Monese customers ‘bank without boundaries’ thanks to Unbabel translations

Jessica Twentyman Profile picture for user jtwentyman December 30, 2018
Customer service agents at the challenger bank can receive incoming queries in a range of languages and respond in kind, thanks to a translation-as-a-service platform playing piggy-in-the-middle.

Back in October, European challenger bank Monese announced that, off the back of its latest, $60 million funding round, it was launching a third office in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, to join its existing operations in London and Tallinn, the capital of Estonia.

Lisbon, as Monese CEO Norris Koppel explained at the time, is one of Europe’s top hubs for tech talent. It’s also the home of Unbabel, which provides translation software and services to Monese, along with other companies including Facebook, airline Easyjet and sportswear retailer Under Armour.

All these customers have Unbabel’s ‘translation as a service’ platform integrated into their customer communication workflows, either via API [application programming interface] or by native integration with the customer experience platforms that they’ve deployed, including Salesforce, Zendesk, Intercom and Freshworks.

So how is Monese using Unbabel? To find out more, I recently caught up with Monese CTO Lauri Haav and Unbabel CEO Vasco Pedro.

Speaking the same language

Basically, using Unbabel integrated with the Intercom customer service platform means that Monese customer service agents can handle enquiries in a wide range of different languages.

That’s important, because when the mobile bank first launched in 2015, one of its main focuses was helping newcomers to the UK open a bank account with first needing a UK address - something many high-street banks refused to do at the time, Haav explains. And that, he says, was often a big headache for visiting students and migrant workers.

Since that time, Monese has continued to help people wanting to ‘bank without borders’; for example, with the launch of a dual UK/Euro IBAN current account in mid-2017 and a ‘premium account’ for dual UK/EU citizens earlier this month.

To date, more than 700,000 people have downloaded the Monese app, says Haav. It’s available in 12 different languages and 60% of users don’t use the app in English:

Our customers expect to be served in their own first language, right? They don’t expect us to serve them in English, just because we are UK-registered or headquartered in London. But as a start-up company with a relatively small team, this quickly became more complicated as we launched new products and entered new markets. What we did initially was try and hire a very multilingual team, but this kind of talent is pretty hard to find… which is when we came across Unbabel about a year ago.

Neural Machine Translation

Founded in August 2013, Unbabel charges customers a subscription based on the volume of communications - per email, per chat and so on. Machine translation may be supplemented, where necessary, by Unbabel’s in-house team of human linguists, depending on the type of content being translated and the appropriate trade-off between accuracy/nuance and speed. The company now supports 28 languages and recently opened offices in San Francisco.

Using this kind of service, meanwhile, gives Monese customers a great deal of peace of mind, says Haav:

We receive all sorts of queries for which we can use Unbabel. Some are quite simple - the customers is asking how long something takes, for example. But some are quite stressful for the customer - they’ve lost their bank card, or their card has been compromised and they’re dealing with transaction disputes. Lately we’ve had the British Airways breach, the Marriott breach, the TicketMaster breach - and of course, if this happens to you, you want to get help as quickly as possible, preferably in your first language, because these are stressful situations, in which you want to understand exactly what you need to do and what will happen next.

Unbabel’s Neural Machine Translation software receives incoming customer communications, translates them and passes them on a Monese customer agent. The agent’s response, similarly, passes through the software on its way to the customer. Unbabel’s software directly translates around 40% to 45% of customer tickets received - typically emails - and Monese is now taking its use further by introducing translation for chat services, too.

But how will this work, given that the need to translate obviously introduces some delay? This won’t be the typical ‘live chat’ scenario, Haav concedes. Instead, it will be more like a messaging service between the customer and Monese, where short wait times are generally tolerated, rather than the immediate back-and-forth of live chat. As an example, he points to Airbnb messaging between hosts and guests. So far, this is working well for Monese, he says:

It’s not necessarily happening in real time, but we’re very satisfied with turnaround times and for translation, which I would say is very reasonable - minutes, rather than tens of minutes.

In fact, says Unbabel CEO Vasco Pedro, these short delays can be advantageous, in that they enable a customer service agent to be handling three, maybe four chat conversations at the same time.

For Haav at Monese, meanwhile, it’s all about offering a differentiated customer experience at a time when many other challenger banks - think Starling, or Monzo - are jockeying for position:

In customer experience terms, this has been really important to us. As a challenger bank, we like to do things differently, of course, and being able to communicate with us in their preferred language makes for a more rewarding and higher-quality customer experience. I think it’s made our customers demonstrably happier with us.


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