April 9, 2020

Automating Payment Holiday Requests during COVID-19

“Coronavirus has impacted every continent on Earth – except for Antarctica – and its effects will be felt for years to come. Governments, business and society are rapidly adopting new ways of living and working and some of these will stick. In this blog post – we explore how API and chatbot powered innovation could help both banks and customers as we adapt to “living with Corona”. – Simon Redfern.


Our lives have been abruptly interrupted and put on pause.

In films, you pause by pressing a button and freeze the entire world, including time itself. In the real world, we can freeze our actions but we certainly cannot freeze time… or the economy.

Governments around the globe are adopting sweeping measures to delay the spread of the virus, shutting down shops, restaurants, and pubs and leaving business owners and employees feeling anxious.

Among the anxious are people who have taken out mortgages and still have a repayment schedule to adhere to.

In Italy, the decree “Cura Italia” may give the economy a fighting chance. Article 54 outlines the temporary suspension of first home mortgage repayments for those who have suffered monetary losses due to coronavirus.

Moreover, Intesa San Paolo and Monte Paschi di Siena have taken the initiative before the decree was even approved. This debt moratorium will hopefully offer some relief to those who need it.

It is logical to expect similar measures will be taken also by other European countries and banks throughout the duration of the COVID-19 crisis. For example, UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak has promised a package of financial measures to protect the UK economy which includes a three-month mortgage holiday.

But how should a bank approach such a situation?

From initial communication to evaluating the client’s eligibility, and then actually modifying the repayment schedules… In such anxious times where reaction time is crucial, could there be a simple way?


How to Use OBP To Automate The Operation

Chatbots are well-known for their utility – they take care of things quickly and automatically.

Currently, Italian applicants for payment holidays have to present a form and the required documents to the bank, which then forwards these to the appropriate bodies. The process may take up to 15 business days.

Using conversational artificial intelligence (CAI), chatbots allow banks and users to engage in natural conversation. A chatbot primed with the latest policies would allow users to digitally request the suspension, which would reduce borrower stress and take the weight off the bank’s metaphorical shoulders.

Let’s give an example by considering a fictional Bank, a ChatBot and our end-user Silvia and observe the ideal process initiated by the end-user:

  • Silvia opens the banking app and activates the ChatBot, then requests to defer her mortgage repayment
  • The ChatBot requests the required documentation
  • Silvia provides the proof
  • ChatBot sends the confirmation to Silvia

This is easier said than done. Remember: this is an exceptional circumstance, the ChatBot was not initially designed to cope with such a situation.

So what do our Bank and ChatBot have to do in order to accommodate this new use case?

If the bank has an existing chatbot, there are a few initial steps to follow. It must, first of all, provide an easy way for the user to access the workflow, then use a combination of UI and Natural Language interactions to gather the necessary data.

The chatbot should be backed by Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools that verify the nature and quality of the uploads. Otherwise, the user may receive a confirmation message only to be solicited for documents a few days later upon manual review.

At the same time, the Bank must set up new features in the OBP middleware to communicate effectively with the chatbot.

It creates new customer attributes such as “proof” and “affected customer”, by using Create Customer Attribute API. This allows the ChatBot to store the documentation uploaded by Silva in OBP middleware without having to send it back to the Core Banking System.

After receiving and evaluating the proof, the ChatBot will trigger the Update Customer Attribute API to make sure that Silvia is categorised as a ‘momentarily non-paying customer’.

And just like that – with a few simple tweaks – lenders can protect the all-important customer experience and avoid a significant amount of hassle.


But what if the bank doesn’t have a chatbot at its disposal? There are plenty of solutions out there, but how does one choose?

Which ChatBot to Choose

There are some considerations to make before choosing a chatbot solution for your financial institution, such as the specific industry experience and domain knowledge needed to carry out operations.

But, considering the myriad of articles already out there explaining this, OBP will limit itself to providing some suggestions.



Active.ai helps to enable intuitive and smooth communication between banks and customers on mobile, chat, or voice-enabled IoT devices.


Eva Money

Eva is a virtual assistant that understands the ins and outs of banking.

This AI-powered jewel enables empathetic conversations with customers and delivers personalised responses with contextual understanding in multiple languages.



Based in Hong Kong, Clare is also an AI-powered, white-label end-to-end digital assistant. The bot learns from customers’ satisfaction and helps you maintain natural communication.

There is a plethora of chatbot vendors out there, and your choice may depend on your specific business needs.

We have already listed above what is needed to create the deferment workflow – it may be time to consider your chatbot options!

If such a solution doesn’t sound like the best way to resolve the current issue, take a moment to observe the direction in which we, as a species, are going.

Accelerated Digitization and Fiscal Stimulus

Among the unexpected side-effects, COVID-19 is bringing us closer to the digital world – at an accelerated rate.

In Italy, the first few days of lockdown may have seemed like one long Sunday. But after that, the population moved to the online world and adapted quickly. Populated group-chats and videoconferences, educational and recreational activities in the virtual reality world, and a deep dive into the realm of social media.

Considering the widespread economic difficulties, we should use the technology we already have to improve current processes and seize the moment to streamline our move to the digital world.

Everyone is contributing to the fight against this invisible enemy: Individuals, shops, digital companies, financial institutions and, of course, governments.

There has been talk of helicopter money.

The US has approved a stimulus package worth $ 2.2 trillion that includes delivering $1,200 directly into the pockets of UK citizens.  Now, Europeans are also starting to welcome the idea of receiving money from above.

Of course, there are several implications for such an approach – it’s not easy.

The combination of fiscal and monetary policies and the push towards the digital universe should help dampen the impact of the socio-economic ‘tsunami’ triggered by the pandemic.

Hopefully, we will know how to harness these to make our duties during this lockdown as least onerous as possible.