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Sweet talking: how chatbots help banks become smarter



Cathal McGloin, CEO of ServisBOT


Traditional banks are under pressure from increasing regulation and challenger banks. This has led to a sharper focus on unit economics and the increasing application of artificial intelligence and automation technologies that lower service costs while still meeting customers’ needs.

Chatbots: The new voice of banking has arrived


To maintain customer service levels while reducing service costs, an army of chatbots are offering game-changing opportunities for financial institutions to transform how they engage with customers across all touch points in their financial interactions. Whether it’s a request to provide a customer with the balance on their account or activate a newly-issued credit card; acquiring new customers by bringing them through a smooth application and approval process, or promoting new banking products and loyalty programs, chatbots can handle a multitude of customer interactions.

New channels of communication, enabled by social messaging platforms, voice-activated assistants, and mobile devices, have created new and exciting possibilities that are increasingly centered on conversations.  Powered by Natural Language Processing (NLP) and artificial intelligence (AI) technology, automated customer interactions now enable human-like chat and fluid conversations.

For the consumer, smart chatbots bring greater convenience, lower friction, and increased accessibility for their banking needs. For banks and other financial service providers, it brings a new wave of innovation centered around customer conversations.  Now, financial institutions can literally have a voice and deliver their services to customers in more convenient and automated ways, across multiple touchpoints and communication channels.

Chatbots: evolving toward conversational AI

Intelligent banking chatbots can interpret customer intent, understand exactly what they want, elicit any additional information needed, and execute the necessary tasks, all in a single seamless chat. Rather than limiting customers to pre-defined banking processes, departmental siloes, structured forms and menus, cluttered websites, and contact centre availability, a single automated conversation can trigger the tasks that are needed to fulfill the customer’s need. This is what is commonly termed as Conversational AI.

Banking bots help streamline and automate customer-facing processes, lowering the cost of service delivery. Take, for example the simple task of authorising and activating a customer’s newly-issued credit card. A chatbot could be used to replace the call to the contact centre, getting the card activated quickly and easily and without the need for human agent intervention.

In addition to using bots simply to further automate specific tasks and make them available 24/7, there are far-reaching opportunities to use conversational AI to transform customer engagement across the banking organisation. By allowing the automated conversation flow to call on different business processes, the customer can move across various service channels to fulfill their financial service needs.

For example, a customer may request their bank balance by voice over Siri, or Amazon Alexa. The account bot can move the conversation to the customer’s preferred messaging channel, sending them their statement balance. This chat could then call on other bots to send a reminder on the upcoming credit card payment, promote a new product or offer, or to ask the customer if they have any other banking need.

Since conversations are more fluid and less structured they lend themselves to more versatile engagement. They also remove a lot of the friction that frustrates customers when they are trying to complete multiple tasks by enabling this in a single conversational session.

A new way of working

Speaking in a recent television interview, Monzo CEO, Tom Blomfield, reported that, while traditional banks are investing £150 per customer per year to maintain each customer account, his challenger bank can service an account for a tenth of that.

Using a range of customer interaction channels has been key to this cost reduction. Monzo uses a combination of in-app chat, social media, browser-based FAQs and traditional call centre agents, to help customers to find answers in the most customer-friendly and cost-efficient way.

Writing in Monzo’s annual report, Blomfield wrote, “We’ve also been able to make savings by helping our customer support team become more efficient. Together, this has helped us lower the cost per account to around £15.

About £10 of this cost goes towards providing fast, friendly support: the team who speak to our customers and solve their problems every day, in-app, over the phone and on social media. We see that £10 as an investment that lets us provide an effective, delightful service that’s reflected in a Net Promoter Score of almost +80.”

With banks under increasing pressure from new and agile competitors and a more demanding and tech-savvy generation of banking customers, creating superior experiences is a must. Chat, combined with the power of AI, is the key.

Chatbots: go beyond the contact centre

There are multiple ways in which chatbots can transform customer-facing interactions in the banking industry. They can be used to automate tasks to assist with most customers’ financial service interactions. However, chatbots can be extended beyond contact centres to encompass any other operational area involving customer interaction.

Within financial operations, any process that is customer-facing, whether approving a customer for a credit card, fraud prevention, or credit management, are all potential use cases for bots. JPMorgan Chase uses chatbots to streamline back-office operations. Its contract intelligence software, COIN, scans commercial agreements and has saved more than 360,000 hours of employee time. The chatbot also assists employees with regular IT requests such as resetting passwords.

For credit card providers, collections management is an important operational issue to reduce the number of delinquent accounts and bad debts that impact cash flow. However, connecting with customers often proves difficult when arranging collections. This situation is exacerbated by reduced engagement levels via phone.

A collections bot can proactively contact late payers at convenient times via messaging, which has measurably higher engagement rates. The bot can make it easy for customers to make a payment within a single chat session and can guide the customer to enrol in payment programmes, such as autopay or prepaid cards. A collections bot can also take the necessary actions to reduce a credit limit or suspend the card and can send multiple reminders to ensure that payment is made, without increasing service costs to the credit card provider.

Banking chatbot use cases, both inbound and outbound, can be tailored to customer segments, by geography, and by operational department. Conversational AI can transform how banks engage with customers, not just in single siloed transactions but in more fluid and flexible ways that can make banks more competitive and build their brand identity.

Chatbots: a banking ambassador for customer loyalty

From the early days of print and telephone to the emergence of the internet and online banking, financial institutions have engaged with their customers using a range of communication channels. Conversational AI represents one of the biggest shifts in user interfaces since the introduction of the ATM forty years ago.

To meet the needs of millennial customers, banks need to up the ante on convenience, trust, and personalization, applying the latest technology to attract and retain this growing customer segment. Wells Fargo uses a chatbot to allow customers to check their latest transactions over Facebook Messenger. Using technology to pre-empt questions, Monzo reduced the number of customers that needed to get in touch with its contact centre by 33 per centin three months.

Voice-activated interfaces including Siri, Echo, Cortana and Google Home and message-based interfaces such as SMS, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, are increasingly shaping how banks engage with these customers and create brand loyalty through smart conversations. By keeping the conversation flowing, AI can help banks maintain the vital balance of keeping customers happy while managing costs.”


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Digital Acceleration – the next buzzword in banking tech? Or a new era for the industry?




Ove Kreison, CTO at Tuum

McKinsey’s latest report on banking found that traditional banks are spending a whopping 85% of their tech budgets on maintaining legacy solutions, with just 15% going towards building anything new for customers.

Digital transformation’ has been the buzzword in banking technology for years, but the figures suggest there’s still a lot of ‘transforming’ left to be desired. Now we’re beginning to see the term ‘digital acceleration’ come to the fore, what does that mean for the state of banking technology? What is the difference between acceleration and transformation, and what should banks and other financial services players do to remain competitive?

Digital transformation – the second machine age which has taken an age!

The idea of ‘digital transformation’ didn’t come out of the blue. Banking – like most other industries post-WW2 – has been experiencing the ‘second machine age’ for decades, exploring how technology can digitize processes and services to make cost, operational and organisational efficiencies. All the while, this process has also made it far easier for companies to be more competitive with new digital products that are slicker, quicker and more user-friendly.

Banks have benefited from wherever they have had digital transformation to date – but it is the digital transformation of core technology stacks that is having the most impact and making banks realise operational efficiencies while making them nimbler to adapt to changing customer needs and remain relevant and competitive in a highly disrupted market.  Digital transformation to the core gives banks the ability to launch new offerings to market quicker, renovate and modernize business models, leverage and analyse data from multiple systems taking innovation of the more exciting front-end and customer centric offerings to the next level.  Faster speed to market,  highly personalised offerings, more agile, more scalable.

Success and progress to date, however, has been slow. Traditional banks especially are lumbered with highly complex and costly core technology stacks. Digital transformation and upgrading these core stacks still remains a priority, but the next wave of digital acceleration is now an urgent priority on the c-suite agenda to ensure banks compete and survive in a rapidly evolving industry.

Digital Acceleration vs Digital Transformation

Digital transformation at its core takes the existing ways companies have run their business and applies new technologies to digitize them – for example, taking a paper-based application process and making it online.

Digital acceleration is different. Here, digital becomes the very core of the business model, creating further new digital processes. It gives the power to not just make existing processes digital but to reimagine how those processes impact and improve the business. Some of the most forward-thinking banks are already doing this. BBVA, the second biggest bank in Spain, is actively and openly seeking to become a software company in the future and has digital at the heart of its offering. It embraced open innovation and new technologies to better serve its customers – for example, it launched an app-based money transfer offering, Tuyyo, in 2017. It’s also exploring how technologies like blockchain can be used to transform fundamental banking services such as loan origination, with the aim of improving the way it runs its businesses.

Co-Value Creation – Going it Alone isn’t an Option

A core facet of digital acceleration – especially in a highly mature and saturated market like banking – will be how banks, fintechs, enterprises and others collaborate to mobilise these more diverse capabilities and expertise, bringing mutual benefits to all parties.

The pace of technological change is so hypercompetitive to the point now where organisations cannot always sustain their competitive advantage or ‘do it all’. Constantly updating your offering to maintain market share and react to new demands has become a necessity for banks, but it is exhausting. More and more banks and FS providers are realising that the strategic resources and capabilities needed to deliver these innovative services lie outside of their business, and given the fast pace of change, developing everything in-house is unrealistic given the skills gap, time and cost constraints. Moreover, tech advances around integration and APIs mean collaborating with third-party experts has never been easier or more effective to bring capabilities that, combined with their own core offerings and customer data, provide an important competitive advantage and valuable proposition for customers.

One brilliant example of this is ING. Recognising the struggles associated with traditionally manual and paper-intensive trade finance processes, it launched a blockchain-based commodities financing platfrom Komgo in 2018 with a consortium of other banks and corporates like Société Général, Citi, and Mercuria. In an age of hypercompetition – mutually beneficial collaboration is the answer.

Transform, accelerate, create

Ultimately, banks can continue to digitally transform while also looking to digitally accelerate. In fact, the two go hand in hand; in order to reap the benefits and be able to consider platform co-creation and digital acceleration, banks need to transform their tech stacks from the core to have the capability and agility to think beyond the realms of their own core business and their own technology. Those that get it right by driving innovation from the core, are reimagining their business models for the digital age, tapping into new revenue streams and becoming more customer-centric are not only more relevant now but future proofed for digital acceleration of the future.

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Regulations, RegTech and CBDCs – Fintech’s Next Chapter 




Teresa Cameron, Finance Director at Clear Junction 


Over the last decade, the UK has embraced the fintech revolution with open arms. The remarkable growth and innovation in recent years has transformed the way financial services are delivered and accessed. In the UK, fintech accounts for around half of venture capital in the UK, and as we race to meet consumer demand, we’re seeing the development of new services flood the market: from digital wallets to AI chatbots, biometrics and touch IDs.

London is recognised globally as a crucial hub for fintech innovation, yet with this great power comes great responsibility. Both the FTX and SVB collapses dented trust in fintech, and this has translated into a dip in venture capital investment in the industry, which declined globally by 30%.

2022 was called fintech’s year of reckoning, but 2023 stands as the year to rebuild and we need to recognise that regulation is not a scary word. Now is our chance to be part of the next evolution in fintech, that will solidify it as an accredited and stable industry. By leading the charge now, we can make sure we have a say on what the future of fintech will look like.

Sustainable practices = sustainable growth

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is set to implement its Consumer Duty in the upcoming months. Whereas before, the FCA has broadly been reactive, this will be the first time that the FCA will be formally setting out regulation and will have a proactively structured programme.

One of the most important aspects is to make sure that financial services put the interests of their customers at the heart of their business operations. This means a higher standard of protection across the industry and providing consumers with transparent information, as well as making sure that staff are trained and held accountable.

This is a huge step to regain trust in the industry right now and help raise the bar in what we can offer consumers. Change begins from the inside and by closely working with regulators and adhering to their guidelines, fintechs in the UK can benefit from the increased trust and confidence in the digital currency ecosystem. This approach not only protects consumers and investors but also means that we can bolster the legitimacy and viability of digital currencies as an alternative to traditional financial systems.

Regtech Revolution

It’s estimated that globally $2trillion is laundered annually, and the threat of financial criminals continues to rise as they become more sophisticated and utilise new technology, either through payments, open banking, or crypto. This, twinned with new global regulations and increasing compliance costs, means the need for innovative solutions in the regtech industry has never been greater.

We’ve seen an explosion in AI and machine learning (ML) tech to help better protect customers, and they have completely transformed the regtech space. These technologies can be used to analyse vast amounts of data and identify patterns that may indicate fraudulent activities. The algorithms can detect anomalies, flag suspicious transactions, and continuously learn from new data to improve fraud detection capabilities over time. That’s not to say that its completely fool proof. Continuous monitoring, regular updates, and staying abreast of emerging fraud trends will also be crucial.

At the same time, as the regulatory landscape becomes more complex and we see new rules develop over time, this tech will help fintechs mitigate risk management practices and maintain compliance in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

CBDCs and decentralized finance 

Central bank digital currencies (CBDC) have been a hot topic of conversation, with pilot initiatives underway globally. Most recently the European Central Bank is currently said to start with proposed legislation in the next several weeks and here in the UK the Bank of England is also blueprinting plans for the ‘Britcoin.’

Digital currency backed by a central bank has been heralded to be a safe and stable means of payment and less volatile than crypto. However, some are concerned over privacy and anonymity surrounding a state-owned currency.

Tom Mutton, who is leading the Britcoin charge, has stated that the BoE never sought to make the digital pound anonymous, and that privacy will be a top priority. Under the Bank’s proposals, consumers would engage with the digital pound through private sector providers. With the increasing integration of digital currencies into mainstream operations, in the UK and abroad, both the government and financial institutions are showing growing interest in making sure there is a stable foundation of regulation as it develops.

Following regulations can pave the way for digital currency companies to tap into traditional banking services, which is crucial for their growth and overall success. Banks tend to be cautious about partnering with digital currency companies due to perceived risks associated with the industry. However, when these companies demonstrate compliance with regulations, it helps alleviate those concerns and makes banks more willing to collaborate.

We are at the beginning of a new age in the fintech space, and it’s an exciting place to be. We, as financial intuitions, have an opportunity to help write the next chapter. It is a long road to map out ahead, but we need to look for sustainable, long-term practices because, ultimately, that equals sustainable long-term growth, and fundamentally means survival for the industry.

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