Guest post by Reginald Twigg
Just nine months ago, no one would have imagined that social distancing would be the normal way of interacting in public places or doing business.
But now, just in the middle of the year, we can hardly imagine what it was like to go to the store, have a meal or go to the bank without a mask, hand sanitizer, avoiding the cash and be careful about the safety distance.
Once unimaginable, I can’t get into my car without having masks hanging from the mirror, which seems to be the norm in town. How we perceive space, security, and alternative devices to human contact to the extent possible now defines how financial institutions, among many other industries, conduct their business.
At the same time, these conditions, spurred by the same pandemic, have resulted in increased demands for banking services.
From a stream of refinancing to take advantage of lower interest rates and new loan requests to forbearance requests on existing debts, investment portfolio changes and withdrawals and daily account services, financial institutions have been overwhelmed by customer interactions – all of which must now be done virtually from home.
This combination of circumstances, exponentially increasing financial transactions and having to manage them remotely or under cover, has forced financial organizations to take a close look at their technology priorities and do so quickly.
As the Bank Administration Institute (BAI) recently observed: For retail banks, the spread of Covid-19 has resulted in a huge shift in the way business is conducted, as the workforce has suddenly shifted remote work and there has been a huge increase in the amount of work that needs to be done.
Banks with digitally focused strategies have been preparing for such a situation for many years. Although unanticipated and specifically prepared for a global pandemic, the massive digital transformation has prepared the industry to satisfy its customers in ways unimaginable less than a decade ago.
It is precisely the need to respond to the deluge of new customer service demands with social distancing that has forced the question of how financial institutions rely on automation and assess their digital transformation priorities.
Achieve business continuity in the now normal
Digital transformation as a super driver of technology investment and adoption was already evident before 2020, but what has changed is how the COVID crisis has imposed clarity on its priorities and of its program.
Automation, mobile experiences, content processing and the processes these live in must adapt quickly to the now normal paradigm of social distancing.
Widely defined as a technological imperative, ‘social distancing’ encompasses both the application of physical (person-to-person) and virtual (by sheltering and relying on smarter technological experiences) distance to conduct Business.
While these were elements of a bank’s digital transformation agenda before, these are now the priorities as banks embed social distancing as a fact of doing business. Social distancing directly affects customer service, operational efficiency, defense against financial crime and fraud, and is essential for regulatory compliance.
Artificial intelligence (AI), as well as software bots (from robotic process automation – RPA) have quickly come to the fore as solutions to make social distancing work in banking.
As the previously cited BAI source explains, bots are quickly deployed as a replacement for face-to-face customer service interactions, thanks to which:
“Conversational AI is particularly essential to deliver on the promise of a digital-centric strategy. Modern conversational AI, which has evolved a lot since the proliferation of chatbots, is able to take the lead and conduct real conversations with customers and employees. This enables modern, digitally-driven banks to deliver virtual agents who actually help their customers solve problems – a skill that’s especially valuable right now. “
Indeed, using robots to replace humans in frontline customer engagement holds the promise of becoming the next big frontier in AI-driven automation.
Despite their promise, AI technologies cannot help banks adjust to the now normal imperative of social distancing. Because we’re so used to using automation to drive efficiencies and improvements, we quickly learn that it’s all about fixes when the fundamental processes of engagement go unchallenged.
Therefore, what separates transformation from simple automation is the willingness of banks to ask tough questions about how they operate, how they interact with employees, customers, criminal threats, and regulatory entities.
To the extent that social distancing has changed the way banks do business, it has necessarily forced them to ask themselves how they perceive automation, technology, and the processes by which they interact with people (customers and employees). . Transforming business as usual into smart business begins by questioning the fundamental interactions between people, processes and content.
Increase your digital IQ
The foundation for transforming the banking sector to deal with the Covid crisis is the willingness to question the way you have done business, the willingness to see ‘the way we always have been’ as an issue .
It is this ability to face a problem, to look at it objectively and to bring the right tools to understand how it can work that is the first step in the transformation for business continuity. This first step, by taking a fresh look at processes, content and technology, increases your digital IQ.
Not an academic exercise, increasing a bank’s digital IQ is fundamental to adapting its business practices and supporting automation to the socio-economic conditions that the pandemic has imposed on us.
Processes are redesigned thanks to AI. The day-to-day processes of on-boarding customers, providing services such as credit and loans, and protecting against cyber attacks, identity theft and money laundering need to be critically re-examined today, as virtualization and automation technologies, while necessary for social distancing, also raise greater threats of abuse by smarter criminals.
Having the right tools to challenge processes and their reliance on technology is an invaluable first step in making transformation work, but so too is the intelligence of automation itself – in increasing its IQ to detect suspicious activity, customer upselling opportunities and compliance errors.
Financial institutions will meet these challenges with varying degrees of success, depending on their willingness to ask the tough questions about their digital strategies and have the right tools to do so.
Maintaining business continuity in a crisis is about quickly finding ways to maintain revenue streams, profits, and satisfaction, when underlying conditions change rapidly.
The benefits of automating customer service, document management and vulnerability remediation are realized when banks adapt their processes and support technologies to new business conditions. In the normal defined by COVID, that means embracing social distancing as a fact and adapting the business to survive and grow with it.
The COVID crisis will eventually pass, although we don’t have a clear timeline for it. But it will have a lasting impact on how people perceive social space, the exchange of things (paper money being the best example) and how they expect technology to work for them.
Financial institutions that become the winners are embracing these facts earlier and finding ways to make social distancing a core skill of their business practices.
Reginald Twigg is Director of Product Marketing at ABBYY. He has worked in the field of enterprise software for the past two decades, focusing on the automation of document processing applications.
Following? See the white paper “Changing priorities to ensure business continuity in financial services”: