnet AB, said it was scrapping its chatbot, Amelia, after the project was deemed a flop, according to local media.

“The problem is, the things they do well, they do well. It’s all the things they don’t do so well that you want to minimize,” Torgeby said. “I saw the Nordnet thing, but it doesn’t have any bearing on us.”