The Innovators 2020: Special Honors

Special honors this year go to innovators focusing on the user experience. Creativity extends from bill-payment notifications to gamification.

Belgazprom’s Cashalot Catch game.

This year, Global Finance invited the usual submissions for its annual Innovators awards, but with an additional open-ended offer: The magazine would consider innovations that do not easily fall into the previously designated categories. This shift opened the field and brought in a number of new tools and ideas worthy of honors. We present them here.

While customer-facing innovations tend to grab the headlines, some groundbreaking innovations operate behind the scenes, such as robotic process automation (RPA) in workforce management and the workforce science innovation called quantum image recognition application (QIRA) being used by DBS Bank in Singapore. Inspired by the way bots help gamers reach more advanced levels by automating their character’s leveling-up tasks, QIRA monitors and sends alerts on call queues at the busy DBS customer center, optimizing resources in real time. This enables the efficient management and distribution of workloads, which is communicated to operations and lets workforce-management staff focus more on value-added tasks, such as analyzing real-time trends.

RPA is perfect for repetitive and labor-intensive tasks. It triggers accurate responses around the clock—making it a valuable tool for an industry that requires large-scale and routine data-movement tasks. A 2018 Accenture survey of 80 bank chief operating officers in North America revealed that 16% are using RPA, while 63% plan to use it over the next year or are piloting the technology.

Fine-Tuning the Client Experience

Customer experience is the top priority for most businesses, and banks are no exception. Many of this year’s submissions were innovations to help banks deliver the types of online experiences and tools customers enjoy in other areas of their lives.

While some submissions looked to improve the onboarding process, others focused on creating a seamless customer journey, with simplification, personalization and the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics as common threads.

Israel Discount Bank stood out, with its in-app, triple-layer service personalization innovation, which combines AI with a chatbot and instant messaging (IM) with bank staff. AI anticipates user needs; the chatbot addresses commonly asked questions. And the ability to hold a secure IM chat with the bank helps customers easily request more complex services. The combination of all three layers offers a uniquely integrated and consistent customer experience.

Research and consulting firm Gartner predicts that chatbots will power 85% of all customer-service interactions by the year 2020, while a recent study from Juniper Research found that the operational cost savings from using chatbots in banking will reach $7.3 billion globally by 2023. A crucial enabler of this, according to Juniper, will be improvements in natural language processing (NLP), which will dramatically reduce the failure rate of chatbot interactions and make them more natural and valuable for customers.

The 2018 State of Chatbots Report, created by Drift, SurveyMonkey Audience, Salesforce and myclever, reveals that 69% of consumers prefer chatbots for quick communication, meaning there are limits to their usefulness for more complex and technical questions.

To help meet customer expectations, however, banks are increasingly turning to tools that allow them to fine-tune services. AI lies behind chatbots and virtual assistants. When combined with machine learning, predictive analytics and NLP, an AI-powered chatbot lets banks analyze customer inquiries and tailor guidance to the individual. Chatbots can automatically collect data and empower banks to automate new data sets, so it isn’t a big surprise they have become so popular.

Surprising, however, are the methods banks have used to give their chatbots an edge. Since its launch in August 2018, BBVA Bancomer’s virtual assistant has processed an average of 10,000 conversations per month through WhatsApp. The Mexican bank integrated its chatbot assistant with Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, to help BBVA Bancomer expand engagement with customers and support digital sales. Customers and non-customers who select the business and finance category of the Alexa app, and then select BBVA Bancomer, can ask about promotions, exchange rates, branch locations and other topics.

New Ways to Market

Social media is opening up hitherto unimaginable possibilities for banks to reach both existing and new customers. Emirates NBD ran four innovative social-media marketing campaigns last year to help the bank engage with customers and create new ones, especially among United Arab Emirates (UAE) nationals. More than 20 live-streaming shows resulted in an average reach of more than 60,000 users each, and a total reach for the year of more than one million. Emirates NBD also turned to games to generate brand awareness and convert gamers into customers. These gamification efforts have resulted in more than 100,000 leads, with a conversion rate of approximately 2.5%.

Combining campaigns with significant events, such as the UAE’s National Day celebrations, Eid and Ramadan, were also highly successful. Snapchat filters focused on the UAE brought in 32.2% more Emirati customers, while the rebranding of its mePay mobile money-transfer app into Eidiya Express during Eid led to double-digit growth in mePay transactions.

Banks are turning to social media, as it’s a platform with which customers are both comfortable and familiar. While banks cannot control where social media conversations go, it is vital that they develop an effective social media strategy to connect with current and prospective customers. To help cut through the online chatter, AI helps banks manage the large amounts of data generated on social media, enabling them to respond to negative feedback when necessary, capitalize on good news, and personalize marketing campaigns. According to research by Selligent Marketing Cloud, 74% of consumers expect brands to treat them as individuals, not as members of some segment. AI gives banks the means to deliver more data-driven strategies and hyperpersonalized marketing messages.

According to the World Bank, 1.7 billion of the global population remain unbanked. Digital banking has become a lifeline in rural parts of the developing world outside the reach of bank branches. Whether it’s cash transfers via texts, financial services delivered via apps or credit scores enabled by social media data, financial inclusion has been aided by the global explosion of mobile phones.

Digital banking has also helped banks connect with nonfinancial partners to increase financial inclusion. Co-operative Bank (CB Bank), for example, partnered with Myanmar Post to provide mobile agent-banking services through the post offices in Myanmar, bringing greater financial access to many people around the country.

As Myanmar doesn’t have a credit bureau, and customers have no credit history or standardized credit score, CB Bank also partnered with Norwegian telco Telenor to issue co-branded credit cards. By accounting for various factors—such as data usage, mobile top-ups, contact lists and GPS locations—this arrangement lets an expedited credit analysis be performed digitally with little or no cost to the bank. Telenor, meanwhile, is able to leverage CB Bank’s network of more than 7,000 merchants to expand its benefits as well as offer physical cards to complement its loyalty program.

While mobile money is bringing both cash and electronic banking to remote parts of the world, a new report from Mastercard shows that 15 countries account for more than 60% of the unbanked population around the world. In these 15 countries, 607 million people have a mobile phone, but don’t yet have a bank account. Improving access to formal financial services will improve people’s potential to earn income and give them greater security than the informal financial sector offers. It also creates an untapped opportunity for banks. Accenture predicts that by 2020, banks could generate up to $380 billion in annual revenues by closing the small-business credit gap and bringing unbanked and underbanked adults into the formal financial system.

So, digital banking brings benefits to all—from the unbanked to hard-to-win customers to businesses—and, not least, to the banks themselves.

Innovators Special Honors 2020

FX/Cash Management/Payments Standard Bank Shyf
Life Insurance EFU Life Assurance BLISS—Biometric Life Insurance Smart System
Personal Banking Banco de Bogota Shortcuts
Personal Banking Belgazprombank Banking App Game Cashalot Catch
Personal Banking CaixaBank My Activity—New PFM Approach VoiceBanking
Personal Banking HBL Pakistan Gamification: Invite and Earn Lifestyle Partnerships
Personal Banking Sberbank Sberbank Personal ATM’s Interface
SME Loans Fubon SME App for Business Loans