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Banking

5 WAYS COGNITIVE ASSISTANTS ARE REVOLUTIONISING BANKING

Martin Linstrom, Managing Director for UK and Ireland at IPsoft, looks at the next stage in technological evolution of the banking industry and how artificial intelligence (AI) will redefine banking as we know it.

The banking industry has made huge strides to drive innovation by investing in new technologies over the last few decades. Commercial banks first adopted telephone banking, then came internet banking and now, for most customers, all your financial services needs can be met via an app. Now, as we enter the conversational era enabled by cognitive AI, customer expectations have evolved once again.

Banks have long been ahead of the curve in terms of elevating the user experience for their customers and so, it’s perhaps unsurprising that many are already looking to AI-powered digital assistants and are investing in cognitive solutions to upgrade and scale customer-facing financial management processes. Many banks are also looking at how they can provide the same simple, frictionless service to their own employees.

As AI-powered customer interfaces gain mainstream acceptance, we will once again see a revolution in technological change within the banking industry. So, what functions within banks will cognitive assistants transform?

Building a hybrid workforce

Virtual assistants have a twofold capability which is driving innovation in the banking industry. Firstly, they can be implemented in back office functions such as finance or HR and secondly, they can supplement customer service centres. Creating a hybrid workforce of human employees and AI-powered virtual assistants can help drive enormous cost efficiencies and increase staff productivity. Employees in administrative roles can pass their repetitive tasks over to their digital colleague, freeing up their time to focus on more creative or interesting work that requires soft skills whilst customer service agents can pass standard requests through an AI system leaving them with only the most complex of customer queries to deal with.

Ubiquitous customer services

One of the most attractive things about AI-powered customer services for banks is its ubiquity. With virtual customer service agents available 24/7 and through a variety of channels such as live message, telephone or email, it’s a win-win situation for both bank staff and customers. From a customer’s perspective, simple requests such as password resets or international transactions can be performed in an instant and there’s no need to visit the bank or spend an hour in a telephone queue to speak to a human agent.

Banks adopting customer-facing AI solutions are in fact seeing increased customer satisfaction rates despite removing the human-to-human contact element. For example, since implementing IPsoft’s AI solution, Amelia, SEB, a leading Nordic bank has been able to avoid 544 hours of escalations to customer support with an average handle time of six minutes. What’s more, Amelia has reached an 85% accuracy in immediate intent recognition which has meant a faster service delivery to customers and soaring customer satisfaction.

24/7 banking support

Unlike human agents, digital assistants can work around the clock, seven days a week with no breaks and without tiring. For modern consumers, particularly young digital natives who expect to be able to manage their finances at any time of the day, integrating AI into a bank’s customer service centre will soon become the norm. Chatbots are already an industry standard, therefore at the very least, banks that don’t continue scaling this technology throughout their business will find themselves at a severe competitive disadvantage, trailing behind the market by delivering an inferior customer service experience.

Go beyond simple chatbots

Digital assistants with cognitive intelligence capabilities represent the next leap in automation for financial institutions. Digital colleagues like Amelia are now able to perform tasks above and beyond mere transactional ones, digitising more complex financial management processes such as wealth management onboarding and mortgage applications. Unlike simple chatbots, digital colleagues are also able to develop their cognitive abilities through an advanced Natural Language Interface (NLI) which can process customer queries asked in hundreds of different ways, including slang. More importantly for the banking industry, they can handle context switching so that when a customer moves quickly from one request to another, the interface is able to process both requests without starting over.

Many banks have already integrated voice capabilities into their finance management solutions. Customers communicate via text or voice to gain quick answers to banking questions, tailored financial advice and can even carry out transactions all from the same channel. Voice-enabled digital assistants can handle payments and transfers, credit card activation, charge disputes and travel alerts for customers at any time, freeing up customer services teams to focus on more complex customer enquiries and giving customers full control and access to their finances. Conversational AI will become more and more widely accepted as banks start to harness the technology to help drive customer engagement and operational efficiencies.

Delivering better insights and improved security

Unlocking key business insights is another key driver motivating banks to invest in AI. Sophisticated systems can recognise patterns from the sheer amount of data that they are processing. Thanks to these capabilities, businesses can easily find out the most common types of transactions by customers of a certain demographic and can then retarget this group for specific marketing or sales campaigns, helping to drive revenue. These real time insights can help business leaders make better, more strategic decisions that are informed through concrete data.

Real-time data mining can also be applied to improve customer security as many AI tools have built-in privacy and security by design. An AI-powered virtual assistant can pick up on irregular payments immediately, flagging potential “phishers” to a human agent for additional authentication. What’s more, advanced machine learning solutions can improve over time so that banks can continue to scale up their services. Virtual assistants like Amelia can go one step further by ‘learning on the job.’ Essentially, when Amelia does not understand a request or query she can pass it on to a human colleague but remains in the conversation to learn how to resolve the issue next time.

The future of retail banking

The financial services industry has long been at the forefront of technological innovation. Whilst many businesses are still debating whether to invest in AI, major banks are very much leading the way to invest in the technology and are thriving as a result. As virtual assistants become increasingly more intelligent and their cognitive abilities develop, the expectations for banks and the services they offer will be elevated. Banks that rest on their laurels and refuse to acknowledge this risk falling behind permanently, particularly with the slew of challenger fintech companies that are appearing on the market, offering dynamic and tailored financial services at a lower price.

 

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Banking

SEIZING THE OPEN BANKING OPPORTUNITY

Nick Maynard is a Lead Analyst at Juniper Research

 

Open Banking has made significant progress in 2020, having recently launched across much of Europe and now starting to emerge in other markets too. And there are two primary reasons why Open Banking is disrupting the banking industry so much:

  • Banks have begun to discover the real competitive advantage of a more open approach to banking. Offering a superior Open Banking experience to customers can be a compelling differentiator from other competitors as part of a wider digital app experience. Open Banking also creates a level playing field in markets where regulatory intervention has led to Open Banking deployment. As all banks are required to deploy APIs in this scenario, the situation is the same and does not put any one particular bank at a disadvantage.
  • Legislation – for example, in October 2015, the European Parliament adopted PSD2 (the revised Payment Services Directive). By early 2020, major banks in the EU had adopted Open APIs. There have however been many cases of late deployments of APIs and problems with the availability of APIs.

 

Nick Maynard

The Disruption Factor

Open Banking is a major disruptive factor for banks. The reason for this being that it opens up account data to both AISPs (Account Information Service Providers) and PISPs (Payment Initiation Service Providers), which can attempt to carve out a role in the banking area.

  • AISPs: These new vendors are able to access transaction data and balance information, as well as related information. This has, in particular, led to the rise of vendors such as Emma, Yolt and Connected Money. These vendors combine information from multiple sources, adding value to the user.
  • PISPs: In this case, the vendors are able to leverage Open Banking API connections to initiate payments directly from the bank accounts in question. This means that these players are able to bypass traditional payment methods, such as cards. Vendors such as American Express and PayPal have already launched solutions that have taken full advantage of this action.

 

PSD2 Changes

Generally, the implementation of the new PSD2 European regulation for electronic payment services effectively reduces the entry barriers for new digital players. It also opens up banks to the potential for competition, enabled by their own APIs. This allows these players to compete with existing services in fields currently offered by the banks. In the case of AISPs, it is possible that third-party applications could displace the role of the apps from incumbent players, which would dilute the bank’s relationship with their users.

As with any fundamental change to markets in the banking area, there is the potential to bring a number of both opportunities and challenges to consider with Open Banking.

Open Banking Opportunities & Challenges to Consider

Source: Juniper Research

Banks and other parties that are looking to become involved in the Open Banking ecosystem must weigh these opportunities and challenges carefully. Open Banking certainly needs a more collaborative approach than traditional banking models, which will require significant effort to make them successful.

 

The Forecast for Open Banking

The total number of Open Banking users is set to double between 2019 and 2021, reaching 40 million in 2021 from 18 million in 2019. The ongoing Coronavirus pandemic is increasing the need for consumers to have the clarity of combining their accounts and gaining insight on their financial health, and also boosting momentum in the adoption of Open Banking.

This extraordinary growth is being driven by Europe, where the regulator-led approach to Open Banking has created a standardised market, with low barriers to entry. This contrasts with markets like the US, where a lack of central regulatory intervention is limiting growth potential.

 

Open Banking – Delivering Opportunities and Threats

It is worth noting that Open Banking can be both a threat and an opportunity for traditional banks. While Open Banking exposes user information and access to potential competitors, this threat has the potential to affect all players in the market equally. Consequently, established banks must create innovative Open Banking services that will provide benefits for the user, while also attracting customers from less innovative competitors.

Payments will be critical to the emerging Open Banking ecosystem; accounting for over $9 billion in transaction value in 2024. However, payments in this ecosystem are at a particularly early stage. While eCommerce is dominated by card networks, there is the potential that this role will be eroded over time by ‘direct from account’ payments. Consequently, card networks should look to offer Open Banking-enabled payment services, in order to offset the risk of future disruption.

Open Banking Users in 2021 (m), Split by 8 Key Regions: 40 Million

Source: Juniper Research

 

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Banking

2021: THE NEW-NORMAL LIFECYCLE FOR BANKING

Laura Crozier, Global Director of Industry Solutions, Financial Services at Software AG

 

It would be impossible to talk about predictions for the banking industry in 2021 without mentioning the cataclysmic impact that 2020 and the pandemic has had on people, businesses and countries.

Unlike with the global financial crisis, banks have been able to step up as “good guys” this time around, rebuilding their reputations as well as accelerating digital transformation. One of the main outcomes is increasingly smart, efficient online payments.

In 2020, the banking industry innovated like never before. This is the new normal. Overall, customers and society will be the beneficiaries from the changing industry. Here are my predictions:

 

Reputations are reborn

Banks across the globe pulled out the stops to integrate and adapt systems and processes to help customers during the pandemic. They offered accommodations in loans, assisted governments with the distribution of financial relief, and supported consumers by upping contactless spending limits and virtual deposits.

In 2021, banks will risk losing that rosy glow as economic circumstances drive them to deal with non-performing loans, mortgage foreclosures, layoffs etc. But, beyond their role in society as providers of capital and liquidity, banks will invest to sustain their reputations as trusted and good corporate citizens and use their power to persuade their customers and providers to adopt higher environmental and ethical standards. This will be in the areas of bank carbon-neutrality, sustainable financing, serving the unbanked, diversity and gender equality (as the number of women running a major global bank will double from one (Jane Fraser at Citi) to two). It’s a start.

 

Coming of age in the way of working

Back in Q1, when bank employees cranked up their laptops on their dining room tables, banks that were strategically undertaking business transformation accelerated their efforts. Those that were tactical, or on the fence, now understand with painful clarity that this work must be undertaken strategically.

Cracks in process and the way of working and their resulting risks can be crippling. Especially from a back-office perspective, it is not enough to rely on “organisational memory” and collegial proximity for work to get done right. Advanced banks pushed the boundaries of remote work, and the proof of concept was successful. So, they’re doubling down on developing digital twins and moving to the cloud. They’re adopting the hybrid office/WFH approach to reduce health risks and reduce cost permanently. The watercooler will never be the same.

 

The death of cash

Ok, maybe the rumours of the death of cash are a bit exaggerated since there will always be the need for cash (and, to some extent checks; the USA, for example, cannot seem to live without them). But the pandemic has permanently changed the way that consumers and small businesses bank, and the demotion of cash has been accelerated by a decade by the pandemic. For example, the Norwegian central bank said that cash payments in that country have plummeted to just 4% of transactions since March.

Implications? It will be critical to continue evolving payments to be smart, safe and flexible to compete in new world, in both retail and commercial banking. Also, the permanent change in the mix of channels will see banks’ face-to-face engagement with customers fade. Branches aren’t going to go away entirely, but they will be reserved for high value activities – by appointment only. To compensate, the personal touch has to be delivered digitally and intelligently.

The role of the bank as a “financial wellness partner” is being born. Banks will use customers’ data, not just to personalise and differentiate banking experiences, but to make recommendations for products and services beyond traditional banking from across their ecosystem to serve their customers well. Just as customers own their cash (physical or digital), in the future they will demand that they own their data (and can share it with whom they choose). Then retail and commercial clients will share their data in return for value.

 

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