Why 2017 Will Be the Year of Artificial Intelligence in Banking

  • Philip Ryan
  • February 9, 2017
  • 4

© Can Stock Photo / yacobchukArtificial intelligence is coming to banking — scratch that, it’s already here, but customers may not have noticed.

AI is already playing a role in consumers’ lives, whether they know it or not. Talking to Siri, looking at recommendations from Amazon or Netflix, or chatting with Google Home about the temperature — AI is all around us, and we’re growing more comfortable with it all the time.

That’s good, says Arif Ahmed, senior vice president of payments innovation for U.S. Bank, because AI is set to help customers in important ways, and in the not-too-distant future. “Emerging artificial intelligence will improve the customer experience without compromising privacy,” Ahmed told Bank Innovation.

One area that AI is already influencing out of the sight of customers is fraud management. “There is a series of disruptive changes taking place now that is dramatically reducing the fraud rate,” Ahmed said. This technology is similar to that at work in Google Photos or Facebook, in matching faces, but Ahmed pointed out that multiple improvements in fraud risk management are advancing simultaneously. AI is improving to read all the data inputs that differentiate good transactions from bad, and you from the fraudster pretending to be you.

Chatbots may be the area where customers most obviously come into contact with artificial intelligence. Bellevue, Wash.-based K2 has spent the past year building a complete banking bot backed up by an AI engine, and shared its learnings in a Feb. 1 blogpost. A key point K2 made is that bots must be proactive to truly add value to the customer experience (and that proactivity demands AI):

The real power of conversational interfaces is the bots acting proactive. You can talk to chatbots in natural language, and that’s awesome, but they can also talk to you on their own, when they have something important to tell you. Proactive behavior is what makes a bot an intelligent assistant.

Ahmed echoed this idea. “What customers need, they are not always able to say,” Ahmed said. So the AI-powered bot may be proactive, but will have to learn from how the customers respond. “We can help with savings, for example,” Ahmed said, speaking in the hypothetical and not of a specific bank effort. “We can tell one person to give up that morning coffee and maybe they’ll save $4 or $5 a day and put it into their retirement account. If they respond to that prompt, then AI learns, ‘This is how they respond.'”

Of course, they may not respond, so the AI will have to try something different.

Oliver Bussmann, managing partner of Bussmann Advisory, noted that one area where AI may make an entrance soon is in investment advisory. Roboadvisors are playing a growing role here, but the models underpinning the roboadvice are generally written by humans. Not for long, Bussmann said. “Next, institutions will embrace AI to write their models,” he told Bank Innovation. This may lead a leveling of the playing field between firms of varying sizes, though of course brand still matters, Bussmann said.

In terms of which AI system a bank will use, well there may not be much choice. “Customers are on a certain device, so we have to use Siri for iPhone users, and so on,” Ahmed said. “we will have to be able to work with all of them in some way.”

“AI is like a child, it needs so much information and requires so much data — it is a data hog,” Ahmed said. But not all AI systems will have the same data to work with, because not all devices collect the same data. This is a challenge banks will have to adapt to, and hire the right people (or companies) to solve.

“All these innovations work together and are making great changes,” Bussmann said. “They all tie together — IoT, cloud, AI, blockchain, edge computing — to solve first the identity problem. The borders between industries will fade, and services, baking services, will be utilized across industries, in your car, in the store, anywhere.”

Most of these changes are iterative and are happening now without customers necessarily noticing. But every now and then dramatic shifts take place. “I can imagine a day when something comes along and seems like magic,” Ahmed said. The changes driving those magic moments are happening now.

To learn more on the latest trends in AI for banking, join us in San Jose on March 6-7 for Bank Innovation 2017, where the best conversations in fintech take place. Request your invitation here.

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Philip Ryan is Senior Editor of Bank Innovation and Senior Director of INV Fintech. He began covering financial services in 2012 and has more than 15 years' experience in online journalism. He can be reached at pryan@royalmedia.com.

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