Simplicity, ubiquity, actionable insights and ‘extreme availability’ will be the building blocks of future banks which will no longer impose banking ‘jargon’ on their customers, according to Ani Paul, chief information officer at ING.
Speaking at the recent CIO Summit in Melbourne, Paul said the current advancement of raw technology is ‘exceeding our capability to supply it in a manner that can truly move the lives of our customers ahead.”
“So the problem in building the bank of the future is not necessarily about technology, but it’s customer insight. What is going to change [for banks] are the building blocks of good customer service in the future – simplicity, ubiquity, actionable insights, and extreme availability,” he said.
Simplicity has been part of ING’s DNA since the online bank landed in Australia in 1999, he said.
“Its [innovation] is not only about products and services; it’s about what you choose to do and choose not to do as part of your business strategy.”
Paul said building an online bank where there’s no ‘face-to-face’ interaction with customers over the counter takes away a lot of complexity but does place pressure on the bank to create products that can be managed digitally and serviced by IT teams.
“What was true in 1999 is true almost 20 years later with the roll out of new products like Apple Pay. The essence of simplicity even flows down to the way our developers write error messages. So if our apps don’t work, we tell our customers in plain English and not gobbledygook,” he said.
Paul said the language of banking has been the same for the past 400 years but it’s the one industry that seeks to impose its jargon on its customers.
“So we expect our customers not to ask us, ‘how much money have I got?’ We expect our customers to say, ‘what’s left on my balance?’ We expect them to understand the nuances between a ledger balance and an available balance to reach an account balance,” he said.
“One of the reasons we do that is that as bankers we are conscious that we hold the money in trust for our customers and we wanted the instructions we get from our customers to be as ambiguous as possible, as clear as possible.
“And when you add automation and computerisation into the mix, we need to standardise the input variable because that’s the way technology has been so far. Therefore, we expect all our customers to speak in a similarly uniform, scripted, jargon-ridden manner,” he said.
But this is not true anymore as rapid advances in artificial intelligence, coupled with natural language processing and ‘intent’ engines that can be configured by IT and lay users.
“They constitute an important mix by which we can actually throw banking into a jargon-free world.”
Indeed, banks like NAB and Westpac have announced recently that they were supporting the Amazon Alexa natural language platform. The banks’ customers will use an Alexa-enabled device to retire information about their accounts.
“That’s where I believe we are going to go with simplicity and the use of natural language in our everyday lives with the use of artificial intelligence engine powering it.”
Banks don’t need to have a branch in every neighborhood and an ATM around the corner. It’s possible to build a $50 billion balance sheet with 500,000 transactions on a daily basis purely by being a ‘digital destination’, said Paul.
But what is not known is that ‘digital ubiquity’ will not be achieved in the future simply by interacting with customers through a URL address, he said.
“It’s good enough for now because we [ING] process half a million transactions per day and 75 per cent of those are from mobile devices.”
Paul said being a digital destination alone through a URL or an app is probably not good enough.
What that means is that if you look at your own phones, you probably have 40 to 50 different apps and only use not more than six of those on a daily basis,” he said.
“You’ll have no choice but to embrace your customer’s digital preferences – thanks to the plummeting costs of technology, it’s possible to do that. We are part of the ecosystem of people on Facebook, Twitter, Google or Amazon.”
ING globally has also embraced a paradigm it calls ‘beyond banking’, driven by a Euro 300 million venture capital fund, around 100 partnerships with fintechs, as well as taking equity stakes in other organisations that provide the ‘plumbing’ to the bank, said Paul.
“We have about 25 million customers all around the world and we could potentially become the fulcrum for an ecosystem of our own,” he said.
Taking further action
Banks have a choice of continuing to be ‘trite’ and just service an explicit stated need of a customer or taking the opportunity to figure out the unstated, implicit need that is prompting the query.
“For example, the most trite banking enquiry is that of an account balance query. And it has kind of stayed the same for the last 20 years – whether it’s through a call centre, IVR, mobile app or internet banking,” said Paul.
“So imagine the customer asking for an account balance – you would think the explicit need is to answer the query immediately and nine times out of ten, that’s exactly what it’s all about.
"But what happens if you are able to figure out that this is a customer who is pressing the account balance button time and time again and she doesn’t normally do that?”
Looking deeper into its data, a bank may realise that this is the customer’s payday and her money hasn’t arrived in her account.
“You could probably figure out where her money went, and if your policies allow it – and they should – it might be possible to put together a financial product like an instant loan for that customer. You’ll know based on the data insights that you have from the past that she goes grocery shopping on her payday. So that’s something that lifts the game from an explicit answering of a query to satisfying the implicit need that is there.”
Providing extreme availability
Paul’s IT team must guarantee 99.99 per cent system availability to satisfy the needs of a customer who doesn’t want to talk to his bank anymore and may even get irritated if he is expected to ring the bank.
“But he is happy sharing his entire life story with the outside world – he is happy to tweet about momentous occasions like the birth of his baby, and subject to the right taste and laws of the land, there’s an expectation that we should be able to listen in on this conversation in a legal and respectful way,” said Paul.
Paul said the bank can then put together digital products that he is most comfortable with at this particular moment in his life.
“Never have I been in a position at a point in time where I felt it’s possible to build the bank of the future with all the tools and technologies that I have today,” Paul said.
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