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Christopher Loh, CEO & Special Advisor to Chairman, United Amara Bank
New digital breakthroughs appear to be increasingly discovered and tested across every parts of the globe. It is rare these days that various industries are not at risk of being upended by the rise of digital technology. To put things in perspective, Uber is undermining the traditional taxi industry, Amazon is displacing the brick-and-mortar bookshops while Airbnb is shaking up the hotel industry. So why should banking industry be any different? While the buzzword “artificial intelligence” has been hotly deliberated across various industries, it has already formed an integral and crucial part of our lives before we know it. This ranges from Siri in your iPhone to the music playlist recommendations you receive on Spotify. So what exactly is artificial intelligence? It is not a single technology, but rather a blend of several advanced technologies including machine learning, natural language processing, cognitive and predictive analysis. With these technologies, AI is able to simulate human intelligence into machines and overcome the very barrier of human capabilities – speed and scalability.
There are many reasons to adopt AI-powered solutions including personalized communications at scale, productivity gains, and identifying diamonds in the rough for better insights. The concept of AI in financial services is not new; it is already being used in heavy-manual processes for better accuracy, efficiency, and cost benefits. What is new, however, is the use of AI beyond processes to human interaction. Emerging fintechs are increasingly disrupting the traditional banking industry to deliver newly transformed customer experience through the use of AI in chatbots, voice-assisted banking, and robo-advisors which are automated financial advisors.
The real problem is traditional banks are not delivering compelling services that value adds to customers. In order for banks to survive and thrive in this digital environment, they must rethink their role and deeply reshape their value proposition by blending artificial intelligence with banking-as-a-service. In layman’s term, BaaS is the banking version of SaaS – paying for applications as you use them rather than purchasing the entire operating system or building it from scratch.
There is No Denying AI is the Reality Today and No Longer a Technology of the Future
This allows banks to extend itself to become a plug-and-play service provider while radically shifting from being builders to assemblers of financial solutions to cater to different lifestyle needs. By doing so, banks can accelerate their time-to-market and rapidly meet the expectations of digital consumers from different segments.
The marriage between AI and BaaS will create a powerful tool for banks to truly understand the different needs of individual customers and effectively deliver their services innovatively across various channels. AI allows banks to gain meaningful insights to create personalized approach, while BaaS enables swift and rapid response to consumers’ needs within the constraints of a regulatory landscape. As AI becomes the new touch-point and interface of a “modern digital bank”, consumer expectations will also rapidly shift as they seek for a financial partner rather than financial parent. Emerging fintechs will have the agility to create AI-driven user interface combined with BaaS. It will provide the digital consumers a holistic solution which goes beyond just banking to every facet of their financial life and other aspects, ultimately creating a unified ecosystem.
It is not difficult to imagine the possibilities. Imagine a married couple starting a life together and seeking for a new home. With a click of a button, the AI-powered chatbots in their phones will be able to provide property price comparisons; advice with real-time personalized mortgage options catered to their financial needs and even recommend the most value-for-money home renovation and furnishing packages. The best part is all of these can be safely and securely transacted through a mobile phone without any compromise on security and personal data. If today we are able to order food and clothes by pressing a few buttons on our phones, we should also expect the same from financial services, which undeniably plays an integral role in our lives.
The key to success in AI-enabled landscape is to partner well. Banks should continue to focus on what they do best, which is providing financial solutions to their huge customer base within regulatory boundaries. Banks should seek to partner with nimble and agile fintechs which have the competencies to build innovative financial solutions but lack the scale and risk management capabilities. If banks are able to successfully execute a synergistic partnership with agile fintechs, they can evolve from being just a mere peripheral institution in the digital age and become an important intermediary that enables many different possibilities for consumers across the digital value chain.
There is no denying AI is the reality today and no longer a technology of the future. The big paradox here is that people tend to believe technology creates a distant and less personalized banking relationship, but many first-mover top banks have successfully employed technology to deliver a more personalized banking service. The most nimble and adaptable financial institution will thrive in this evolving digital age.
So the winning approach to a redefined customer banking experience is to experiment despite the risk, learn quickly, and execute the right strategy. That said, customer experience remains of paramount importance and banks must not alienate itself from the customer. Providing the options for customer to experience the “high touch” service when required cannot be eliminated.