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AI aims at banking

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Despite the bad reputation some older movies have given AI, a recent survey by Accenture shows that it could well be a big deal in banking, says KELE BOAKGOMO, Managing Director for Financial Services practice at Accenture, South Africa.

Artificial Intelligence gets a bad rap in pop culture. Movies like Terminator (with its rebellious Skynet) and 2001 (with its murderous HAL 9000) portray a future where the robots get smart, and conclude that it is in their interests to try and destroy mankind.

But the truth about AI is a lot more mundane. Most of us use AI every day when we talk and interact with Siri or Google on our phones and AI is why Netflix knows what movies you’ll like and what other products you’ll want to buy on Amazon.

And AI is poised to become a big deal in banking. An Accenture poll of more than 600 bankers reveals that 79 percent believe AI will revolutionize how banks learn from and interact with customers; 76 percent believe that AI interfaces will be the primary point of contact between banks and customers within three years; and 71 percent think AI can be the face of their brand.

AI encompasses three different technologies: Language processing that allows computers to “talk” with humans; machine learning where computers compare new information with existing data to find patterns, similarities and differences; and expert software systems that provide personalised advice. At its best, machines learn from experiences and can interact with humans and behave in ways that mimic the human brain.

Robots and artificial intelligence are already being embraced by banks around the world, both in branches and in back offices. At City Union Bank in the Indian city of Chennai, a robot called Lakshmi tells customers about their account balances and the current interest rates on mortgages. At the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ, a robot called Nao analyses facial expressions and behavior as it interacts with customers in Japanese, English and Chinese. Lakshmi and Nao are early, visible signs of how banks can use AI to personalize the banking experience.

In South Africa, AI is not new, but the move of AI beyond process to interaction with customers is new. AI is coming of age, tackling problems both big and small by making interactions simple and smart. It is becoming the new user interface in the banking space and underpinning the way we transact and interact with systems. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of South African bank respondents in the recent Technology Vision for banking research agree that AI will revolutionise the way they gain information and interact with customers.

Now, banks in the U.S are also starting to catch on. Capital One customers can check their accounts and pay credit card bills by talking to Amazon’s Alexa and HSBC customers can quiz the bank’s virtual online assistant Olivia who can answer questions about security and other issues and learns from the effectiveness of her answers. Santander has voice banking, powered by Nuance’s virtual assistant Nina, which allows customers to make transfers and payments based on voice recognition authentication. And, RBS has developed Luvo – a customer service pop-up window that asks customers online if they need help with simple tasks, freeing staff to work on resolving more complex problems. At Accenture, we’ve built Collette – a virtual mortgage adviser that asks customers questions in a natural conversational style and generates personally-tailored advice.

But these cool services are only the first step. Banks need to start using AI to streamline the process of applying for loans or to reimagine ATM interactions to reflect the customer’s typical needs, giving customer’s a blank screen to start with, for example, rather than a standard menu. In the end, AI will help banks truly customise the banking experience by making personalised recommendations and advice. Your bank’s AI might notice from your deposits that your salary has increased and will suggest ways to save more for retirement, or that you just started purchasing diapers for the first time and maybe it’s time to start a college savings account.

Crunching a trove of customer data – everything from banking to automotive records and credit bureau reports – will give banks a clearer picture than ever before of what their customers might want from a financial institution. That’s important because more than two-thirds (67 percent) of bankers say they currently struggle to understand their customers’ needs.

But as banks move forward, they have to make sure they don’t lose the human touch where it’s needed. AI can delight customers and make their transactions quicker and easier. But it can’t completely replace people. In many situations, from personal interactions to nuanced understanding of someone’s financial status, customers need to work with human beings.

A Weber Shandwick survey reveals that, while more than half of consumers say they would trust AI to provide financial guidance, 52 percent of people are concerned about the possibility of stolen data or invasion of privacy — concerns that banks can address by applying extra levels of security around complex transactions such as transferring money between accounts.

Incorporating AI will make banks more efficient, save them money and will make staff more productive by freeing them up to help customers in a more targeted way. And, as we have noticed from other disruptive technologies, once other banks have embraced these advances they will become a mandatory component of any banking offering to retain customers and gain new ones.

Companies should take three steps to ensure that they get it right with AI: 1) Create a clear strategy for using customer data and define how AI tools can best leverage that information; 2) Consider developing an AI Center of Excellence to spearhead the effort; 3) Create a test-and-learn environment to accelerate innovation and to explore how machines can add the cognitive processes of perception, learning and reasoning.

It’s inevitable that customers will have fewer visits at bank branches, but these few interactions with human staff will become more important to customer satisfaction. That means that the bank of the future will need to blend a mix of AI and human interactions if they want to be successful. What we see around us is just the beginning.

Africa News

Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities

Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.

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Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.

Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.

Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.

African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.

Embracing mobility to drive ROI

Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.

Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.

Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.

By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:

·         Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities

·         Access both historical and planned work information when requested

·         Permit customers to sign when the job is completed

·         Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders

·         Create new fault reports on routing

·         Facilitate documentation through photo capturing

·         Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.

The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.

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Brands fall for app vanity

The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.

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Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion  of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity. 

In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis. 

While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities. 

Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI). 

It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind. 

Why apps won’t win the internet

The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement. 

Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge. 

Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance. 

Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps. 

However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year. 

On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.

When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience. 

In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development. 

So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base? 

The logical app alternative 

The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are. 

Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short. 

Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience. 

Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.) 

Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts. 

Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI. 

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