Building the World’s Best Digital Bank
Siew Choo Soh
Managing Director, Head of Core Systems Technology, DBS Bank Singapore
The goal of DBS Bank, a leading regional bank based in Singapore, is to reimagine banking and make banking invisible to customers. In so doing, it seeks to enable customers to “Live More and Bank Less”. A frictionless experience is the key to achieving this, and the bank is enabling it by not only offering seamless user interfaces to clients but also providing the customer service to match. In an interview for the FinacleConnect, Siew Choo Soh, Managing Director, Head of Core Systems Technology, DBS Bank Singapore, talks about the bank’s digital innovation journey and top banking technology trends for the coming year.
Banking on the go, and on mobile in particular, is a key priority for us. We have already launched our digital-only bank in India and Indonesia, and will soon launch equivalent services in other markets as well. DBS is also focusing on using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to make banking interactions and experiences more enjoyable for customers.
An important initiative that we are part of is Singapore’s “Smart Nation” agenda, which aims to create a cashless society.
The Bank has a lot of data, which is currently residing in different places and being used by different units in a piecemeal fashion. Our data analytics team leverages these assets to make better recommendations to customers. Also, various departments are putting data to use for internal purposes. The HR department, for instance, uses data analytics to look at retention of our employees and top performers. We are in the process of creating a fully integrated Big Data and Analytics platform that provides a complete end-to-end big data and machine learning capabilities that is self service to the entire Bank. This platform will ensure frictionless access to data, and will enable us not just to provide a great client experience, but also help us manage Risk and Compliance as well as better employee experience.
We have been using predictive analytics for 4 – 5 years now, and are also leveraging machine learning and chatbots in many areas in the Bank. So, AI is clearly not hype. AI is an integral part of our agenda to make banking joyful. As one of the next steps, we are taking AI and machine learning to the platforms that are supporting them i.e. deploying AI to make those platforms intelligent.
Our philosophy is to digitally enable the entire bank from the bottom up and to be digital to the core. People and cultural transformation is a big part of that. Driving cultural transformation so that all employees understand the need for change and the desired culture in the organization is the first part. The second is helping our people acquire new knowledge and skills. At DBS, we take this very seriously. There are various mechanisms and methods that we use to transform the skills of our incumbents. Dedicated classroom training programs is one way, but it is the least preferred option. Mostly, we believe in pairing employees who need to be trained with others who are native to those capabilities; we have found this to be one of the most effective methods of transforming people. We hire people with the required capabilities and pair them up with the incumbents, and the result is that those capabilities are multiplied across the organization. This is rooted in the simple belief that in order to learn something, you must experience and practice it rather than hear about it in a classroom setting.
In my team, we have a very active learning program in a bootcamp setting. The format involves a short Sprints of learning, followed by Labs. The bootcamp attendees learn new skills or new technology, take those learnings, apply them to a use-case and demonstrate the implementation in two week sprints.
The first is cloud, the second is data and the third is AI. Ultimately, the combination of the three together with agile culture is imperative for scaling any business. It gives any company the ability to experiment quickly and cheaply, and the intelligence to provide superior client experience through data and machine learning.
We transformed our entire Hong Kong business landscape from front to back at one go as part of the Finacle implementation program. The bank needed a standardized, flexible, scalable and resilient core banking platform as part of its digital agenda. We partnered with Finacle for the transformation, which also extended to replacing our mobile banking, internet banking, ATM and IVR platforms. It was a huge project, completed in over 18 months.
We started work on a new technology stack on cloud native architecture two years ago. Six months into the journey, we started to feel that the value of the truly Agile approach was not just in Agile rituals, but also in having a truly Agile architecture and development practice. One year into the journey, we started to realise the benefits of extremely high quality releases, minimal production support resources required for these platforms and more importantly, solutions that delivered superior user experience. Using platform-as-a-service (PaaS) such as Pivotal Cloud Foundry, we started to realise the benefits of developer productivity. The platform empowers developers with superior non-functional capabilities such as auto-scaling, self-healing and easy deployment, so that their time can be focused on creating business capabilities.
In conversation with FinTechs
Co-Founder and COO, Active.ai
Sudha Annie Saigal
Program Director, Finacle FinTech Connect Program, Infosys Finacle
A report jointly presented by Startupbootcamp and PWC shows a marked interest in AI among UK Fintech startups. A few years ago, AI practitioners were focused on understanding the science, even though they were not sure how it would apply to day to day life. But now, an increasing number of startups are working closely with financial service providers to find solutions to practical problems faced by bank customers. Sudha Annie Saigal, Program Director, Finacle FinTech Connect Program, Infosys Finacle catches up with Sachin Jaiswal, CEO, Niki.ai and Shankar Narayanan, Co-Founder and COO, Active.ai on their experience with artificial intelligence powered banking.
Active.ai is a Singapore based FinTech that offers an Enterprise AI platform for banks. With their Omni Connector AI platform, Active.ai is helping banks and other financial institutions to intuitively and intelligently engage with the customer on mobile, chat, or voice enabled IOT devices using AI.
Niki.ai is an emerging FinTech, headquartered in Bangalore, that offers chat-based commerce solutions. It was founded in May 2015 by 4 IIT Kharagpur graduates – Sachin Jaiswal, Keshav Prawasi, Shishir Modi and Nitin Babel. Niki offers a one stop solution – AI powered chatbot for commerce with 40+ merchant integrations.
Sudha: In your opinion, which are the top three technologies that will have a major impact on the banking business models in 2018?
Sachin Jaiswal, Niki.ai: If we talk about personal banking, we have already come to apps and e-statements from queues and passbooks. We believe that ‘Mobile Banking’ has been an enabler for banks and consumers alike, to be more adapted to technology and count on it to create the next best experience. Therefore, in India particularly, after demonetisation when we’re rapidly moving towards a cashless society, making every consumer go mobile-first and tech-first is the way to go about transforming banking. This has become more doable recently due to the exponential increase in smartphone and internet penetration in the country.
Bots based on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are another technology trend that are already seeing adoption, and we believe, these have the potential to bring about true digital transformation everyone is aiming for. Be it customer engagement, sales, risk assessment or claim management, AI-based technologies are helping banks do it all better than ever while saving time and money.
Shankar Narayanan, Co-Founder and COO, Active.ai: I think blockchain will definitely be one of the key technologies that have a significant impact on banking this year. In addition to areas like trade finance and remittances where there is a lot of traction already, I think blockchain will also make a difference in the know-your-customer process bringing in a lot of efficiency and transparency. Secondly, regulations or not, banks will focus on setting up open banking framework to play a larger role in the banking ecosystem. This will be important for banks to develop a new revenue stream and increase their reach through third parties. Thirdly, Artificial Intelligence cannot be ignored any more in banking. 2018 will see more of conversational banking services through chat and voice based interfaces across their digital channels.
Sudha: Artificial Intelligence is considered to be one of the key technology trends that will reshape banking in the coming years. Are banks taking this technology seriously or is there a wait and watch approach?
Sachin Jaiswal, Niki.ai: Banking being one of the most competitive and tech-intensive sectors, has always been a frontrunner in leveraging technology to automate backend processes and create smoother customer-facing experience. With the advent of AI-based technologies, many banks have already started utilizing these for customer service, digital transactions and more.
The success of these AI-based solutions being implemented by banks, although gradually, is leading to an increased belief and adoption among others in the industry as well. More use cases, more solutions and more adoption will definitely create a trend soon where none of the banks will be willing to lose out on the immense benefits AI brings with itself.
Shankar Narayanan, Co-Founder and COO, Active.ai: The fact that we are living in a world where AI technologies are increasingly making things simple, and that people are increasingly interacting through conversations with smart virtual assistants, they have similar expectations from their banks. Banks cannot afford to have a wait and a watch approach.
The good news is that the initial group of progressive banks are putting lots of resources and funding behind AI. These banks realize that the future of scalable sustainable open banking will be driven by AI. With more banks looking to harness artificial intelligence to automate and enhance customer experience, the solution providers and the solutions are gaining substantial domain-specific knowledge base. With the combination of these bringing out more success stories, hopefully we will see far more mainstream adoption.
Sudha: Although the banking and financial services sector is showing interest in AI, our research found that it is clearly not very mature in its journey to adoption, coming in at the 8th position. This is surprising considering that financial services is a data intensive business. How do you think banks should build business case for investments in emerging technologies like AI?
Sachin Jaiswal, Niki.ai: AI is still taking its baby steps and the data which banks have amassed as on today, only solve half the problem. AI needs time, extensive training & investment before it will reap results. Especially the Natural Language Processing capabilities bring in engagement in a personalized way through customizations & local language support thereby opening up banking & financial services for the digitally unbanked. This can increase the overall efficiency of the banks by reducing physical footprint in branches, thereby bringing in operational & financial synergies.
Shankar Narayanan, Co-Founder and COO, Active.ai: AI is in a nascent stage when it comes to banking, but in coming years I think we will see substantial adoption. Challenges like systems integration and legacy technology have prevented banks from taking advantage of their data sources. But banks cannot delay their investments in AI any further as front runners will have a huge advantage. Hence banks will need to balance their investments in modernizing their technology landscape and new applications of AI. In 2018, FinTechs in the AI space will also look to collaborate with banks more effectively for customer data, an asset they chiefly lack.
Sudha: Clearly, the technologies under artificial intelligence are yet to mature. Which application areas or business use cases are banks prioritizing? Which are some of the areas where banks can see quick returns?
Sachin Jaiswal, Niki.ai: Time and again, we have seen new use cases emerging for AI in banking. An insurance company can reduce costs and increase efficiency by deploying a chatbot instead of human agents. Same can be done in claim management and vehicle damage analysis using AI-based technologies. Similarly, a lender can automate credit risk analysis using machine learning algorithms to save time and reduce defaults.
Customer service, engagement and acquisition are some of the areas starting where banks are beginning to explore the power of AI. One success story is that of HDFC Bank’s Facebook Messenger bot ‘OnChat’, created by Niki.ai. The bot has seen 160% m-o-m growth in number of transactions, proving the adoption and utility of the AI-powered tool. Over 26% of OnChat users are non-HDFC bank customers. That is, OnChat has helped the bank acquire more customers as well.
Shankar Narayanan, Co-Founder and COO, Active.ai: Like any new technology, majority of the banks are looking to invest in areas where AI will give tangible benefits and fast. We see that banks are currently prioritizing customer engagement and call center enquiry based services in near term. Hence you see many banks offering chatbots for helping their customers access account information, pay bills, make transfers and access several other banking services. Creating smarter experiences and lowering operational cost for engagement is the objective here.
Sudha: Artificial intelligence holds the potential to redefine customer engagement on digital channels to drive new business and cross sell. What do you think should be the approach for banks here?
Sachin Jaiswal, Niki.ai: Customer engagement using AI-based conversation bots can definitely prove to be a game-changer for banks. An engaged customer is a retained one, and customer retention is paramount for any business. Banks should look to automate most of the customer-facing conversations with the help of bots. Bots provide a personalised and consistent experience to the customers, and can play an important role in reaching out to customers right when they’re most likely to interact with the business through data analysis, thus efficiently covering gaps there are when it comes to user education and communication.
Shankar Narayanan, Co-Founder and COO, Active.ai: Banks will need to be on the same channels on which customers are spending more today. Mostly, these are the digital channels today and AI can play a significant role to redefine customer experiences on these channels. Chatbots, for example, have the potential to provide non-intrusive but in-context banking experiences to customers, and meaningful insights based on their interactions to banks. AI will also make banks more efficient in processing and deducting patterns from big data, including text, imagery and speech from various sources. For me, banks that invest in AI stand to gain a huge competitive advantage in the near future.