Sunday 03, June 2018 by Jessica Combes

AI’s Limitless potential


AI is the key to the future of banks and to banks of the future, Amr El Saadani, Accenture’s Managing Director and Financial Services Lead in the Middle East & Turkey tells Banker Middle East

In the past few years, artificial intelligence (AI) has come of age and has helped increase human efficiency in ways never thought possible. The strength of this innovation lies in the fact that it allows computers to process and analyse large volumes of incredibly complex data at a fraction of the time it would take humans doing the same task, finding patterns and connections in a way no single person would be able to, acting based on that data or suggesting a course of action for their human enabler. Most importantly perhaps, is that these machines continue learning and improving as they go, which means that their potential is limitless.

While many fear that digital disruption will have negative effects on businesses, the benefits are far greater. From enhancing productivity to lowering costs of doing business, AI can enable positive, real-world outcomes. These benefits have pushed companies in the financial sector and other industries to adopt this innovation in one way or another. While banks have been using AI for many years to perfect and speed up different processes, they are only now starting to implement it in client-facing interactions, with banking executives in the region and around the world having realised the importance of the technology.

A recent Accenture report, which surveyed 589 bank executives in 30 countries including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, found that 85 per cent of GCC bank respondents agreed that AI will revolutionise the way they gain information from and interact with customers. Some banks have already started making major strides in this area by developing AI-enabled tools. For example, Capital One Bank developed a process that allows people to cheque their accounts and pay credit card bills via Amazon Echo’s Alexa. HSBC’s customers can connect with the bank’s virtual assistant, Olivia, to inquire about their credit cards or current account balance.

What makes AI so appealing is that it can create efficiencies within contact centres, simplify dispute and fraud management and accelerate enquiry resolutions while offering customer insights and supporting account management. And perhaps most important of all, AI can help banks create hyperpersonalised services that have become a necessity in an age where customers have ever rising expectations because of the level of attention and efficiency they get from their technology providers.

With banks charting a new course and seeking to reshape their business models to compete in the digital world, some have assumed that technological prowess will become their main competitive advantage. However, we believe that it is a combination of people and technology that will truly create competitive advantage in the banking industry of the future. We do not foresee the popular science fiction plot where humans must battle machines.

Instead, all industries stand to benefit tremendously from creating a symbiotic relationship where humans are augmented by machines. To create successful personalised services to meet customers’ needs, banks need to combine well-trained and motivated staff with scalable data-driven processes. With AI capable of replacing many repetitive tasks, it may seem that it could have some impact on staffing levels. However, the reality is that it will bring completely new opportunities to the workforce. Employees will be able to take on more rewarding and higher-value roles while providing more personal services with a human touch to their customers. In today’s fast-paced world, perhaps one of the biggest challenges for banks is that they will have to dive head-first into uncharted territory. Our research has shown that there is a disconnect between how banks see their offerings and how customers see them. Therefore, financial firms need to critically review their offerings to ensure that they are meeting their customers’ changing expectations.

The banks that will gain the most from AI will be those that are prepared to completely redefine how they work, how they create innovative products and services, and how they transform customer experiences. They must do this while keeping in mind their goal: becoming a trusted advisor to their customers and empowering their staff.

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