The recent onslaught of headlines about the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in financial services makes it hard to separate the wheat (what’s real and possible) from the chaff (pie-in-the-sky hype).
We hear again and again about how AI can increase advisor productivity, improve the customer experience, and reveal previously hidden insights that can be a competitive advantage in an increasingly commoditized space.
It’s all great in theory, but often lacks real-life validation. Here’s a breakdown of ways AI can actually apply in the day-to-day, nose-to-the-grindstone world of financial services marketing and sales.
Maran Nelson, founder of AI platform Clara Labs, suggests a simple but powerful framework: Focus on how AI impacts humans and their common, everyday workflows.
Nelson began her remarks on AI at the recent Hearsay Summit in San Francisco by admitting there is a mystique about AI, but in the end, “it’s all about predictions.” Beyond that, it’s nothing more than applying math and data to human decision-making.
Clara Labs is the technology company behind Clara, a “virtual assistant” that schedules meetings for recruiters. By eliminating the back-and-forth email exchanges that are normally required to set up a call, the company estimates it saves its clients many hours per week in both time spent and “cognitive load.”
As AI solutions go, Clara is a bit unique in that it takes a “human-in-the-loop” (HITL) approach – in other words, it employs a model that requires human interaction. Clara is able to read emails, compare calendars, and communicate with multiple participants. And while it’s designed to be reasonably good at this task, it’s programmed to bring a human into the process when needed. For instance, when a long, meandering email trips things up, Clara notifies a human Clara Labs team member to help make a decision about the action required.
According to Nelson, having a human involved is not just about getting a better outcome. It illustrates the fact that AI doesn’t serve a purpose on its own. It’s meant to help people – for example, by eliminating tedious or repetitive work. Ultimately, the value of AI should be judged by whether it is allowing people to focus on more creative or rewarding parts of their work.
AI-guided human interaction is also a central part of our work and products at Hearsay. We believe that a human in the loop can help drive casual customer engagement to sales conversations as quickly as possible. Our software automates common advisor workflows – like following up on a meeting, sending an annual review reminder or sharing an article that reflects a particular client’s interest – so that advisors can focus their time on more nuanced and productive human-to-human activities.
Lessons for Advisor Productivity
For all the fears about AI taking over human jobs, most of us in the financial services industry remain confident that we’ll always need actual people to play the financial advisor role – which means that the HITL approach could be an ideal way to think about AI.
Texting is a great example of this. Advisors are increasingly using texting and direct messaging on social media to communicate with clients and prospects, and AI is improving the experience on both sides of the communication.
On LinkedIn, for example, the messaging app will suggest likely responses based on the conversation, so the user can simply choose a response (“See you there”) rather than type it out. It may seem like a small thing, but over time these prompts can save advisors time and encourage them to use direct messaging and texting more frequently.
This can be really powerful when you are able to use automation in messaging that is specific to your industry, feels personal and can be executed at scale. Advisor-focused technologies like Hearsay have industry-specific messaging prompts – based on AI from hundreds of thousands of advisor-client interactions – that go well beyond simple suggestions.
With both Advisor Social (social media) and Hearsay Relate (text and voice calls), advisors are proactively notified of opportunities to wish clients a happy birthday, congratulate them on a new job, schedule an annual review, send them a reminder of their upcoming RMD, or reach out for other reasons based on data collected and analyzed. The outreach itself takes just one click with pre-written templates that are optimized for that specific conversation.
Lessons for Customer Retention
The “human” in HITL can also be your customer. Many financial services firms are leveraging AI to improve the client experience, leading to greater customer success and retention.
RBC, the largest bank in Canada, recently launched an AI system called NOMI. A play on the phrase “know me,” the platform monitors customers’ checking accounts and anticipates overdrafts based on the bills it knows are about to be due.
Unlike more simplistic, alert-based solutions, which are more common in the U.S., services like NOMI make informed predictions, suggest a course of action, and even carry out the request if approved. Over time, it learns to propose better suggestions based on what the user does and doesn’t execute.
“If nothing else,” says wealth management thought leader Joel Bruckenstein, “(NOMI) should serve as a wake-up call that maintaining the status quo is no longer an acceptable business strategy.” Bruckenstein believes that many advisors in the U.S. have been “slow to grasp the magnitude of technological disruption taking place in financial services,” to their own detriment.
In a word: chatbots.
According to a study by Personetics, 80 percent of financial institutions globally view chatbots as an opportunity and, in fact, almost 50 percent are already using or plan to start using bots. And while Gartner predicts that chatbots could handle at least 85 percent of all customer service queries by 2020, these clever little programs can do more than just free up the call center’s time.
Take Bank of America’s AI chatbot, Erica. Accessed via the BofA app, Erica can seemingly do it all, from tracking customers’ credit scores, to reviewing spending habits, to offering advice on how to pay off bills. Users can chat with Erica via voice or text message.
Before you board the chatbot train, remember that almost half of bots are only used once. To increase engagement, Personetics CEO David Sosna recommends that your bot “proactively reach out to customers with information, insight and advice – presented at the right time and place based on predictive analysis of individual customer needs.”
AI in Finserv: Improving the Human Experience
Hearsay CEO Clara Shih believes that technology is highly unlikely to replace all the people working in financial services – especially when it comes to financial advisors.
Rather, she says, “technology will help them transform,” in the way that Nelson of Clara Labs argues that AI will be about “eliminating the parts of your job that you like the least.” Financial companies that embrace AI will allow their people focus on the most creative, challenging and impactful aspects of their jobs that ultimately help their clients navigate through important life events.
As Steve Jobs once said, “Silicon Valley has always been at the center of both technology and humanism.” Despite the advancements in AI, financial services consumers still continue to demand a high level of personalized services. In the end, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that digital platforms are ultimately about helping people.
Hey, Siri, what do you think about that?