There’s a been a lot of talk in recent years of the inevitable takeover of the robots, and how it won’t be long now before they can do everything we can and we will no longer be needed. Anyone who believes this has clearly never tried to deal with a bank’s Digital Assistant.

A Digital Assistant is basically a chat programme, which mimics human interactivity to try to make you feel more at ease as you navigate the automated faceless leviathan that is online banking. Or at least, it tries to. It doesn’t take much to get it out of its comfort zone though. Here’s what happened when I tried to find out why my bank had declined a payment to my electricity supplier.

Hi, you’re chatting to Cora and I’ll be your Digital Assistant. Ask me a question (the simpler the better) and I’ll help you find the answer.

Why was a direct debit payment declined?

I’m sorry, I’m not too sure. Could you try rephrasing the question? For example, “how do I amend a standing order?”

Declined a direct debit payment why was? Will asking like Yoda help?

OK, I see you want to manage your direct debits. Would you like to: Set up or change • View existing • Cancel • Get a refund • Reactivate • Switch

Nope, I want to know why one was declined.

Sorry, I think you are asking about Direct Debit but did not fully understand.

I did fully understand. Don’t be so condescending.

I’m just going to search our FAQs for your first question: How long does it take someone to receive money I’ve sent them? • I don’t recognise a direct debit, what can I do? • How do I cancel a direct debit? Was that helpful?


Would you like me to see if one of the team is available?


I’m sorry you haven’t found this service helpful. I can help with all sorts of everyday banking queries. Ask me a short, simple question, such as “how do I order a new card?” and I’ll be able to help.

Yes but this isn’t a short, simple question, is it? It’s a question which needs an actual human being. Hello, hello, is there an actual human being there?

Let’s see if I can help you in a different way. Just a moment. Ok, let’s see if one of my colleagues are available. This can take up to a minute. [Up to a minute passes.]

You are now chatting with Rajat. Hello.

Hello. ScottishPower tried to collect a final payment from my account yesterday and it was declined. Can you explain why?

I am very sorry to hear that, let’s work together to try and resolve this within this chat for you. Please help me with your full name and the account number last 4 digits.

Andrew Goodwin, xxxx

Thanks. Andrew, did they try via direct debit?

At which point, given that my opening question was “Why was a direct debit payment declined?”, I started to bang my head on my desk. In fact I wasn’t at all convinced that Rajat wasn’t also a computerised assistant until he wrote “No there is nothing from there end, it seems that they have not tried to take the money out for your account.” Only a human being would write “there” when they meant “their”. Dream on robots. You’ll never be able to mimic that level of basic ignorance.

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