A Disruptive Revolution

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Posted: 06/16/2017

Banking

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"I think 90% of the jobs that exist today [in banking] won't exist in 15 years."

That's according to Tom Blomfield, CEO of Monzo, a banking startup that's leveraging automation and machine learning to in place of of long phone calls and sales reps.

It's banking in 2017 the way you'd expect banking in 2017 to work: you've got your coral pink Monzo card; no fees (should you have the audacity to use that card abroad or transfer money); and - naturally - the smartphone app that ties it all together: tracking your spending, managing your budget and providing in-app customer support.

Founded in 2015 and gaining its restricted banking license earlier this year, it's still a small player in the world of consumer banking - but one that raises some obvious (and worrying) questions about how little your high street bank has changed since you opened your first account.

Blomfield offers the example of opening an account online.

"When you sign up for an online account, what actually happens is that that application form gets sent to a printer in a call centre," he says. "It gets printed out on paper and given to a human being, who types it into a different system. That job [in the coming years] will not exist."

It's a depressingly stark contrast: while billion-dollar corporations vye for real estate closest to the stock exchange, people who use banks to store - rather than make - money are forced to navigate their high street bank's antiquated touchtone computer system just to get a roboticized readout of their bank balance. Nobody likes tapping their way through the monotone labyrinth of birth dates, postcodes and three-digit back-of-the-card security numbers. It's tedious. But happily (for customers), that kind of tedium (read: inefficiency) is also a problem for the banks. If you can trust an algorithm to make high-frequency trades with sums to rival the GDPs of small countries - with an eye on trusting even more to future specialist AI systems - why not apply the same approach to the customer? Why, in 2017, should 'managing your finances' still be a part of the vernacular? Or your responsibility at all?

In short: it shouldn't be. Like Wall Street or the City in microcosm, the next leap for your bank account is not more people answering calls or tapping away in back rooms, but artificially intelligent services that cut time and stress - a quicker and more rewarding (literally) experience for the customer, less waste for your bank, and fewer tourists screaming at Spanish cashpoints because their card has been blocked and their phone hasn't been set up for the roaming call needed to contact their bank. If that process can be made painless by automation, then why - on behalf of every holidaymaker urgently in need of 20 Euros to pay an increasingly angry-looking taxi driver - hasn't it been?

"Banks are already moving towards [customer service] automation," saysPranay Jain, CEO of Enterprise Bot, creator of an artificially intelligent customisable chatbot that Jain claims can solve the majority of common customer queries without, a) the need for human interaction, and b) the customer tearing out clumps of hair. "When you call in today it takes almost [on average] 300 seconds after doing all the verifications for someone to actually pick up the call. [That's] a really, really long time."

Enterprise Bot differs from the telephone consumer banking robot in two ways. Firstly, in its current form (deployed predominantly with banks) it 'knows' that most people who call their bank are asking one of a handful of standard, straightforward questions. Second, Enterprise Bot knows that if your question is not standard (if your bank account has just been emptied on the other side of the world, for example), it is unlikely that you want to spend five minutes on the phone typing in the enigma code that eventually leads to a human being. Which is why Enterprise Bot, says Jain, is built to constantly listen to your side of the conversation. If you sound upset, angry, frustrated, that's when the artificially intelligent side of Enterprise Bot kicks in and transfers you to a human employee.

But what if none of this applies to you? What about the customer who is, by and large, happy with a high street bank holding their funds and dispensing them on request? Here again, AI has something to offer. Your bank - your whole experience of it - may be working just fine for you. But could it work better?

"[Say] for example, you have a couple of thousand pounds spare in your current account that you never seem to use," says Blomfield, as a teaser for the satisfied customer. "It's been sitting there, you never dip into it… Well, maybe that's better sitting in an ISA. Maybe you're going to need that money in a few weeks time so it's best sticking it into a savings account. Or maybe you have the risk appetite to do some investing."

With the proper safeguards in place, the appeal is obvious: an end to the ominous, unmarked envelope sitting on the doormat. Statement? Bill? Notice of a missed payment? Contact my AI accountant. And if your digital valet isn't capable of handling a specific request while it's deciding where best to put your cash, you can always call the bank and let its own AI system handle it for you.

In the short-term, none of these advancements are the stuff of front page stories. There's no sci-fi hook to the adoption of AI into banking. What there is, however, is the subtlest of changes in how those outside of the financial sector manage their money. Once consumer-facing AI proves itself reliable to the customers that prop up the banks, micromanaging will disappear. Control will be passed from person to processor. And you'll never hear from your bank again.

IMAGE: Pexels

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Posted: 06/16/2017

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