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Banking

NO SAFE HARBOUR FOR DIGITAL BANKING

by Konstantin Bodragin, Business Analyst and Digital Marketing Officer at Bruc Bond

 

At the beginning of 2020, the future of digital banking was pretty clear. Between Open Banking initiatives, regulatory frameworks like the PSD2, and growing customer demand for more advanced digital services, bank-watchers the world over felt confident in their predictions. The course was set for full digitisation, likely brought about by victorious challenger banks replacing stuffy and lumbering traditional banks. Then the winds changed and ongoing disasters shook the world’s seemingly endless confidence in fintech and the bright future it promised to the core.

COVID-19 dropped on us like a sudden thunderstorm on a birthday party. Sure, experts, analysts, prognosticators (and perhaps even meteorologists) all warned of an inevitable pandemic event. But the rest of us, including most leaders and financial giants, were taken almost entirely by surprise. A majority of us managed to get drenched, even though the forecast predicted stormy weathers. Now, leaders and investors are scrambling to reach high ground and keep whatever they can from being swept away in the torrential floods.

Konstantin Bodragin

In practice this means redirecting funds from aspirational projects towards more immediate goals, and shedding as much unnecessary weight as possible, in case the water rises higher. In the year of COVID, who gets what is not so much a question of wants, but of pure necessity. Unless you’re a government with bottomless pockets, superb credit rating, and a deep desire to stave off a Great Depression-style downturn by means of public works, chances are you too are cutting costs. Big Business is doing the same. Autonomous car projects will be put on hold (if they haven’t been frozen yet), status symbol product launches will be postponed until customers feel confident to spend their extra cash again, and ambitious digitisation projects will be slowed unless their worth can be demonstrated even for the current times.

As they say, when it rains it pours, and this year is particularly wet for fintech. Even if Hurricane Covid hadn’t battered the shores of the global economy quite to so hard, the void left by the sinking of the titanic WireCard would suck much of the industry down beneath the water with it. Just last month, WireCard served as the main provider of banking infrastructure for much of Europe’s Non-Bank Financial Institution industry. NBFIs, tautologically, are not banks. As a rule, until they grow large enough to acquire a bank or banking licence of their own, NBFIs rely on financial and banking facilities provided by another. This is by design, with frameworks like PSD2 regulating access and relationships between various institutions.

Such relationships, under the watchful eyes of local and international regulators, are meant to best serve the interests of customers and consumers. And for the most part they do. Failing or unscrupulous institutions get sidestepped and the system heals around them. Unless, of course, the problem actor is too large. WireCard is one such giant dud, and the sinking of this fintech suppliers will have repercussions that will be hard to mitigate.

WireCard served so many financial institutions that many millions of customers have been affected. Many of these institutions will not be able to survive, and one can only hope that end consumers will be protected from the fallout. On the business end, such hopes for salvation could be too optimistic. Many companies don’t have the resources to withstand several weeks or months of inactivity while they work to replace their financial infrastructure, especially not with extremely depleted budgets due to the ravages of COVID-19.

Those institutions that do survive will face a new reality of confused and likely higher costs, which will almost necessarily have to be passed on to consumers. The more savvy of WireCard’s survivors will try to shore up their defences against the recurrence of such a disaster by spreading the risk and their activity between several providers. This will hopefully lead to a normalisation of costs and a reduction in fees, but by then consumers could once again be too wary to take the risk with digital services whose fees could seemingly spike at any moment.

Loss of confidence won’t be limited to the consumer side, either. Regulators, wary of being made the fool again, are likely to treat fintech and the NBFI sector with much harsher gloves than it did so far. Increased scrutiny, stricter regulatory requirements, and a general lack of cooperation from regulators could sink any hopes of quick recovery for the battered industry. Not to mention the increased costs from such requirements, that are, again, liable to be passed down to the consumers.

Regulators and authorities are not the only power brokers digital banking suppliers will have to contend with. Partners in the banking industry were already eyeing fintechs with suspicion, not least thanks to the egregious claims of the latter to replace the former. Little wonder then, now that the seemingly unbeatable leviathan of WireCard has sunk to the bottom of the deep, that banks will loath to lend a helping hand to NBFIs struggling to find replacement providers.

So what will happen? In this climate, with demands for justice at their peak, some funds will surely be diverted from risky digitisation projects to PR-friendly investment in diversity. Behind the scenes, certain players will carry on their digitisation projects, but their approach is bound to change. The three Ss – slow, steady, stable – are likely to reign supreme, at least until Hurricane Covid passes, and the economic seas are calm once again.

 

Banking

HOW BANKING IS USING AI TO PROCESS CUSTOMER FEEDBACK

By Dan Somers, CEO of Warwick Analytics

 

More banks are turning to practical AI to rapidly analyse customer conversations for sentiment and emotional intent to get the insight and automation they need to transform their customer service and operations.

Here we look at 5 ways in which banks are using AI to process their customer feedback more effectively:

 

Processing incoming queries more efficiently

AI can remove the need for manual review of each incoming query and enables banks to handle them effectively from the outset.

The analytics can facilitate a much smoother omni-channel experience for the customer by: identifying which channels your customers are best suited to – and which work best for specific types of interaction; understanding the causes of channel failure and what drives customers to switch; and reducing customer effort by delivering service in the customer’s preferred channel first-time.

As a recent example, at one bank we were able to reduce the maximum time to respond to a customer from 3 weeks to 5 days. The solution used AI and machine learning to automatically analyse and prioritise all customer emails in near real time and routed high-priority cases to a dedicated work queue for fast action.

 

Automatically identifying customer intent and emotion

When different people are voicing different issues, they will use different words and sentiments. Vital data is often missed with traditional models and manual processes. For example a customer at a bank might say ‘by the time they called back, the bank was closed’. The keyword would be flagged as ‘closed’, when in fact the main issue was the call back. There are also other limitations with using just keywords such as sarcasm, context, comparatives and local dialect/slang. The alternative is to analyse text data using ‘concepts’ instead of ‘keywords’. This can be done effectively with AI.

 

Fast tracking customer complaints and issues

With AI you can send complaints straight to the relevant team for a faster resolution. We’ve helped banks reduce resolution time by up to 3 days which really boosts customer retention.

Dealing with specific complaints manually involves using more and more case handlers. Routing complaints automatically and prioritising by issue and category is also difficult due to the nature of complaints i.e. unsolicited, long and sometimes multi-topical. As a result, manual classification is often impossible within an acceptable time frame for the unhappy customer.

Using the latest AI however, banks are now automatically classifying unstructured data to provide an early warning of issues that need resolving fastest. This can lead to better and quicker outcomes at a much lower cost.

 

Spotting vulnerable customers early

Under the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) front-line staff need to be able to spot different types of vulnerability in customers and support them accordingly. However, the volume of communication is just too much to carry this out manually.

The latest in AI speech transcription and text analytics is able to automatically detect hints at vulnerability from conversations with customers. The conversations are automatically analysed by to detect emotionally-driven comments that indicate vulnerability such as a basic lack of understanding, likelihood of a disability and circumstances. These vulnerabilities are flagged to the relevant members of staff for action. Regulated firms can also accurately understand the drivers behind the vulnerabilities so products, services and communications can be reviewed accordingly.

 

Banks using AI during Co-vid 19

During Co-vid 19 many banks have customer service agents working from home and/or in strict shifts. There has been a move from voice to webchat for many to cope with these changes which brings its own challenges and opportunities. Post-C19, many of these situations are expected to stay in place or at least not revert 100% back.

AI is helping to serve customers better focusing on taking cost out whilst keeping CSat up and channel switching down by improving chat optimisation, email, complaint handling and chatbot supervision.

 

Case study: Improving customer loyalty

A major UK bank was looking to improve its customer loyalty. It was already using the latest

analytical tools including social listening, sentiment analysis and a large data science team

but they were experiencing limitations and not making enough progress. They were also interested to see what online feedback their main competitors were receiving.

 

A number of key recommendations for the bank were identified using AI analysis:

  • A 10% increase in CSat (c. £200m pa revenue) from operational improvement
  • Comparable best-in-class churn e.g. Nationwide is 25% lower
  • Online and mobile banking is a key issue, and is causing direct churn
  • Drivers of churn are mostly customer service, branch closures, marketing offers, interest rates and vulnerability issues
  • Early warning can help predict churn tactically and intercept likely churners
  • 28% of Tweets and potentially all non-voice queries can be automated. This could be a £20m pa saving
  • Business banking, current accounts and ancillary services have the highest churn, and insurance the highest negative advocacy
  • Mortgages, current accounts, savings and overdrafts cause the most attritional set-up
  • There are distinct patterns and opportunities to adjust customer services resources to reduce churn and costs

With AI, this level of insight can be set up in a matter of days, delivered in near real time and without the need for a data scientist to maintain the model.

 

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Banking

WHY BANKS NEED TO EMBRACE OPEN SOURCE COMMUNITIES

Nikolai Stankau, Director Business Development, EMEA Financial Services at Red Hat, the world’s largest enterprise open source solutions provider.

 

Banks and financial services have long been benefiting from using open source software, which is code that is developed in a decentralised and collaborative way. Open source software is cost-effective, flexible, is developed rapidly, and tends to have more longevity than its proprietary peers because it is developed by communities rather than a single author or company.  According to Red Hat’s own research, 93% of IT leaders in financial services state that enterprise open source is important to their organisation.

Alongside adopting open source products, which many banks already do, there’s opportunity for these organisations to have a greater influence in the development of industry software, by engaging in ‘upstream’ open source community projects.

 

The advantages of engaging in upstream communities

In open source projects, code is developed as a shared process by a community of thinkers and developers anywhere in the world. Collaborating directly with these communities – what’s known as ‘upstream’ participation – can give banks a major competitive advantage on their journey to innovate. From there, software can either be downloaded at no cost, or consumed via a trusted open source vendor that secures and stabilises the software to make it suitable for an enterprise to use. This is also known as the ‘downstream’.

A company that contributes its developers’ time and resources to an open source community gets rewarded with the output of hundreds of developers working on the same code. This leads to a magnification effect, by virtue of the fact you’re expanding your team many times over while also benefiting from a much more diverse pool of talent. The result is that organisations can be captains of the product development process and work together with the community to design features and functionalities that meet their needs and keep up with customer demands.

An added benefit for banks engaging in these communities is it provides a great access point for sourcing new talent, as well as helping to retain existing talent. Developers are attracted to organisations that engage in upstream development because it allows them to be at the forefront of open source innovation and new community-led initiatives.

It’s common for multiple organisations in the industry to come together and collaborate on a project, which can drive significant benefits for the community as a whole. A good example is Fintech Open Source Foundation (FINOS), which is a community set up by banks to promote industry collaboration, by delivering software that addresses common industry challenges and drives faster innovation. The concept had its origins in Symphony, a open sourced messaging and collaboration tool that was adapted and improved upon by developers from other banks, ultimately helping the company to become a major business valued at around $1.4bn.

 

Where to join forces versus compete

Although the benefits of engaging in upstream communities are manifold, some organisations have concerns around intellectual property as well as the productivity of developers contributing to open source projects rather than exclusively working on the bank’s own proprietary software. To this latter point – in reality, the development of new solutions and features built inhouse often requires many months, whereas product ideas shared in a community setting can be executed in much shorter time frames. As the saying goes, many hands make light work.

Regarding the essential consideration of IP and competitiveness: a lot of where banks can differentiate is at the application layer; in the services they develop and offer, rather than at the underlying operating system or middleware foundations – these tend to be common and standard, and are what empowers organizations to get to market as fast as possible. Thus the greatest opportunity for banks lies in platforms such as Linux-based Kubernetes, which is now the industry standard for container orchestration and one of the most important technologies used in the financial services industry. Kubernetes attracts many contributors from diverse organisations all over the world.

Some IT leaders also recognise structural roadblocks: transitioning an organisation to new ways of thinking and operating is a process that isn’t achieved overnight. Not all banks have the legal or tech mechanisms in place to be able to share their code externally, and company policies can prevent their employees from engaging in open source communities. In a heavily regulated industry, it takes time for some organisations to create the necessary changes before they can harness the potential of upstream communities.

 

The future is open

As the software ecosystem expands, and in the face of accelerated digital transformation driven by the ‘new normal’ of the COVID-19 pandemic, banks and financial services have the opportunity to evaluate how they can get involved in open source. There are many ways to do this: they can invest financially in communities, provide technical leadership and resources, or contribute code. With organisations under more pressure than ever to gain a competitive advantage, playing a role in open source communities will help them create better products, speed up time to market and position themselves at the forefront of financial innovation.

 

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