A finance firm specialising in helping older property owners access the funds in their homes has turned to artificial intelligence (AI) to help their more vulnerable customers.

Equity release provider Key has partnered with Edinburgh-based speech analytics platform Aveni, which will use its technology to monitor the company’s conversations with customers and identify those who require extra support.

It is hoped the new partnership will also boost improved advisor training and oversight, as well as quality assurance processes.

The first phase of the rollout has already seen the later life lending specialist’s quality assessors able to conduct call assessments in less than half the time due to the platform’s intuitive search options.

Will Hale, chief executive of Key, said: “We embrace innovation at Key, and our partnership with Aveni demonstrates our commitment to using technology to consistently improve the quality of our advice, and ensure we continue to lead the market in how we support our clients.

“Beyond efficiency, this partnership will allow us to drive greater transparency and oversight, and help us to better identify vulnerable and other high risk customers, all of which contribute towards ensuring the best possible outcomes for our customers.”

Customer vulnerability is a leading concern for financial services companies, according to the recent guidance from the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority. The document stipulates that firms must act to understand the needs of vulnerable customers and make sure they are treated fairly.

Key is continuing to work with Aveni to build out its customer vulnerability processes, with the goal of using the guidance to make its vulnerability framework as “transparent and robust” as possible.

Historically, identifying customer vulnerability or those who are at high risk has been the role of an agent, requiring them to flag a potential issue for further investigation.

By using Aveni to monitor all its conversations with customers, specific keywords and phrases can be automatically flagged and routed to the compliance team at Key for review.

For example, certain topics mentioned in conversations with an agent, such as a bereavement or illness, may be indications that a customer is potentially vulnerable and requires support from one of Key’s “vulnerability champions.”

Leveraging advanced natural language processing (NLP) technology, Aveni customises its platform for its clients – drawing on information about their customers, culture, products and processes to deliver highly accurate results.

For example, in the banking sector, a customer is generally considered potentially vulnerable when over the age of 65. However, given Key’s focus on retirement finance, this would pertain to a majority of its customers, so it has configured Aveni. to monitor for different criteria.

Joseph Twigg, chief executive of Aveni, said: “Every company is unique, and off-the-shelf speech analytics tools often deliver less than optimal results, so we start by understanding the specific problems our customers are trying to solve.

“It’s great to work with a company like Key that truly cares about its clients and recognises that innovative solutions can help improve customer service and ultimately unlock a wealth of new intelligence and insight.”