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How AI will dominate the future of banking, and what businesses can do to catch up

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Image: iStockphoto.com/Issam Khriji

From the dawn of ATMs, banks have relied heavily on automation to increase efficiency in operations. But as AI becomes more sophisticated—think chatbots like MyKai that can offer personalized service, from answering general questions like “What is a CD?” to helping you find out if you have a gambling problem—the technology is poised to revolutionize the banking industry.

In the Accenture Banking Technology Vision 2017 report, Accenture interviewed nearly 600 top bankers, as well as tech industry experts and academics, to offer an outlook on where the banking industry is currently positioned in its use of AI—and what it can do to improve.

Despite the consensus that AI will dramatically shift banking in terms of gathering data and customer interactions, and despite an understanding of the importance of innovation, more than half (52.2%) of bankers reported that they do not see their organizations investing heavily enough in digital technology as part of their overarching strategy.

Here are five AI trends in banking, and suggestions for how to integrate them.

1. AI for customer interactions

While banks rely heavily on automation for processing financial information, the rapid growth of messaging bots and other tools turns AI into a customer service representative as well.

According to the report, by using automated customer service assistants, “a New York-based investment bank achieved a 93% reduction in average resolution and fix time (from 47 minutes to 4 minutes).” Yet only 30% of bankers currently use these types of assistants on a large scale.

By integrating machine learning tools that can help manage customer interactions, banks can “streamline back-end processes and support networks,” according to the report. To achieve this goal, these institutions must “create a scalable, flexible test-and-learn environment dedicated to explore AI and cognitive processes, and speed up innovation.”

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2. Partnerships

Banks cannot rely solely on a robust platform. They must form partnerships with tech companies to create an ecosystem, in which banks and partners work together to deliver the best service for their customers. According to the report, banks must “create most viable scenarios of participants’ roles where the bank and partner brands would take center stage, and get comfortable with the idea of losing control as some bank services will end up on others’ platforms.”

3. Organizing the workforce

With technological innovation comes a shift away from rigid hierarchies towards more flexible workplace structures. To reap maximum benefits, banks must include a “liquid workforce” that includes on-demand talent and the shifting of roles as the business integrates new technology, the report stated. Accenture recommends investments in “training, AI, collaboration technology or compensation” to meet this goal.

SEE: New MyKAI smart bot uses AI to enable ‘lifestyle banking’

4. The human element

While many banks’ new processes may become automated, it is still important to understand which processes should remain powered by humans, and when. “Develop a good way to guide customers in and out of the stream of human interaction, recognizing what the customer is doing and having the right intervention at the right time,” the report recommends.

5. The “uncharted”

The report encourages bankers to think about forming “new rules” for banking. To do this, leaders should think about the importance of “maintain[ing] customer trust and data security as more transactions move to other platforms and as regulatory directives grant third-party providers access to customer accounts, payments, product data and other data through APIs.” A new team could be assembled to ensure that proper security requirements are met, the report suggests.

AI experts see fintech as a particularly ripe spot for transformation. ATMs, for instance, have long been pointed to as examples of automation that actually resulted in lowering costs, thus, banks opened more branches.

However, the dawn of AI brings a new paradigm. “People are moving to mobile banking,” said Moshe Vardi, a computer science professor at Rice University. “Those branches are going to go away now. When is the last time you went to a bank? Never. Technology will ultimately kill many of the branches.”

Startups see banks as “a big, fat, lazy target,” said Vardi. “Obsolete business models, very high services. Very high rate of commission. The one thing that banks do have is the trust element.”

Still, lots of fintech companies are “going after the banks,” said Vardi. “The banks are going to have the fight of their life.”

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