Cognitive Assistants: Are They Helpful to the Future of Banking?

Beyond simple chatbots, cognitive assistants – with their superior capabilities to understand context and sentiment – have the potential to truly revolutionise both customers and employees’ experiences in banking.

With increasing high-street competition, AI is redefining the banking sector with each and every customer interaction. With banks, like NatWest, deploying AI-based virtual assistants to offer customer-facing communication around the clock, the consumer banking experience is now heavily digitised, with 86% of banks stating they now use AI technologies in some way. 

Martin Linstrom, Managing Director for UK and Ireland at IPsoft, looks at the next stage in technological evolution of the banking industry and how artificial intelligence (AI) will redefine banking as we know it.

The banking industry has made huge strides to drive innovation by investing in new technologies over the last few decades. Commercial banks first adopted telephone banking, then came internet banking and now, for most customers, all your financial services needs can be met via an app. Now, as we enter the conversational era enabled by cognitive AI, customer expectations have evolved once again.

Banks have long been ahead of the curve in terms of elevating the user experience for their customers and so, it’s perhaps unsurprising that many are already looking to AI-powered digital assistants and are investing in cognitive solutions to upgrade and scale customer-facing financial management processes. Many banks are also looking at how they can provide the same simple, frictionless service to their own employees.

Banks have long been ahead of the curve in terms of elevating the user experience for their customers and so, it’s perhaps unsurprising that many are already looking to AI-powered digital assistants

As AI-powered customer interfaces gain mainstream acceptance, we will once again see a revolution in technological change within the banking industry. So, what functions within banks will cognitive assistants transform?

Building a hybrid workforce

Virtual assistants have a twofold capability which is driving innovation in the banking industry. Firstly, they can be implemented in back office functions such as finance or HR and secondly, they can supplement customer service centres. Creating a hybrid workforce of human employees and AI-powered virtual assistants can help drive enormous cost efficiencies and increase staff productivity. Employees in administrative roles can pass their repetitive tasks over to their digital colleague, freeing up their time to focus on more creative or interesting work that requires soft skills whilst customer service agents can pass standard requests through an AI system leaving them with only the most complex of customer queries to deal with.

Ubiquitous customer services

One of the most attractive things about AI-powered customer services for banks is its ubiquity. With virtual customer service agents available 24/7 and through a variety of channels such as live message, telephone or email, it’s a win-win situation for both bank staff and customers. From a customer’s perspective, simple requests such as password resets or international transactions can be performed in an instant and there’s no need to visit the bank or spend an hour in a telephone queue to speak to a human agent.

One of the most attractive things about AI-powered customer services for banks is its ubiquity.

Banks adopting customer-facing AI solutions are in fact seeing increased customer satisfaction rates despite removing the human-to-human contact element. For example, since implementing IPsoft’s AI solution, Amelia, SEB, a leading Nordic bank has been able to avoid 544 hours of escalations to customer support with an average handle time of six minutes. What’s more, Amelia has reached an 85% accuracy in immediate intent recognition which has meant a faster service delivery to customers and soaring customer satisfaction.

24/7 banking support

Unlike human agents, digital assistants can work around the clock, seven days a week with no breaks and without tiring. For modern consumers, particularly young digital natives who expect to be able to manage their finances at any time of the day, integrating AI into a bank’s customer service centre will soon become the norm. Chatbots are already an industry standard, therefore at the very least, banks that don’t continue scaling this technology throughout their business will find themselves at a severe competitive disadvantage, trailing behind the market by delivering an inferior customer service experience.

Go beyond simple chatbots

Digital assistants with cognitive intelligence capabilities represent the next leap in automation for financial institutions. Digital colleagues like Amelia are now able to perform tasks above and beyond mere transactional ones, digitising more complex financial management processes such as wealth management onboarding and mortgage applications. Unlike simple chatbots, digital colleagues are also able to develop their cognitive abilities through an advanced Natural Language Interface (NLI) which can process customer queries asked in hundreds of different ways, including slang. More importantly for the banking industry, they can handle context switching so that when a customer moves quickly from one request to another, the interface is able to process both requests without starting over.

Many banks have already integrated voice capabilities into their finance management solutions. Customers communicate via text or voice to gain quick answers to banking questions, tailored financial advice and can even carry out transactions all from the same channel. Voice-enabled digital assistants can handle payments and transfers, credit card activation, charge disputes and travel alerts for customers at any time, freeing up customer services teams to focus on more complex customer enquiries and giving customers full control and access to their finances. Conversational AI will become more and more widely accepted as banks start to harness the technology to help drive customer engagement and operational efficiencies.

Sophisticated systems can recognise patterns from the sheer amount of data that they are processing. Thanks to these capabilities, businesses can easily find out the most common types of transactions by customers of a certain demographic and can then retarget this group for specific marketing or sales campaigns, helping to drive revenue.

Delivering better insights and improved security

Unlocking key business insights is another key driver motivating banks to invest in AI. Sophisticated systems can recognise patterns from the sheer amount of data that they are processing. Thanks to these capabilities, businesses can easily find out the most common types of transactions by customers of a certain demographic and can then retarget this group for specific marketing or sales campaigns, helping to drive revenue. These real time insights can help business leaders make better, more strategic decisions that are informed through concrete data.

Real-time data mining can also be applied to improve customer security as many AI tools have built-in privacy and security by design. An AI-powered virtual assistant can pick up on irregular payments immediately, flagging potential “phishers” to a human agent for additional authentication. What’s more, advanced machine learning solutions can improve over time so that banks can continue to scale up their services. Virtual assistants like Amelia can go one step further by ‘learning on the job.’ Essentially, when Amelia does not understand a request or query she can pass it on to a human colleague but remains in the conversation to learn how to resolve the issue next time.

The future of retail banking

The financial services industry has long been at the forefront of technological innovation. Whilst many businesses are still debating whether to invest in AI, major banks are very much leading the way to invest in the technology and are thriving as a result. As virtual assistants become increasingly more intelligent and their cognitive abilities develop, the expectations for banks and the services they offer will be elevated. Banks that rest on their laurels and refuse to acknowledge this risk falling behind permanently, particularly with the slew of challenger fintech companies that are appearing on the market, offering dynamic and tailored financial services at a lower price.

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