Customers calling up their bank may soon have inquiries answered with the help of ChatGPT.

Lenders in Australia and the US are preparing to deploy the groundbreaking technology to prompt call centre workers on what questions to ask, and the appropriate letter to dispatch to the customer when the conversation is done.

The chatbot will help employee decision-making by creating background materials to make conversations with business customers more productive. Investment banks could use it to construct pitch books based on conversations recorded on Microsoft Teams.

In January, it was reported that Microsoft had invested $US10 billion in OpenAI, the start-up behind ChatGPT. ChatGPT has more than 100 million users, making it the fastest-growing software application of all time.

This has set the tech world abuzz about ‘‘generative AI’’, which uses ‘‘foundation’’ data models – which draw on a vast quantity of uncategorised data – to allow the chatbots to answer questions in detail in a way that is easy to access.

The Australian Financial Review

explored the initial use cases in banks for ChatGPT’s artificial intelligence (which is being integrated into Microsoft’s Bing search platform and a range of services provided to corporate clients) with Microsoft corporate vice president of worldwide financial services Bill Borden.

He met banks and superannuation funds in Melbourne and Sydney last week, when a major topic of conversation was ChatGPT.

‘‘That is where people are getting really excited, around experience interfacing with frontline workers or the customer service area,’’ Mr Borden said. ‘‘When you think about the response, you can start creating off the dialogue and engagement [with customers]. You can start thinking about modelling activities, and what the approach or response should be. You can solve a problem – and create materials to actually follow up.

‘‘That is where OpenAI and ChatGPT can start to augment the processes.’’

Together with its Azure cloud and popular desktop software, which is used by all the major banks, Microsoft is developing ‘‘outcomes-based AI’’ to enhance consumer experiences and improve productivity.

This time last year it bought Nuance, a developer of conversational AI and ambient intelligence, which allows call centre workers to use biometrics to identify customers and prompt conversations.

Mr Borden points to a relationship banker using Teams or Office talking to a client. New chatbots can give the banker direction on actions, after analysing the customer mood, he says. They will also deliver insights to corporate bankers providing a full view of the company they are about to call and a list of actions to ensure the call is proactive.

It will be up to banks to work out thorny questions on disclosure and ethical application of the AI technology.

As it develops ‘‘industry clouds’’ tailoring its AI services to specific industries, Mr Borden says security, compliance and controls are important in financial services, and banks can access Microsoft’s in-house ethicists to advise on use cases in the market.

‘‘It has to be part of it. We are very focused on responsible AI,’’ he said.

‘‘We have policies and procedures, including on openness and inclusiveness and transparency, built into the products. As we deliver them, we have conversations about how we built it and how we think they should deploy it.’’

As ChatGPT also raises questions about the accuracy of material used to generate answers, including its limited understanding of Australian political history, banks will have to determine what source material is drawn upon and whether customers should be informed.

‘‘That is the learning journey we are on,’’ Mr Borden said. ‘‘Machine learning has been used in decision-making, from thinking about credit decisioning and other [applications]. It is not new.

‘‘Now it is a question of what more you can do, and what will be the approach around policies and governance to ensure it is open, inclusive and understands bias. These are all conversations we have with customers around how to think about using the technology.’’

Microsoft’s ‘‘intelligent cloud’’ division, which includes Azure, generated $US21.5 billion in revenue over the quarter ending December 31, up 18 per cent. The area makes up 40 per cent of revenue.

Asked whether some banks would be willing to pay more in data centre costs to access the models, Mr Borden said cost savings always depended on a bank’s overall tech strategy.

‘‘Will there be savings? Sometimes yes or no, depending on what your strategy is around applications,’’ he said. ‘‘Are you retiring applications, or are you just moving them? And how are you phasing in optimisation?’’

Westpac has a broad contract with Microsoft for a range of cloud services. Other majors banks use it to varying degrees, often part of hybrid cloud strategies that also include Amazon Web Services and Google.