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CONVERSATIONAL BANKING: MOVING BEYOND AUTOMATION

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By Martin Linstrom, Managing Director UK&I, IPsoft

Automating business processes is a cost-efficient way to ensure smooth customer service. But there’s a substantial difference between quickly fixing a single problem, and consistently providing an optimal customer experience.

A personal banking concierge

With conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI), banks are starting to evolve customer service processes without having to invest in additional resource. It’s no longer just about automating the troubleshooting of tasks, or helping customers reset their passwords. In reality, the bank is giving every single customer a digital concierge that can help them find new products, research account and loyalty programme options, and even handle high-value tasks such as mortgage application processing or assisting the internal HR team with employee benefits selection.

Routine transactions that require manual completion by bank staff cost businesses 20 times more than transactions handled by customers online, according to Bain & Company. Rather than dedicating staff (and 20 times the resources) to handling rote processes, banks should be focusing workers on only the most important tasks. However, a critical distinction exists between what’s defined as automation and what qualifies as an AI-based solution. In other words: How you choose to automate your customer service tasks matters a great deal.  

Chatbots won’t provide all the answers

Martin Linstrom

When customers have a question pertaining to basic account changes, they will typically go on their banking app or to the website seeking an answer. Some of these questions may be simple: How do I transfer funds? How do I add my partner to my account? Companies often makes it easy for customers to search and find these answers within the existing content of their website. But what happens when customers are ready to take action on the basic information they’ve received? Many companies have adopted simple chatbots that can automate rules-based processes. If a customer asks Question A, the chatbot helps her complete Process A. This has served banks moderately well for the past five years. Unfortunately, if you’re one of the companies that has deployed a chatbot, your customers have likely encountered frustrating limitations that negatively impact user experience.

One of the critical drawbacks to working with a chatbot is its reliance on sequence to automate basic service needs. Customers may only visit a website with a single query, but they may also come to it with five distinct questions or think of additional things to ask during the course of their visit. Within the standard and scripted processes followed by chatbots, each question and its associated automation must be handled individually and within its own strict context. Deviation from or interruption within that context often leads to a dead end.

Automated multi-tasking

For example: A customer comes to a site and types to a chatbot, “I’d like to check my loyalty point balance, but I noticed someone just put a fraudulent charge on my account. I’d like to cancel my credit card and order a new one.” Within this single message there are five distinct business intents that must be automated. A chatbot that by design follows a strict sequence will not take into account any urgency to these requests (the fraudulent charge) and it will not find the most logical resolution path. Instead, a scripted chatbot will handle the first intent, and reports the customer’s loyalty point balance. Only then will the chatbot proceed to checking for a fraudulent charge. Clearly, the customer would view their priorities a bit differently.

Learning to prioritise

A digital colleague doesn’t need to accept information in a strict sequence in order to automate tasks. Although a digital colleague’s brain doesn’t entirely replicate human thought processes, it’s more nuanced than a scripted chatbot in how it processes information to make decisions – and it certainly provides more than automated processes. With the aforementioned fraudulent charge use case, a digital colleague will process all of the intents within the sentence (loyalty points, fraudulent charges, account cancellation and a new card request) and determine that pausing the customer’s account to prevent additional fraudulent charges is the obvious first step. Only after the digital colleague has handled the more important processes will it move onto simpler tasks, such as loyalty point balance checks. 

The more complex the sequence of intents, the less capable a basic chatbot will be. This is particularly problematic when dealing with high-value tasks such as processing mortgage applications or helping customers book travel arrangements. If your conversational digital colleague is forced to follow strict sequences in order provide support, they will never be able to assist with and complete processes that require dozens or even hundreds of steps – some of which will need to be revisited multiple times within a single conversation – leading to undue time and effort on the part of a customer.


Don’t confuse automation with conversational AI. Basic automation delivered by chatbots makes simple processes easy for software to repeat, but that’s where the benefits end. Conversational AI from a digital colleague allows your business to automate at scale the nuanced, intelligent service provided by your best human employee, going ‘off-script’ to answer more complex queries and carry-out lengthy requests like mortgage applications. Ultimately, this means banks can deliver a positive customer experience for every single interaction, without the oft-encountered frustration seen when customers can’t get what they want from a chatbot. Banks that want to ensure consumer loyalty, higher customer satisfaction and continue driving a healthy bottom line should look to conversational AI as their next big initiative.

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Mitigating the insurance risks of climate change through geospatial data visualisation

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Richard Toomey, Senior Manager, Commercial Insurance at LexisNexis Risk Solutions UK and Ireland

 

In the lead up to the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26)[i] November 2021, A United in Science report[ii]  provided a stark warning of the impact and acceleration of climate change. The UK Environment Agency also warned of more extreme weather leading to increased flooding and drought[iii]. While some progress was made at the conference, understanding the changing risks created by extreme weather to price property insurance more effectively, and more importantly, to help mitigate the physical risks posed by climate change, has become imperative.

Mapped geospatial data intelligence including live data on flood warnings and river flows, viewed alongside data held by insurance providers on the properties in their portfolio, can be a key ally in helping to protect customers and reduce claims losses created by extreme weather events.

With the air temperature rising and heavy rain becoming more and more frequent due to climate change insurance providers are looking to identify properties that are more at risk than others. For example, properties with basements carry more of a substantial risk of surface water claims than others and especially in London where space is tight and water runoff is low. In the autumn of 2021, the industry saw a number of high value claims due to basement flooding. There are some really large high net worth (HNW) households with big basements which carry a significant insurance risk.  The problem is that in many cases insurance providers don’t know if they have a property ‘on cover’ that actually has a basement.

The huge and growing volume of data now available to the insurance market to assess property risk to the level the industry needs, could easily overwhelm and prove a barrier to the swift decisions needed in weather-related surge events. However, the evolution of desktop based geospatial data visualisation tools such as LexisNexis® Map View means insurance providers can make quick, informed decisions based on a picture or map of risk, looking at a specific geographical region, a postcode, an address or a single property outline.

They can look at environmental risks including flood, fire and subsidence and live flood data updated every 15 minutes direct from the Environment Agency, as well as highly predictive flood risk data from respected flood modelling organisations. Insurance providers can also bring in data on the characteristics of a property to understand more about its construction, including the type of roof it has, how many floors there are, the square footage, as well as further data on the location and the individuals behind a business to gain a more holistic understanding of risk for pricing.

Mapping of historical flood data brings a further dimension to the understanding of risk, revealing the maximum extent of all individually recorded flood outlines from rivers, the sea and groundwater springs in England and Wales. This takes into account the presence of defences, structures, and other infrastructure where they existed at the time of flooding and includes floods where overtopping, such as at seawalls, river breaches or blockages may have occurred.

But the real step-change for the market has been recent ability to view live flood and other environmental data in tandem with customer and policy data held within an insurance providers’ own databases.

Crucially, this means insurance providers can pinpoint down to individual properties, the policyholders most at risk as weather events unfold, should a river burst its banks, or a flood barrier fail and those properties that may actually be vacant at the time of the event.

Through data visualisation tools, insurance providers can gauge where flood water may go so that policyholders can be warned to take measures to protect themselves, their possessions and to move any vehicles to higher ground. They can even see where roads may have been closed due to fallen trees. All this intelligence helps with planning on the ground resources, working with local authorities and claims adjusters. Then, in the immediate aftermath, rather than wait for a deluge of claims, insurance providers are in a position to reach out to customers known to be in areas affected to support them through the claims process.

The inherent flexibility of today’s geospatial data visualisation tools for the insurance market means risk can be assessed as needed or as constant monitor for a whole commercial property portfolio. Fundamentally these tools are designed to streamline the assessment of property risk.

In the future, commercial and residential property claims data gathered from the whole of the market may allow insurance providers to look at a whole portfolio alongside past claims, but for now they can bring in their own claims data to build a more granular picture of risk, to price more accurately and understand how they could help mitigate future claims and potential losses caused by weather events.

A picture can say a thousand words and data visualisation tools can certainly make highly complex risk data easy to understand and act upon. Being able to instantly visualise an environmental risk to policyholders – day or night – using highly granular data on past and present flood events puts insurance providers in a more powerful position to reduce the misery and costs caused by extreme weather.

[i] https://ukcop26. org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/COP26-Explained. pdf

[ii] https://public. wmo. int/en/media/press-release/climate-change-and-impacts-accelerate

[iii] https://www. gov. uk/government/news/adapt-or-die-says-environment-agency – The Environment Agency’s third adaptation report October 2021

 

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From compliance to the metaverse: Investment trends to look out for during the year ahead

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By Rami Cassis, Founder and CEO of Parabellum Investments

 

In the investment world, the old saying, knowledge is power, has never been more pertinent. As any investor will testify, it is essential to retain an in-depth, and up to date, understanding of news, predictions and trends that specifically relates to his or her specific area of interest.

This is particularly true for investors in the financial sector.

We all know just how quickly the sector can change beyond recognition. The demands of consumers are forever changing, new technology is always waiting in the wings to re-write the financial status quo and the next big digital company is constantly looking to increase its market share. There is always a new trend to look out for.

As we move into a brand-new year and prepare to face the opportunities – and challenges – that doubtless lie ahead, these are some of the trends that are likely to develop during the next 12 months.

 

Personal banking conversations

In its Tech Trends 2021: A financial services perspective Deloitte states that today’s pioneering companies are using advanced digital technologies, virtualized data, and cobots to transform supply chain cost centres into customer-focused, value-driving networks, based around a personal experience.

The concept of personal banking provides a perfect example of how the financial services sector has evolved to deliver digital personal banking.

Before the digital banking revolution, personal banking involved a visit to a high street branch to sit down with a personal banker in the flesh. This personal banker would be the customer-facing, end point of a complex supply-chain, involving training centres, degree courses, carbon-emitting journeys into work – the list goes on.

Compare this to the current version of personal banking. Digital financial services firms such as Monzo have revolutionised banking thanks to sophisticated analytics and a personalised interface. The big banks are now catching up, offering their own versions of ‘modern’ banking insights for the everyday user, and furnishing them with the latest online, smartphone-powered gadgets to enable them to manage their money 24/7, wherever they might be in the world.

However, even this is now becoming somewhat stale, with many financial services providers still seeing personalization simply in terms of personalized messages. Instead, the next chapter will involve smart banks understanding that good personalization requires personalized conversations, not just messages.

Enterprise software is one of the specific investment interests of Parabellum Investments. One of our portfolio companies is ieDigital, a specialist UK financial technology provider. The team from ieDigital and Parabellum Investments analyses the latest developments in business technology regularly.

We understand the importance of pushing digital boundaries. Indeed, one eye should constantly be scanning the horizon to identify the digital tools that the customers of tomorrow will expect. The interpretation of digital transformation is specific to each organisation and translating technology into practical business outcomes requires the focused specialism the combined IE Digital & Parabellum Investments team is qualified to deliver.

We understand – and see daily – the pressure that banks are coming under to deliver an ever more personal service, and see the ability to deliver these personal conversations is one of the trends to watch during the next 12 months.

 

The metaverse

The word ‘metaverse’, is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as a “virtual-reality space in which users can interact with a computer-generated environment and other users”.

When Facebook changed its name to Meta in 2021 it may have come as a surprise to many of the platform’s users, but it was a major moment in the company’s history. It signalled Mark Zuckerberg’s ambitions for his business; to be the leader in the development of the metaverse.

Indeed, the future of the metaverse is looking sophisticated and bright. With giants like Facebook and Microsoft introducing metaverse elements into the fabric of their business models, it’s a concept that cannot be ignored, and one which is likely to expand rapidly throughout the next 12 months.

Returning to the financial services sector as an example, in a blog post titled Metaverse, the end of banking digital transformation?, CoinYuppie speculates that the metaverse will change banking in a number of ways including:

  • Identify verification. In the metaverse, identity verification will be performed via VR glasses and Metaverse sensor devices which contain a security chip.
  • Real-time creation of financial products. In the meta universe, virtual product managers use gestures to drag and drop the entire process of digital product manufacturing.
  • Games and attractions become a source of bank traffic. You can open branches on Mount Everest, in the Tarim Basin, on the Kunlun Mountains, or in Jiuzhaigou. The bank will combine these magnificent landmarks to fully personalize its branches and display its products.

This is just the financial services sector. Just imagine the opportunities for other industries – and the tools that will be needed to deliver them.

People are likely to need virtual-reality headsets, for example, together with related components such as sensors, as virtual-reality technology becomes intrinsically linked with the metaverse world.

 

Compliance

Another key trend to look out for as we move into 2022 and beyond is how companies deal with their compliance issues.

In the wake of the global Covid pandemic, we are seeing a much-increased hybrid working model, with a large proportion of the workforce now based at home. This creates a logistical headache for compliance teams, who must now ensure that sensitive data and company secrets remain just that, despite a workforce now using multiple digital platforms, messaging systems, mobile phones and landlines.

Cloud-based archive systems that can capture multi modal communications are likely to become essential for companies to remain compliant.

 

Alternative currencies

Cryptocurrencies are likely to retain their position as one of the most talked about developments in the world of alternative currencies.

As an example, Bitcoin has risen nearly 70% since the start of 2021, driving the entire crypto market to a combined $2 trillion in value. However, heightened regulatory scrutiny and intense price fluctuations have somewhat dampened bitcoin’s prospects in recent months.

Despite this, we are likely to see banks increasingly looking at offering mainstream crypto services. We have already seen the start of this, with the first major crypto company going public with the debut of Coinbase in April, increased participation from Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs, and the approval of the first U.S. exchange-traded fund linked to bitcoin.

 

Conclusion

We all know how quickly the financial sector changes. If you happen to be reading this just a few months after it was written, several of my points might now be in the mainstream – or they might be completely obsolete.

The fact is that unless an investor possesses superhuman powers, it is impossible to identify, with 100 per cent accuracy, what the next big investment trend is. All we can do is use our experience, insights, and up-to-date sector knowledge to predict what the next big trends are likely to be.

 

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