Rhys Powell, UK Managing Director and Group Commercial Director, EBO.ai
Kit from Knight Rider, Jarvis from Iron Man, Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey – all three are super-intelligent AI minds capable of doing things that humans can’t. But what if technology isn’t reserved for science-fiction anymore? And what if bringing AI into the financial services sector can bring about more savings than in any other industry?
AI has been disrupting the way we work for a few years now, and the financial services industry has a lot to gain by embracing it. The technological opportunities in financial services are abundant, but have not yet been realised, at a time when competition, customer expectations and technological development are all on the increase. As customers’ demands and expectations continue to evolve, so too does the need to match them.
One of the biggest costs and challenges for a financial services business is providing a highly responsive level of customer service. Gone are the days of staying on hold for hours; today’s consumers want answers, and they want them now, regardless of the time or their location.
As a result, banks that do not innovate to meet these demands are expected to lose between 10% and 40% of their revenues by 2025 in wealth management, consumer finance, mortgages, lending to SMEs and retail payments as fintech challengers step in, crowd the market, force down prices, and squeeze margins.
Whether in-house or outsourced, contact centres have been the traditional way for financial services businesses to manage customer, and potential customer, enquiries – but there is a better way. While two thirds of customers prefer trying to solve an issue on their own, 59% will use three or more channels to get their question answered, meaning phone calls are a last resort for many. Fortunately, AI can give them what they’re looking for.
Bots are the answer
Whilst AI comes in many forms, bots are one of the most commonly known, and they can be the perfect customer-facing employee. Bots will always be friendly, efficient, knowledgeable and unflappable, and able to handle ever-increasing workloads without making a fuss. They can even spot opportunities to up-sell and help companies manage new sales leads.
Also, unlike their human counterparts, bots can answer questions on nearly any topic. This constant availability of expert knowledge is an incredible benefit. And, again unlike their human counterparts, bots never miss a day of work due to illness or holiday, nor do they ever take a break – they just keep helping customers, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Furthermore, the more information that firms feed them, the better and more efficient they will become due to their constant learning capabilities. As a result, customers that might get frustrated listening to grainy pop music on repeat while waiting to get through to a call centre can instead experience quick, effective, even enjoyable conversations with the business they’re trying to contact.
By managing queries through a bot, all conversations are recorded in an accurate, easily accessible way, immediately and automatically, including how the customer was feeling at the end of the conversation. In doing so, businesses can build a deeper understanding of what their customers need and want.
Alongside these benefits, bots can also become a powerful extension of a company’s brand by consistently delivering a strong, all-round positive customer experience that is always in tune with the messaging and values a company wants to portray. Growing businesses have perhaps the most to gain from this, since this is often when the volume of customer interactions increases, and the importance of brand recognition and consistency is paramount. Smaller businesses can also benefit greatly by employing bots, as they often tend to find it difficult to recruit and train enough staff to manage customer interactions quickly and effectively.
Customer interactions are a vitally important thing to get right. In a time where customers deliver feedback instantly, and when bad online reviews of a product or service can cause immediate reputational damage, failing to provide good customer service has poses a very real danger to you reaching your business goals.
Your employee of the month – every month
Bots can help organisations of all sizes handle large volumes of routine customer interactions more efficiently, regardless of sector, leaving people to focus on the productive work that will lead to increased profits. Of course, there will always be a need for an element of human interaction, and some customers will always prefer to speak to a real person but often they are the minority.
AI can be implemented across many areas of financial services. In banking, the most common enquiries (balance checks, information on transfers, account queries, or changes in personal details) can all be automated through a bot, for example. In insurance, AI can be used to assist customers in obtaining quotes, upgrading coverage, answering questions about their current or prospective policies. When it comes to investments, AI can act as a robo-advisor and even provide real-time predictions based on its analysis of big data and complex algorithms.
People remain a company’s greatest asset. We are not, or ever will be, at the stage where bots can think freely or come up with ideas, and these are fundamentally what fuels a business. A company is only as good as its employees. However, by allowing bots to take on the mundane, routine tasks in a way that customers can get on board with, a bot can become a very strong asset to the team. With some estimates showing that AI could save financial services firms a total of $1 trillion – it’s time to embrace the future.
HOW FINANCIAL SERVICES CAN GET TO GRIPS WITH RISING SUPPLY CHAIN RISK
By Alex Saric, smart procurement expert, Ivalua
UK businesses have never been more dependent on their suppliers to help them deliver goods and services to their customers. Be it retail, manufacturing or financial services, suppliers have a vital role to play when it comes to innovation and meeting customer expectations. However, as supply chains become increasingly global, businesses are potentially exposing themselves to more risk than ever before.
This is especially true in financial services. Whether it’s the impact of geopolitical events like Brexit or global tariff wars, supply shortages, security or the businesses impact on the environment, an organisation’s failure to identify and mitigate risk could see millions wiped off its share price, and its corporate reputation left in tatters. Risk can present itself anywhere and at any time, so financial services firms must be ready to address it. However, many simply don’t have the ability to evaluate suppliers for risk factors, leaving them wide open to business operations being hindered, or being slapped with financial penalties.
More suppliers, increasing risk
One reason why financial services firms aren’t able to evaluate suppliers is the breadth and scale of today’s supply chains. For example, French oil company Total said in in a recent human rights briefing paper that they work with over 150,000 direct suppliers worldwide. This is just one example of how large and varied the roster of partners has become. Research from Ivalua has found that financial services businesses on average are working with around 3,600 suppliers annually, which is evenly split between UK-based and international partners. That number is expected to rise, with 60% expecting the number of suppliers they work with to rise.
The expanding nature of suppliers is only going to expose financial services firms to more potential risk than ever before, yet 78% say they face challenges gaining complete visibility into suppliers and their activities.
A lack of supplier visibility leaves businesses unable to identify and mitigate against supply chain risk. In fact, almost three-quarters (73%) of financial services firms have experienced some type of risk during the last 12 months. These include; supplier failure (43%), environmental impact, such as pollution or waste (35%) and supply shortages (45%). Supply shortages can be among the most damaging to a business, as seen by both the KFC chicken shortage which closed stores, and the summer 2018 CO2 shortage which caused companies such as Heineken and Coca-Cola to pause production, impacting supply across Europe during the World Cup.
Businesses unprepared for the worst
One way financial services firms can better prepare for risk is to ensure they know what to plan for to reduce the impact. However, whilst some say they have a contingency plan in place to deal with risk, many of them are unprepared. Financial services firms admitted to not having comprehensive and deployed contingency plans in place to prepare the supply chain for risk such as; natural disasters (68%), supply shortages (67%), geopolitical changes (65%), environmental impact (63%), supplier failure (62%) and modern slavery (50%).
In order to effectively prepare for these types of risks, it’s vital that financial services businesses fully understand their suppliers, their business environment, global variations in regulations, geopolitics, and a host of other factors. But for many, there are multiple challenges when it comes to gaining this understanding. A prevailing factor is an inability to gain visibility into all suppliers and activity because supplier management data is stored in multiple locations and formats, making insights difficult to access. This leaves teams unable to review supplier activity and assess compliance.
Making supplier management smarter
It’s imperative that financial services businesses are able to respond or prepare for supply chain risk. Clearly, much more needs to be done to ensure they have complete visibility of suppliers, especially in an era where regulators can levy heavy fines for GDPR breaches and scandals spread in minutes over social media. These types of risks can be reduced in the future if procurement teams have a 360-degree view of suppliers which will help with contingency planning and risk management.
For example, in the instance of supply shortages, plans could be put in place that identify alternative suppliers to ensure any shortages do not impact end users. This type of supplier collaboration is paramount when it comes to managing and mitigating against supplier shortages. When it comes to regulations, financial services firms can’t allow a lack of visibility to limit their ability to ensure all suppliers are compliant.
To do this, teams must take a smarter approach to procurement that gives complete visibility into suppliers throughout the supply chain. This will allow financial services firms to identify and plan for risk, reducing the potential damage, and ensuring they are working with and awarding business to low-risk suppliers. Supply chain risk is rapidly becoming an overarching concern for financial services firms, but by providing the ability to assess suppliers, they will have all the insights they need to mitigate the impact on business operations.
ISO 20022 – THE BEDROCK FOR PAYMENTS TRANSFORMATION
Lauren Jones, Global Payments Ambassador, Icon Solutions
The financial services industry has seen ISO 20022 grow firmly over the last 15 years. What was then a small pocket of countries tackling migration has now become widespread adoption for domestic and international payments.
And with momentum building, it is clear that IS0 20022 is playing a foundational role for banks in the transformation of their infrastructures, with the rich messaging format delivering business benefits and enabling enhanced customer propositions.
The time is now for ISO 20022
European initiatives, such as SEPA, were the first to drive usage, but have since catalysed a network effect in other countries. Recent examples driving adoption include the New Payments Platform in Australia and the Bank of England’s Real-Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) service doing the same in the UK.
Despite the timeline delay, the SWIFT migration to ISO 20022 for cross-border payments will drive further adoption and it is clear to see why. As the world becomes more connected, having a globally interoperable standard is attractive. ISO 20022 allows banks to have a consistent experience across geographies and provides a low-risk approach to modernisation.
In the US things are moving as well. With the country’s most important payments market infrastructures, the Fedwire and The Clearing House Interbank RTP system, migrating their High Value Payment (HVP) systems almost concurrently, widespread ISO 20022 has reached a tipping point.
For US banks this means it is important to understand that ISO 2022 is no longer happening “somewhere else”. Banks dealing with the modernisation of infrastructure need to decide what will become the bedrock of their transformation efforts. ISO 20022 seems to be the only sensible choice.
ISO 20022 in practice
While banks in the US and across the world grapple with ISO 20022, it is crucial that they engage internal and external stakeholders early on in their journey to define their strategy. Resources should also be pulled from all areas of a bank, including technology, operations, AML, product and sales.
Implementation is not just a technical issue. Governance, sequencing and coordinating activities are all vital for success. Banks need to lay a foundation where legacy systems are ringfenced, but it is equally important for them to understand how to move rich data through or around legacy infrastructure as early as possible.
Deciding what to do with legacy systems is a challenge for many financial institutions. Therefore it can be useful to deploy mapping or translation services in the early stages of adoption. In fact, many market infrastructure ISO 20022 programs include a phased approach where there is a like-for-like phase (where no new functionality is used), allowing adopters to become familiar with the new standard.
This is often followed by multi-year adoption of new functionality and gradual decommissioning of legacy formats. However, mapping should not be viewed as a longer-term solution. To harness the full value of ISO 20022, supporting the standardisation natively allows banks to build from the ground up. This creates a modern data model where both internal efficiency and external value can be realised.
ISO 20022 is the way to deliver added value
One of the major drivers for ISO 20022 adoption is to remain competitive. By implementing a common standard banks can have a platform to innovate at pace and with lower costs.
Many banks now see ISO 20022 as a critical foundational element to deliver value to their corporate clients. But the benefits of ISO 20022 are not solely external. Increasingly, APIs are being used to support both deep integration within the bank and with a broad spectrum of fintech partners. ISO 20022 allows the capability of having a single data model across various computer languages and therefore across multiple use cases.
With a shift towards data-driven architecture, ISO 20022 allows banks to generate greater amounts of standardised data to provide targeted insight. The move to ISO 20022 will therefore be of paramount importance for banks to take advantage of richer, standardised data sets. With more payment volumes set to adopt ISO 20022 by 2025, the discussion is moving on from the standard simply serving transactional needs to the data that can be extracted from these transactions.
Prioritising payments transformation
In other words, over the next few years we will see payments being refocused from a commoditised proposition to a strategic, value-adding one. Yet being “data-aware” is not good enough. Banks need to be powered by that data. As cutting costs is no longer enough to sustain banks, they must use payments data to deliver more appealing propositions and revenue-boosting, value-added services.
As the adoption of ISO 20022 remains fragmented in the US for the time being, many banks will continue to question how best to take advantage of the standard. However, it should be evident that ISO 20022 is coming and the time to prepare is now.
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