In an interview with Bloomberg, Accenture’s charismatic CEO, Pierre Nanterme, was asked what the companies ‘big bets’ currently are, and his answer was very clear - Artificial Intelligence (AI). Everywhere I look, and everything I read about the next frontier in digital points towards AI. The big consultancies are building infrastructure to deliver this, organisations like Facebook and Amazon are already using AI and are planning big things for the technology in the future. But, are we, as customers ready for the next wave of innovation?
Artificial Intelligence is no longer Sci-Fi, it has arrived and is developing fast - huge advances in the development of natural language processing, cognitive computing and machine learning have ensured this. Brands like Amazon and Netflix have powerful recommendation engines that look at customer data, look at purchase history and then use the data to recommend products that the customer may like.
Forward-thinking banks have begun investing in customer experience as a way to differentiate themselves from their competitors and ensure customer loyalty. However, it is no surprise to learn that technology is not always the answer. Banks are realising that customer behaviours are changing, whereas the branch was the primary point of contact for transactions in the past, it no longer is. Buyer behaviours are changing (as I have mentioned in previous articles), and the ability for organisations to deliver personalised, intelligent product and service information to their customers is the only way forward. When brands realise that they do not own their customers, nor their browsing habits, and they focus their efforts on giving the best possible service they will win and to a large degree AI could help with this. Yet, there is a danger that as AI develops, as we are profiled and machines learn our behaviours in more and more detail, our world view will narrow, our ability to learn and be influenced by things that are outside our usual behaviour patterns will diminish. When, and if this happens, I foresee a huge backlash against so called smart technologies... to a place where people win again - albeit powered but artificial intelligence.
The brutal fact is that young people (and not so young people) are becoming used to the ‘instant gratification’ world of AI. As more and more of the digital leaders adopt the technology, banks have no choice but to follow or be left behind. However, and it is a ‘big’ however, people like people. In a straw poll conducted amongst my colleagues of all ages, I asked the simple question:
‘How do you feel about interacting with AI for Banking?’ Now, bear in mind that my colleagues are at the forefront of innovation and technology, and for the most part are young. The answers I got were unanimous - ‘for everyday stuff, yes. But for the big decisions like a loan or mortgage, we want to speak to a ‘real’ person’’.
This insight appears to be consistent with industry trends however, we learn fast and as we are seeing in some forward-thinking banks, customers are happy to receive personal one-to-one advice that is powered by an AI engine. Already, organisations like Accenture are predicting that ‘7 out of 10 customers will welcome robo-advice for insurance and retirement services’. Bank of America’s ‘Erica’ system is already interacting with customers to help them create ‘better money habits’ by sending predictive messages that help customers get improve the way they manage their money.
Natural language ‘chat-bots’ are helping banks offering advice and information through online chat and although ‘chat-bots’ are not at a stage where they can truly interact in natural language with customers, they learn fast, and it is only a matter of time before these systems are the product of choice for banks.
There is also a role for AI in helping staff. By equipping them with the information they need at the touch of a button, universal bankers will be in a strong position to offer informed, personal and relevant advice and information to customers backed by the power of AI.
One of the big questions yet to be resolved is ‘How will companies marry the power and obvious benefits of AI with customers demand for human-to-human interactions?’ Every day we read about hacks, profiling, receive annoying calls from automated AI services and feel the power of technology pushing experiences, and I cannot help but think that the balance is wrong at the moment. Technology is a tool, it has the power if inform, to make everyday challenges simpler, less repetitive, and to free up time for us to be more creative and productive. It is not a replacement for human beings and should not be. People still like people, for all our faults, for all our floors, for all our mistakes, give me a person over a machine - every day
About the Author
Nicholas Griffin is Managing Director at Principle Global (www.principleglobal.com) Information on how to contact Nick is in the footer of this web site.