Westpac’s latest AI recruit, Wendy, is capable of recognising and responding to customers’ emotions as they chat onscreen through the webcam.

Smile at Wendy through your webcam, she’ll smile back. If you look confused, you can see her empathise. And shift around in front of your laptop, her eyes follow you as she listens and answers your questions.

In contrast to the bank’s virtual assistant called Red, which helps customers with basic banking tasks, Wendy – whose initial remit is to be a digital job coach for young Australians – combines four AI technologies to provide a sophisticated, hyper-real experience.

Wendy’s ability to “think” is powered by IBM Watson’s AI conversation engine, her “listening” and ‘speaking’ skills use Google Cloud Services, and her lifelike, perceptive appearance is created by fast-growing New Zealand-based start-up Soul Machines.

Westpac’s consumer bank innovation lead, Annie Shu, who has piloted Wendy’s six month development, says: “Wendy allows us to accelerate our experimentation, and get deep into playing with emerging technologies to understand what works, what doesn’t, and what’s right for us as a bank.” .

With Wendy, Shu says while she’s likely to be the first digital job coach in Australia, it’s more than about just creating another digital human, but a new technology model that allows for quick and continuous changes and updates.

Shu says the aim is to take small steps to see how people react and gradually ‘train’ her before she’s ‘promoted’ into other financial education roles, such as helping people with savings or preparing them for their first overseas holiday.

“Every aspect of what Wendy sees, what Wendy hears, what Wendy talks about, needs to be trained, and trained correctly so she learns and grows the right way. But the pace of her growth is really exciting,” she says.