In Focus

How can banks keep pace in the age of bot-banking?

Most banks can begin with improving their knowledge of data analytics.

When Citi Singapore launched Citi Bot, it pioneered a service in Singapore wherein clients can use Facebook Messenger to check their account balances and transactions, bill summaries, and rewards balances in real time. More banks like Citi are moving towards the use of artificial intelligence (AI), particularly natural language processing, with its attractive promises of cost reduction, risk mitigation, and increase in revenue.

“Our strategy is to be present where our customers live, work, and play. By connecting with them on Facebook Messenger, one of the most popular social platforms in Asia, we are doing just that. Leveraging Natural Language Processing, the Citi chatbot will offer customers an intuitive and convenient new way to address everyday questions, including real-time account and transaction information, rewards balances and more. Facebook Messenger is an exciting new way to access Citi and will greatly enhance our overall customer experience,” said Felimy Greene, customer franchise head for Citi Asia.

Dan Latimore, senior vice president, banking at Celent said that whilst AI has applications in the front, middle, and back office, it is important to be clear about how, where, and why AI is to be used. Despite what seems to be a lot of progress amongst many banks in terms of AI, Latimore noted that relatively few have begun production or even full-blown research. However, banks must already begin developing an AI strategy, if they wish not to be left behind. Most banks can begin with their knowledge of data analytics and couple it with machine learning.

Foundational technologies such as computing power, data, and algorithms have led to machine learning and language manipulation, two of the centerpiece technologies of true AI. In banking, Latimore said the most visible instance of AI today is the chatbot. Some banks have already put in place virtual agents which may be named and given an avatar and personality. Meanwhile, other banks have leveraged the popularity of Facebook and its bot platform to reach their clients. These initiatives have not been all perfect, as Latimore emphasised that top US banks still rely on humans to manage the interaction between bots and their clients.

“Today’s AI is not yet ready to replace humans; instead it will augment them, letting them move into more value-adding activities, freeing them from rote actions, making them more efficient, and performing calculations that would be physically impossible for a single person. We take a rosy view of AI in banking — for those who embrace it, AI will over time provide a better experience for customers and employees while delivering real business value on every dimension,” Latimore concluded.

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