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Status update: conversational AI in the banking sector in 2019

Artificial intelligence in banking industry Conversion To Genuine Benefits

By Henry Vaage Iversen, CCO & co-founder, Boost.ai

Banks and financial institutions are especially well-suited for the adoption of conversational AI. This is due to the typically high volume of small-to-mid-sized inquiries that they receive on a daily basis. While each and every customer inquiry is important, it is possible for menial, repetitive tasks to eat up valuable time of employees in the contact center, plummeting productivity levels.

Henry Vaage Iversen

Henry Vaage Iversen

A virtual agent offers the perfect solution to automate the bulk of these interactions. Juniper Research predicts that the success rate of customers interacting with artificial intelligence in the banking sector will reach over 90% by 2020. With the right implementation, it is possible to handle everything from balance inquiries to funds transfers, freeing up support staff to assist customers with nuanced topics like mortgages or financial advice.

Banks love this because it means their employees are more efficient, and they ultimately save money. And their customers love it, too, because they get the answers they need without falling prey to any of the usual customer service pain points.

Standing out in a crowded market

Being able to understand every customer is critical if you want to give your customers a fast and frictionless experience – not just the ones who know what keywords they need to use to navigate a chatbot.

My team and I like to say that ‘you can’t help anyone if you don’t first understand the problem’, which is why virtual agents need to be built using the most advanced natural language understanding (NLU) on the market. Combining natural language processing, deep learning and proprietary technology called automatic semantic understanding (ASU). ASU works alongside deep learning models to seek out more complicated connections between sentences, increasing the complexity of what inputs it can understand and reducing false positives to a minimum.

Any fit for purpose solution needs to make it possible to talk with a virtual agent, rather than being talked at by a chatbot. This technological advantage gives banking users the confidence to implement a ‘chat-first’ strategy, where customers first have to interact with a virtual agent before a human operator can be brought into the loop.

Delivering results with a ‘chat-first’ strategy

We’ve seen the use of conversational AI grow exponentially in the banking sector. Norway’s biggest bank by market value, DNB, began using conversational AI in 2018 to help handle the thousands of daily customer inquiries they received via their website. Using a ‘chat-first’ implementation strategy where their virtual agent acts as first-line support, they are seeing even better results than expected.

Since launch, DNB have seen a 55% drop in traffic to human chat. This translates to their virtual agent completely automating 20% of all their customer service traffic – that’s across all channels including email, phone, etc.

Ultimately, what this proves is that customers are less concerned whether their answers are coming from a human or a machine, just as long as they are correct and delivered in a timely manner.

Looking ahead. Bringing conversational AI stateside

In the Nordics, banks need to be forward-thinking in order to keep up with the expectations of their tech-savvy customers. The perfect proving ground for preparing to tackle the US banking sector.

There is a clear gap in the market for artificially-intelligent virtual agents that could increase customer experience and satisfaction for US banks and not make it worse through impersonal automation from poor quality chatbots.

Conversational AI presents a real opportunity to deliver a personalized customer experience on par with the good old days when businesses could maintain meaningful relationships with customers. Only now they can do so on a much larger scale than ever before.

Many banks in the Nordics are already taking their virtual agents beyond a basic info-bot implementation and branching out into the transactional capabilities that really deliver on the potential of conversational AI.

SR-Bank in Norway, is in the process of having its virtual agent officially certified as a financial advisor. This will allow it to give banking customers recommendations on retirement plans and mortgages, and could be a true game-changer for the industry.

The recent launch of the world’s first virtual agent network also opens up exciting new possibilities for the use of conversational AI technology. Allowing connected virtual agents to talk to each other, determining which one can provide the best assistance to the customer – all in the same chat window for a truly seamless experience. It’s a fantastic way to bridge the gap between business units that can often be siloed away in large enterprises like banks.

The future looks bright and we’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of what is possible for conversational AI in the banking sector.

Banking

What does the future hold for accessing earnings? Introducing the world’s first Earnings on Demand payment and debit card

What does the future hold for accessing earnings? Introducing the world’s first Earnings on Demand payment and debit card 1

By James Herbert, CEO & founder, Hastee

Let’s begin by looking at how our brains are wired. Think about the hunter-gatherer mindset: when we expend effort, we expect an immediate reward.

It’s therefore no surprise that over time, different areas in society have adapted to our nature as humans. Almost everything we want, we can get on-demand. Whether it’s instantly streaming movies on Netflix, online shopping from Amazon, or fast-food delivery from the likes of Just Eat. And, because of such technological innovations our expectations have accelerated when it comes to the pace of delivery. This isn’t individual to us as consumers in our day-to-day lives, it’s also reflected in the workplace. We ultimately want work to work for us.

Part of this of course comes down to accessing wages. Workers should be able to access a portion of their earned wages whenever they need it, in advance of the monthly pay cycle – whether to help during challenging times or in day-to-day life. We solved this solutionBut, to take this up a level, ready for the future, we introduced the world’s first Earnings on Demand contactless debit card, powered by Visa – giving users access to their accrued earnings in real-time, with the card’s balance dynamically increasing every day they work.

So what is the card, and how will it change how we access earnings in the future?

The basis is very much the concept of Earnings on Demand. At university I set up a company called Brightsparks to connect students with work opportunities so they could earn money. Yet I noticed a common trend. With students often having to wait for the monthly pay cycle to get their earnings, many were having to turn down work simply because they couldn’t afford the travel day-by-day. It became very apparent that not having £20 today could stop them earning £200 tomorrow.

It struck me that payday itself doesn’t have to be a rigid construct that people have to wait for. But this isn’t specific to students. Liquidity is a widespread issue faced by people in all industries and of all ages, and according to our most recent Workplace Wellbeing Study, 82 per cent of people turn to high-cost methods of financing to tide them over when needed.

The Hastee Card effectively makes wages directly accessible: it simply lets people spend a portion of  what they’ve already earned.

Some people might wonder why they’d want to step away from the standard monthly pay cycle. But consider this: the monthly payroll (via a cheque) only came about in the 1960s as an Act of Parliament. Before this, most people were paid weekly in cash. The first major firm that shifted to monthly payments did it for cost-cutting. It worked for the employer more than the employee. In fact, that firm’s employees had rejected their employer’s change of payment type when it was first trialled a decade before (look up ‘Pye Radio’). So the way that workers and organisations interact around pay is not set in stone – it changes as technology and society shifts.

The way we perceive and use money keeps evolving. Apple Pay, Monzo, and PayPal have completely changed the way payments can happen, yet payroll still remains largely unchanged. It’s only a matter of time before disruption becomes more widespread.

Looking at it from the employer side, it has its benefits too. Before the climate changed, businesses were accommodating enhanced workplace benefits such as no-desk policies, flexible or remote working. In all cases by businesses offering more, they tend to see a more engaged, happier and less financially stressed workforce – leading to increased productivity.

Earnings on Demand is ultimately a perk that presents an ethical alternative to high-cost credit options such as payday loans, credit cards and overdrafts. And existing solutions offer zero impact on payroll processes, zero impact on the cashflow of the business and are designed for quick, simple integration.

The Hastee Card is an evolution of this all – preparing for the future. It builds upon and enhances the user experience by reducing friction and offering immediate spending power as well as a path to greater benefits such as cashback and rewards in the not-to-distant future.

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Banking

Going branchless: How banks can keep customers coming through the virtual doors 

Going branchless: How banks can keep customers coming through the virtual doors  2

By Richard Kelsey, Head of Software Sales at Backbase

Though you might be familiar with the popular seaside town of Newquay, you may not be familiar with its historic financial district aptly named, Bank Street. Dozens of banks and building societies have dominated this area since the late 1800s. However, the street hit the headlines recently as, 120 years after the first bank opened its doors, the last bank closed them.

This is not new. Bank closures have been part of the news agenda for years, and now, COVID-19 has further accelerated the physical turning into the digital. Across the globe, banks have had to close or limit the operating hours of their in-person locations, forcing banks to digitise at speed. Keeping the pipeline of digital sales flowing for new clients, increasing digital product origination and facilitating those cross-sell journeys to customers is key to survival.

Digital take up

Delivering seamless digital customer journeys was already a fast-growing priority for banking and wealth management organizations pre-pandemic. Research shows that 38% of customers stated UX as the most important factor when choosing a digital bank. In response, banks have been investing in digital technology and collaborating with third-party providers as they strive to offer a superior customer experience and stay competitive. But the global lockdowns – which have restricted people to banking digitally – have turbocharged these trends. Growing demand for digital onboarding, and digitized services to support the ongoing customer journey, must be matched by effective capabilities though.

Plugging the leaks

Conversion leakage is a particular problem during the digital client acquisition process. With branches shuttered during the coronavirus lockdowns, and subsequent openings and customer footfall likely to be severely limited for the foreseeable future, this leakage presents a major, and costly, challenge as institutions seek to convert digital sales and boost their return on investment.

The key is understanding why leakage happens in the first place and time and time again, there are three main trends that cause the most problems:

  1. Switching from a customer’s current provider is too difficult (for example, in transferring bill payments and direct debits).
  2. The digital process is too cumbersome (particularly where existing offline processes are simply put online).
  3. Customers lack human touchpoints and advice when they need it (especially for more complex products).

Combating these levels of leakage requires firms to take an outside-in approach, to see the process from the customer’s perspective. From this viewpoint, they can design a more customer-friendly experience that streamlines the job at hand.

One way to simplify the acquisition journey is to incorporate human/AI advisor interventions at points of friction, where customers may become stuck. Another is to adopt retargeting strategies that address customers who abandon the application process partway – for example, by storing their details in a CRM system and sending them notifications to complete the application, or referring them to an outbound call centre employee who can pick up the process by phone. Such approaches can boost completion rates by 40%, delivering substantial benefits to the bank.

Stronger digital growth

Banks’ return on tangible equity has plateaued globally at approximately 10.5% over the past decade, and the lower-for-longer interest rate environment will add to the pressure. Addressing cost-income ratios has become a matter of urgency.

Firms now face a strategic inflection point. Continuing with old business-as-usual practices will leave institutions struggling to attract new (especially younger) clients, while grappling with an exodus of existing customers and an overburdened cost base. But by digitising processes to enhance the client experience, banks and other financial institutions can increase their revenues and reduce costs, and have a loyal customer base who don’t feel the impact of the branchless bank.

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Banking

Shawbrook Bank “cautiously optimistic” as it Publishes Half Year Report for 2020

Shawbrook Bank “cautiously optimistic” as it Publishes Half Year Report for 2020 3
  • Financial performance impacted by the pandemic
    • Expected credit loss (ECL) charges of £45.8 million recognised on loans and advances to customers
    • Profit before tax (PBT) was impacted by the adverse effects of COVID-19 and the subsequent provisions set aside, reducing by 89% to £5.9 million
    • Customer deposits rose by 25% to £7.6 billion while capital remained strong with a CET1 ratio of 12.3%
    • A total of 15.9k payment holidays granted across the Group
  • The specialist bank continued to operate effectively through COVID-19
    • 98% of employees moved to remote working within days and no staff furloughed
    • Successfully achieved accreditation under UK Government’s CBILS
    • Continued investment in technology to digitalise the business
  • Shawbrook “cautiously optimistic” as momentum begins to return to certain specialist sectors

Shawbrook Bank has today (Monday 10 August 2020) published its half year financial results for the period ending 30 June 2020.

The specialist bank confirmed it had set aside £45.8 million of provisions to provide for potential future loan impairments caused by COVID-19. The bank reported it had also granted a total of 15.9k payment holidays to support its customers through the pandemic, of which 10.8k remained in force at 30 July 2020.

As a result of such provisions, the bank’s profitability was impacted with a reduction in PBT by 89% to £5.9 million.

Despite the challenging market conditions, the bank retained its active position in the UK savings market, increasing its retail savings deposit base by 25% to £7.6 billion. During the period, Shawbrook also successfully completed a £75 million Tier 2 re-financing to further optimise its capital structure.

Ian Cowie, Shawbrook Bank’s Chief Executive Officer, said that COVID-19 has had a clear impact on the bank’s financial performance, but Shawbrook remained in a position of strength.

He commented: “Prior to COVID-19, the Group had continued to make good financial progress, starting 2020 with a strong balance sheet and prudently positioned capital and liquidity base.

“To further optimise the Group’s capital structure, during H1 2020 we initiated a Tier 2 refinancing and, despite the challenging market conditions, successfully completed the £75 million issuance in July.

“We have also maintained our active position in the UK savings market. However, the longer-term economic impacts of the pandemic remain hard to predict and as a result we have recognised expected credit loss charges in the period on loans and advances to customers of £45.8 million and on loan commitments of £1.5 million.

“While this has clearly had an impact on profitability, our capital strength positions us well to support our customers and grow our business in line with appetite as we enter the second half of the year.”

Throughout COVID-19, Shawbrook maintained full operational functionality, with no staff furloughed and 98% of employees transferred to remote working within days of the UK lockdown being announced.

The bank adopted a series of concession opportunities across its product range to help alleviate the financial impacts of COVID-19 on its customers. During this time, Shawbrook also successfully achieved accreditation to the UK Government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) to provide further funding support to its SME clients.

Mr Cowie added: “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, our focus has remained on supporting our staff, customers and partners while at the same time safeguarding the long-term sustainability of our business.

“When the UK lockdown was announced in March 2020, we acted with speed and agility, moving to an almost entirely remote operation within days. Led by a stable and experienced management team and with the support of new and existing technology, we have continued to operate effectively throughout this period.”

Throughout the first half of the year, the bank also continued to identify investment opportunities to further digitalise its proposition, with a core focus on its SME offering.

Mr. Cowie added: “Notwithstanding the pandemic, we have continued to invest in our business to help drive our strategic ambition to become the UK’s Specialist SME Lender of Choice. As well as the ongoing deployment of targeted digital solutions across the Property, Consumer lending and Savings businesses, our investment in the development of a new growth platform in our Business Finance franchise will serve to further modernise our offering, delivering an enhanced customer journey as well as significant operational efficiencies.”

Looking to the future he continued: “Although significant uncertainties regarding the broader macroeconomic impact and pace of recovery remain, we are cautiously optimistic in our outlook as we start to see signs of momentum returning to certain of our specialist sectors.

“Our management expertise and prudent approach to credit decisioning, combined with investment in our digital propositions, means we are well positioned to adapt and respond to opportunities as they arise throughout the second half of the year.”

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