Many bank employees likely fear robots will replace them, but to U.S. Bank’s Dominic Venturo, some bots are just there to be their wingman.
Much of the talk about artificial intelligence in banking has been about how technology can replace some functions currently performed by humans. But AI could help human bankers do their jobs more effectively by giving them quicker access to relevant information than ever before.
“AI won’t totally replace, but rather augment, a human’s ability to do their job in a lot of ways,” said Venturo, the Minneapolis-based bank’s chief innovation officer.
U.S. Bank is one of a number of financial institutions experimenting with how AI and machine learning can transform the financial industry. This year the bank announced the formation of an artificial intelligence enterprise solutions unit, which sits inside its payments, virtual solutions and innovation group.
The bank has begun experimenting with how artificial intelligence can help bankers serve customers that have a question on a product or service that is “infrequently asked about,” Venturo said. If a customer walks into a branch to ask a banker about such a product, the banker may not immediately know the answer. The banker may need to call a different expert in another location or spend time looking up additional information. That makes for a not-so-great experience for the customer. But if AI can contain an encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. Bank’s entire suite of products and services, the banker can quickly pull up information in seconds, he said.
“Let’s say there’s potentially hundreds of products a banker can get asked about; AI can give them the ability to get at the right answer for any of them in a rapid way,” Venturo added. “It enables your banker to become almost superhumanly smart about every product or service you might offer.”
This is important, he said, because although artificial intelligence can automate many repetitive tasks, and customers are more comfortable using digital financial services, they still want to talk to a human for many financial needs, Venturo said.
“The reality is there are many individuals who still prefer to talk to humans, and AI can augment that experience,” Venturo said.
Further, if the branch-based banker now doesn’t have to call a centralized contact center expert for information, that expert has more time to work on something more complicated.
“Now those folks can spend their time on other issues that require a higher level of service,” Venturo said.
AI can help improve not only in-person interactions between banks and customers, but human-initiated digital experiences, said Mitch Siegel, head of strategy for the financial services practice at KPMG. A wealth manager could use artificial intelligence to analyze customer’s financial data and send a personalized, automated report daily or weekly, for instance. If that client then had a further question or wanted to talk about something more complicated, such as changing investment strategies, they could then pick up the phone or talk to the wealth manager in person, Siegel said.
“There’s an opportunity for applying AI to better service customers, and give them a more personalized experience without getting rid of the human touch,” he said.
AI can also make suggestions to help banks build loyalty with customers by suggesting products based on their behavior. AI might be able to detect retail customers who typically have money left in their checking account when their next paycheck arrives. In that case, the bot can notify the bank, which can then push a digital message to the customers asking if they would like the bank to automatically sweep the remaining money into a savings account when the next check arrives.
“That’s something that could really deepen a customer relationship and a suggestion the customer might really appreciate,” Siegel said. “Insights into the ways you spend money, how you pay bills or savings habits are usually appreciated. Lower-value needs like these, customers are generally comfortable doing digitally, and when the customer has a financial need they want to speak to a human, with, like, a mortgage,” they’re then more likely to come to that bank first, he said.
AI can also free up bank employees to act in a more consultative, advisory role, said Adam Devine, head of marketing for WorkFusion, which provides robotic process automation and artificial intelligence solutions to several industries, including banks.
One example is contact centers where about a quarter of the calls are about the same topics — basic questions about transactions.
“So much of it is rules-based and repetitive,” Devine said.
If chatbots then could be trained to automatically handle these common calls, that could free up contact center employees to focus on providing more valuable services, Devine said.
“It allows the customer service agents to provide more of an advisory and recommendation service based on nuance and conversation,” he added. “It becomes less about transactions and provides more revenue opportunity for banks.”
In general, Devine said bankers he has met with as clients or potential clients have pointed to AI projects as top priorities.
“Two to three years ago we’d walk in [to a bank] and talk about machine learning and AI and they’d look at us like we had five heads,” he explained. “Now they’re showing us PowerPoint presentations about how it’s part of their core strategy.” For many banks, “if it’s not on their 2017 road map, it’s on their 2018 road map,” he added.