- Evolving consumer demands create challenges for finance
- Some banks are adapting… others, not so much
- Finie offers a truly high-tech opportunity to satisfy customer expectations
Artificial intelligence (AI) is more common than you might think. A recent survey by Pega revealed that while a majority of us are using AI in our daily lives, most had no idea. As Pega notes, for instance, pretty much everyone loves spam filters, product recommendations, virtual assistants, and smart speakers, but very few people realise that these services are grounded in AI.
In contrast to supposed fears of artificial intelligence allowing your toaster to dream of world domination, people really embrace what AI can do for them. Voice interaction and personalisation are simultaneously deeply popular and deeply dependent on machine learning. Consumers clearly want the easy communication of natural language, and they increasingly demand hyper-personalisation in everything from retail to finance.
Evolving consumer demands create challenges for finance
These evolving expectations are new challenges for the financial industry, and their reliance on cutting-edge innovations puts financial tech, or fintech, at the front of potential solutions. Banks, credit card companies, and other financial institutions compete for customers just as any retailer might. And just as AI has reshaped the retail landscape, expect a sea-change in fintech, too.
In some sense, that’s old news. Banks already use AI to sift and sort big data, providing insights for their institutions and customers alike. For instance, Forbes reports that 60 per cent of banks already use artificial intelligence for data analysis. That can include everything from streamlining loan applications to offering customised rates to clients. In practical terms, this can reduce the amount of routine work at banks and keep customers happy.
Some banks are adapting… others, not so much
But it’s not a level playing field, and especially when we talk about the most advanced applications, the early adopters are ahead in the game to win and keep customers. As Jason Mars, a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, observes, “there are two kinds of banks out there: banks that have already tried things with artificial intelligence and banks that are now just getting into it and trying to figure out what artificial intelligence can do”. The more forward-looking financial institutions that made the AI leap certainly encountered setbacks in the form of vapourware promises that never materialised as usable tech. But they’ve learned lessons, too, and they’re far more aware of what AI can do for their customers.
That’s really the whole point, Mars explains – it’s all about response to these new customer demands – and that involves far higher-tech than what’s being used at your local bank. For consumers who are used to asking Siri to find a restaurant, or Amazon Echo to track a recent order, AI-enabled natural language processing and advanced machine learning are a given – a basic, daily experience they’d like to find in finance as well. They may not fully understand how this tech works – but they don’t want to live without it.
Finie offers a truly high-tech opportunity to satisfy customer expectations
And those early adopters we spoke of have an advantage as they try to improve customer experience with truly cutting-edge tech. One example is Clinc, founded by Mars, Lingjia Tang, and Michael Laurenzano. It offers a voice-enabled interactive personal assistant for finance called Finie. It’s designed as a Siri of sorts for your finances. According to Clinc’s website, Finie can answer a range of questions like “Can I afford to eat at a fancy restaurant this week?” or “Would it be a good idea to buy a new phone?” It can also tell users what they need to know about their spending habits, savings, balances, and transaction details. And it offers surprising detail, intelligence, and understanding.
That’s because its AI system was built from the ground up, a necessity because the giants in the field don’t share. When it comes to natural language processing and machine learning, Mars tells Amit Chowdhry that “you’re competing with the best that Google and Amazon have to offer. Which, by the way, is not what they are giving you to build your own skills… The stuff that Google uses to build its in-house skills is much better. They give developers API.AI, which is from an acquisition and is inferior technology compared to what Google is using in-house. In order to build a great experience on Alexa or Google Home, you can’t depend on the platforms that are offered as APIs. This is a huge misconception in the community.”
That’s meant that relatively few startups have the skills and experience to build a really smart financial assistant, and squeezing out the competition was certainly the point of limiting access to this tech. But Clinc thinks it’s the David to these Goliaths, and what it’s achieved so far is impressive, to say the least. “The key difference between what we are doing and how other systems work is that we are focused around being able to understand unstructured, unconstrained speech. So, you can speak to it [Clinc’s AI, Finie] like it is a human in the room,” Mars says.
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Steve Ellis, who leads the innovation group at Wells Fargo, sees this kind of tech as the new frontier for finance. “We’re already using AI tools such as predictive banking and chatbots to provide basic information and recommendations that can help customers make better ‘in the moment’ decisions. As AI continues to mature, we expect to expand the insightful, personalized experiences and solutions we can offer customers and team members. We believe AI will touch nearly every piece of our business in some way.” We couldn’t agree more.