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How can banks use technology to humanise services?

(Image credit: Image Credit: MK photograp55 / Shutterstock)

Many feel banks can be a bit faceless to deal with. So, the term ‘Banking for Humanity’ sounds like a serious stretch of the imagination. Yet, this concept which was expertly explored by fintech guru, Chris Skinner, at The Banking Scene conference, could offer a way to reposition banks in the public psyche.

Here some ways in which banks can progress Banking for Humanity goals:

So how might this happen?

First, let’s consider what Skinner said. He defined the concept as being about how banks are trying to render their services more human, doing their part to contribute towards a more sustainable world and a healthy financial society. There are five fundamental pillars on which banking for humanity can be realised. These are financial inclusion; financial literacy; financial capabilities for the vulnerable; financial wellness; and promoting sustainability.

Any initiative to make banking more human runs up against the weak reputation of financial services in the aftermath of the financial crisis earlier in the century. For some there persists a pervasive lack of trust and confidence. For example, in the latest quarterly survey by the Confederation of British Industry and PwC, optimism in the financial services business plunged at the fastest rate since September 2008. Whilst FCA research revealed that over 40 per cent of UK adults are not confident in the UK’s financial services industry. The outlook is improving but in order to maintain trust, service providers need to deliver value-adding insight and a personalised approach.

There are more than a few ways to advance Banking for Humanity but the parallel efforts that banks are making to digitally transform and remodel their operations to be closer to the retail and business customers are key, especially around bridging gaps with customers and promoting financial wellness generally.

Embrace AI to amplify the human, not the machine in banking

It may seem ironic to suggest greater use of machine intelligence and learning can humanise bank services, but when carefully utilised AI is central to progressing Banking for Humanity and broad goals across most of Skinner’s pillars.

AI and machine learning can be used to automate and personalise customer care, making it more intuitive and predictive thanks to the technologies’ ability to learn and respond faster to customer data, which helps banks to better understand market trends and habits.  These smarter insights can answer the need to cater for different demographics with varying needs, whether they are young or old, financially adept or naïve.

Through automating menial tasks, the human role in banking can become less transactional and more concerned with being empathetic and offering valuable advice and support. How AI can be harnessed to support its human co-workers, whilst guiding them through answering a customer’s complex requirements illustrates how much smarter IT is - it provides support, without replacing, the human touch when it matters most for customers.

So, AI can create space for banks to focus on how they improve their colleagues’ consultative capabilities through training in empathy, emotional intelligence and problem solving.

Bridging generations for better financial inclusion and literacy

Financial inclusion is crucial in making banking more humane. Banks have a role to play in taking equal steps to provide adequate and quality financial services across all generations. There are active approaches that can be taken to reach out to the aged, as well as the youngest possible generation of current new customers – Gen Z, born after 1995.

For Gen Z, it’s important for banks to consider the fact that there is no clear line between the online and offline words when developing their omnichannel strategies. This generation is all about authenticity and permanence, but also one of the hardest to read.  Research shows they are more interested in prudent financial management than their predecessors, the Millennials. This creates the basis on which banks can build financial education channels and products to engage with Gen Z.

Technology can help close the financial inclusion gap that could be widening for older generations too.  There is a great deal that can be done with the user interface design on self-service devices and how their operation can be monitored by staff, who can assist older customers to use the machine to take control of their money. New branch designs aim to create more space for personal consultation that suits the face-to-face needs of older customers. There is also a growing case for how video banking can be used in-branch to maximise access to financial services and assistance for consumers seeking help with self-service technology or product advice at a time that best suits them.

New digital banks get closer to their local communities 

Banking for Humanity is predicated on the idea that having banks in your local community is extremely positive.

When properly considered digital technology can be integrated with physical services within a branch footprint.  Branches become service experience hubs that offer well-resourced face to face services alongside digital services and the opportunity to experiment with video banking to make those invaluable human advisory resources more widely available. The roll out of omnichannel banking that’s enabled by cloud computing solutions can bring down the operating costs while extending superior customer banking services into more communities.

Creating shared digital banking hubs for more than one banking brand is another innovation that’s common in other countries that could be more widely applied here. These could be located within existing bank premises, while the bank could look to repurpose the rest of its real estate to benefit the community by creating new facilities for ancillary or complementary services or make space for community activities and groups, such as a playgroup.

On one obvious level, Banking for Humanity sounds strange (if not humans then who are banks for? Yet, the idea of banks aligning with society’s needs is valid and already shared by many banks. Let’s hope to see more progress on responsible banking as the industry continues to evolve how it serves its customers through multiple channels.

Mark Aldred, Banking Specialist, Auriga

Mark Aldred is a banking specialist and head of international sales at Auriga. He has over 30 years of experience in banking technology.