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Digital banking can be more than just digital

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Providing a banking service that fits within the fabric of every individual lifestyle may be a far-away dream, but by effectively using data, and listening to customers, a bank can at least set off on the right trajectory, writes SHIONA BLUNDELL.

For most of us, banking is a ‘grudge purchase’. We don’t wake up in the morning and look forward to paying accounts, drawing cash from the ATM, or buying airtime. Our interactions with our bank’s call centres or branch staff generally relate to some type of problem that’s occurred.

Since the collapse of the global economy in 2008, and the multibillion dollar bailouts that ensued, our faith in banks has been shattered. Almost a decade later, they’re still struggling to regain lost trust. In the years since 2008, much has been said about the possibilities that digital presents –  to enhance distribution, address new markets, and optimise back-end processes.

Exposing transactional services in new and different ways – such as a smartphone app – is a small component of digitisation. However, in order to maximise the benefits that digitisation delivers, it is vital to capture the real opportunities that new digital technologies and platforms deliver moving forward.

So, what are the opportunities?

While all our major banks are quick to reach for catchphrases like “customer-centricity” and “user-centred design”, how many times have you received a call from your bank, asking what you would actually like from your banking relationship? How many banks are heading out ‘into the field’: understanding customer behaviours at taxi ranks, shops, community centres, offices, and everyday places that punctuate the lives of most South Africans?

We’re infatuated by the limitless possibilities of technology, but we’re failing to listen to what customers really want.

The real value of digital lies in the opportunity to move far closer to the customer, to engage in in-depth ‘customer discovery’ sessions, and at scale. It’s in analysing customer activity across all channels, challenging archaic regulation, removing complexity from customers’ experiences, and building services that provide greater convenience and address real needs.

It’s not about simply finding ways to improve internal efficiencies, or maximise external revenue streams. And it’s certainly not about rolling out the latest, new digital interfaces that we can showcase.

In the quest to become more relevant to their customer, perhaps the biggest opportunity for banks is in providing far more personalised services. Static approaches like segmentation models and LSM definitions simply do not capture the dynamic, multidimensional nature of the modern customer.

For instance, the same money transfer product may be used by mass market customers to send funds to unbanked family members, and by high net worth customers to send money to their children at school or varsity. Though it’s the same product, it’s being used by two very different customers, to satisfy very different needs. It’s only by considering the broader context that we can truly understand the customer behaviour.

Put simply, one size does not fit all. We all have a unique definition of what is acceptable in areas like security, convenience, customer service response times, or data privacy. From a technology perspective, we have different device and connectivity constraints. We have different language capabilities. From province to province, from urban to rural, our daily lives are starkly different.

Providing a banking service that perfectly fits within the fabric of every individual lifestyle may be a far-away dream, but by effectively using data, and listening to customers more closely, a bank can at least set off on the right trajectory.

As a parting thought, there’s a great example of a bank that actively listened to its customers on social media, noticing when one of its clients broadcast to his followers that he was extending his holiday. The bank took the opportunity to recommend a local accommodation provider, and arranged for a discounted stay. This kind of point-in-time, value adding engagement helps elevate the way the bank is seen by its customers – showing a caring and responsive brand personality, and generating increased customer loyalty in return.

This example represents just one of the many ways in which financial services players can use digital advancements to move closer to their customers – and ultimately elevate the relationship away from that of ‘grudge purchase’, towards more personalised, more enjoyable and valued experiences.

* Shiona Blundell, Head of Banking, Africa, Wipro Limited and Gavin Holme, Business Head, Africa, Wipro Limited

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Earth 2050: memory chips for kids, telepathy for adults

An astonishing set of predictions for the next 30 years includes a major challenge to the privacy of our thoughts.

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By 2050, most kids may be fitted with the latest memory boosting implants, and adults will have replaced mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought.

These are some of the more dramatic forecasts in Earth 2050, an award-winning, interactive multimedia project that accumulates predictions about social and technological developments for the upcoming 30 years. The aim is to identify global challenges for humanity and possible ways of solving these challenges. The website was launched in 2017 to mark Kaspersky Lab’s 20th birthday. It comprises a rich variety of predictions and future scenarios, covering a wide range of topics.

Recently a number of new contributions have been added to the site. Among them Lord Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, Professor at Cambridge University and former President of the Royal Society; investor and entrepreneur Steven Hoffman, Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, along withDmitry Galov, security researcher and Alexey Malanov, malware analyst at Kaspersky Lab.

The new visions for 2050 consider, among other things:

  • The replacement of mobile devices with direct connectivity through brain implants, powered by thought – able to upload skills and knowledge in return – and the impact of this on individual consciousness and privacy of thought.
  • The ability to transform all life at the genetic level through gene editing.
  • The potential impact of mistakes made by advanced machine-learning systems/AI.
  • The demise of current political systems and the rise of ‘citizen governments’, where ordinary people are co-opted to approve legislation.
  • The end of the techno-industrial age as the world runs out of fossil fuels, leading to economic and environmental devastation.
  • The end of industrial-scale meat production, as most people become vegan and meat is cultured from biopsies taken from living, outdoor reared livestock.

The hypothetical prediction for 2050 from Dmitry Galov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab is as follows: “By 2050, our knowledge of how the brain works, and our ability to enhance or repair it is so advanced that being able to remember everything and learn new things at an outrageous speed has become commonplace. Most kids are fitted with the latest memory boosting implants to support their learning and this makes education easier than it has ever been. 

“Brain damage as a result of head injury is easily repaired; memory loss is no longer a medical condition, and people suffering from mental illnesses, such as depression, are quickly cured.  The technologies that underpin this have existed in some form since the late 2010s. Memory implants are in fact a natural progression from the connected deep brain stimulation implants of 2018.

“But every technology has another side – a dark side. In 2050, the medical, social and economic impact of memory boosting implants are significant, but they are also vulnerable to exploitation and cyber-abuse. New threats that have appeared in the last decade include the mass manipulation of groups through implanted or erased memories of political events or conflicts, and even the creation of ‘human botnets’. 

“These botnets connect people’s brains into a network of agents controlled and operated by cybercriminals, without the knowledge of the victims themselves.  Repurposed cyberthreats from previous decades are targeting the memories of world leaders for cyber-espionage, as well as those of celebrities, ordinary people and businesses with the aim of memory theft, deletion of or ‘locking’ of memories (for example, in return for a ransom).  

“This landscape is only possible because, in the late 2010s when the technologies began to evolve, the potential future security vulnerabilities were not considered a priority, and the various players: healthcare, security, policy makers and more, didn’t come together to understand and address future risks.”

For more information and the full suite of inspirational and thought-provoking predictions, visit Earth 2050.

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How load-shedding is killing our cellphone signals

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Extensive load-shedding, combined with the theft of cell tower backup batteries and copper wire, is placing a massive strain on mobile network providers.

MTN says the majority of MTN’S sites have been equipped with battery backup systems to ensure there is enough power on site to run the system for several hours when local power goes out and the mains go down. 

“With power outages on the rise, these back-up systems become imperative to keeping South Africa connected and MTN has invested heavily in generators and backup batteries to maintain communication for customers, despite the lack of electrical power,” the operator said in a statement today.

However, according to Jacqui O’Sullivan, Executive: Corporate Affairs, at MTN SA, “The high frequency of the cycles of load shedding have meant batteries were unable to fully recharge. They generally have a capacity of six to 12 hours, depending on the site category, and require 12 to 18 hours to recharge.”

An additional challenge is that criminals and criminal syndicates are placing networks across the country at risk. Batteries, which can cost R28 000 per battery and upwards, are sought after on black markets – especially in neighbouring countries. 

“Although MTN has improved security and is making strides in limiting instances of theft and vandalism with the assistance of the police, the increase in power outages has made this issue even more pressing,” says O’Sullivan.

Ernest Paul, General Manager: Network Operations at SA’s leading network provider MTN, says the brazen theft of batteries is an industry-wide problem and will require a broader initiative driven by communities, the private sector, police and prosecutors to bring it to a halt.

“Apart from the cost of replacing the stolen batteries and upgrading the broken infrastructure, communities suffer as the network degrades without the back-up power. This is due to the fact that any coverage gaps need to be filled. The situation is even more dire with the rolling power cuts expected due to Eskom load shedding.”

Loss of services and network quality can range from a 2-5km radius to 15km on some sites and affect 5,000 to 20,000 people. On hub sites, network coverage to entire suburbs and regions can be lost.

Click here to read more about efforts to combat copper theft.

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