Can technology save the bank as we know it?

07 : 06 : 2018 Finance : China : Banking
Cobalt security robot by Yves Béhar and Fuseproject Cobalt security robot by Yves Béhar and Fuseproject

Will robots understand the need to repeat an answer more loudly if an elderly customer has hearing loss? Or would they know to simplify their answer if needed?

Rhiannon McGregor, foresight writer, LS:N Global

At the Shanghai branch of China Construction Bank (CCB) customers can rest assured that they will always be greeted with a smile as employee Xiao Long (Little Dragon) tirelessly welcomes customers with the same set phrase: ‘What can I help you with today?’

Once inside the bank the rest of the team is on hand to help customers with services such as opening an account, transferring money and buying foreign currency in a ‘more convenient, personalised, and efficient’ way. This is because Xiao and her team are part of a growing number of artificially intelligent workers, which – having dominated the retail and travel and hospitality market – are now infiltrating the financial sector.

Global adoption of service robots in a professional capacity is on the rise, with sales predicted to grow by up to 25% by 2020 (source: International Federation of Robotics). In China, this increase is even more pronounced. Figures from research firm Analysys show that China’s service robot market will grow to a value of £1.43bn (Rmb12.29bn, $1.92bn) in 2018, a 27% increase on 2017. But are Xiao and her team really a pioneering use of AI technology?

The majority of Chinese consumers don’t use banks at all, according to Stuart Tagg, financial services leader at Nielsen Europe, a claim that is supported by the phenomenal uptake of the commercial bank Ping An’s mobile banking service, whose active user group grew by 304% between January 2017 and January 2018 (source: Analysys).

One consumer demographic across geographical regions that is still largely committed to physical banking, however, is Baby Boomers. While technology certainly has the potential to provide an assistance role in banking for these customers, there is a risk in introducing technology for its own sake. Will these bots, for example, understand the need to repeat an answer more loudly if an elderly customer is hard of hearing? Or would they know to simplify or slow their answer if needed?

Although CCB does provide access to human assistance via a video link if needed, this service is reserved for wealthy clients, while Wealthsimple ensures that all of its customers can speak to a human adviser no matter how much they invest.

Brands need to ensure that they continue to offer a service that adapts to the needs of individuals, even when delivered through AI. ‘When you’re exploring these technologies, you shouldn’t just pay attention to the technology itself, but to how people can interact with these technologies,’ says banking technologist Li Linfeng. ‘Technology has to serve us, not leave people behind.’

Wealthsimple’s human-centric investment platform is a prime example of a brand embodying this approach. Its AI-powered app enables customers to invest without ever having to speak to someone but, as CEO Toby Triebel says, you always have the option to talk to a qualified investment adviser if needed. ‘Creating a human experience around investing is a really powerful part of our offering,’ he says. It allows Wealthsimple to deliver the same quality of service to its oldest client, reportedly a 104-year-old Canadian, as it does to Generation Z and Millennials. This democratic approach sits in stark contrast to that of CCB, which only provides video link access to client relationship managers for its wealthiest clients.

The jury is still out on whether CCB’s approach will help the bank remain relevant – my view is probably not – but either way it is clear that the financial sector stands to benefit greatly from the introduction of artificially intelligent customer service bots, but only if accessibility is as considered as convenience.

For more on consumers’ changing expectations of customer service and the need to develop a more human-centric approach to technology, download our report on The Future of Service.