Team UBA Leo; The human side to artificial intelligence

It is only in a Hollywood action flick that a good AI-powered system comes into being and becomes amazing all by its lonesome. In reality, AI is always built by humans who keep giving it extensive support.

After a review of Leo, an AI-powered Facebook chatbot developed by the United Bank for Africa (UBA), naturally there were unanswered questions.

Suggested read: An experiential review of the UB Leo Chat Banker

What inspired a Facebook chat banker? How does an AI chatbot get smarter?  Why does it work in the specific way it does?

I visited UBA’s head office in Marina on Lagos Island to get answers to these questions and more, and also meet human parts of AI; the team behind UBA Leo.

Meet Leo

Because of its importance to the bank, every staff is involved to a great extent. But the core team is a 13-man group subdivided into 3; Product Development/Management, Core Development and Integration, and Marketing.

According to a team lead, Leo was inspired by AI trends.

“We at UBA, realised banking was going to change and because we have always been the first, wanted to be at the forefront of this digital transformation.”

The Humans of UBA LEO

Because of its direction, strategy, and impact, the Leo Project is spearheaded by Kennedy Uzoka, the Group Managing Director (GMD) and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of UBA.

After the GMD, Austin Abolusoro is next in the chain of command as the principal project manager.

Austin heads the Product Development and Management team.

In line with an observation I made in my review, Leo does not perform all functions as advertised. Austin explains that this is because it is still in an ongoing developmental phase and new features will be added in the coming weeks.

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“For now, Leo can open accounts, pay bills, transfer money, topup airtime and show mini-statements. In the coming weeks, there will be weather forecast, complain lodgement, and the ability to stop cheques. We want to make Leo respond to any requests by upgrading it to be a complete chat banker and buddy. In the nearest future, you will be able to apply for loans via the app.”

Next, we met Akeem Salam Head of Mobile Apps in UBA and certain aspects of Digital Banking.

He had extensive answers on what Leo is about.

“Leo is an AI chatbot who is a virtual banker. Most people do not know their account officers. Leo has helped give banking a more personal feel and real time 24/7 interaction for the customer.”

What inspired Leo?

“Nine out of 10 customers do not like going to the bank but still have to do banking transactions. All of these customers are most likely on Facebook. Most Nigerians do not have bank accounts; 60% of Nigerian adults are unbanked but there are millions of these people on Facebook. So we decided to take banking where the customers already are, hence Leo was brought on Facebook.”

In my review, I noted that transactional charges for Leo were similar to UBA’s USSD services — also known as UBA Magic Banking — and that these charges should be cheaper because Leo is billed as more convenient. Akeem Salam explains why this isn’t the case.

“The banking industry is a highly regulated environment and all the charges are already described in the CBN guidelines, so they must be the same across board. Going by this, the charge for Leo should be the same as obtainable across similar UBA platforms and in the industry generally.”

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On the name Leo,

“Firstly, we needed something short and easy to remember. Then in terms of strength and agility, UBA is symbolically the Lion bank so Leo was coincidentally also the best name to represent this imagery.”

How do chatbots get smarter?

Simple chatbots match keywords from user queries to pre-installed answers and use them to sort of converse. More enhanced chatbots use the machine learning algorithms of a Natural Language Processor (NLP) to simulate natural conversation flow between human and machine.

Leo is one of the superior chatbots and its NLP is managed by Esther Awaodibo with supervision and assistance from Austin

Users are bound to ask questions that Leo was not originally built to answer; the NLP, with assistance from Esther and Austin, makes sure Leo can answer these questions and related ones in the future.

What Esther does exactly with the NLP is review and provide responses to most of the questions Leo cannot immediately answer. Queries that cannot be handled manually are integrated into the system and Leo gets smarter.

The developers handling these integrations that Esther cannot manually fix are in the Core Development and Integration team.

The army of developers in this team are headed by Onyebuchi Akosa who also doubles as the Group Chief Information Officer (CIO) of UBA.

Does Onyebuchi still write code?

“Not anymore, but I actively did for more than 15 years. Coding for me is about being able to build and model great things.”

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Stripping his team’s function of jargons, he says they inspire Leo to do more for its users. And adds that strategy sessions are held with a Wakanda inspiration; the spirit of innovative excellence.

Leo’s Legs

For all the work that goes into Leo, the Marketing team is still directly involved with making sure this great product reaches the users.

Recently, Leo went to campuses on a sensitisation trip and Adebayo Abolaji was one of the engineers of this march.

Olaoluwa Oshidele is another member of the marketing team involved with Leo. He works on social media for the digital marketing team in UBA. What exactly does he do for Leo?

“I basically handle the social media and marketing push,come up with marketing and social media campaigns, and make sure they align with the brand.”

Nonso Nduanya works in Product Marketing and Internal Communications for UBA; he was also instrumental to the campus tours. .

With this team and added features in the nearest future, Leo appears to have an edge over other digital banking products in its ranks.


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Technology Editor
Twitter; @suaveveekthaw


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