Chatbots, AI and mobile-first tools are the future of business banking
There are no more excuses for the world of commercial finance to stay in the technological dark ages. Automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are paving the way for dramatic improvements in money management for businesses.
Even the argument that traditional banking institutions are too siloed, or trapped in tangled legacy systems, no longer holds true. Growing numbers of digital services are available, accessible through the cloud via Software as a Service (SaaS) or API-based technology, meaning they can simply be ‘bolted on’ to banks’ existing platforms.
Let’s look at the most disruptive technologies changing the face of commercial banking today:
Mobile banking is a fact of life in retail banking but has yet to take hold for commercial clients. We’re already experiencing the convenience of mobile wallets, contactless payments, and at-a-glance statements in our personal banking. Yet when it comes to business banking, commercial solutions are still more often than not opting for plastic and printed paper.
Ubiquitous smartphone use means that employees, with the right tools in place, at all levels could access relevant commercial banking tools whenever (and wherever) they need them. Mobile devices enable a whole organisation to interact and transact through a single app or portal, making transparency and financial management much simpler.
Interactions with suppliers or customers can become seamless and clients ultimately benefit from enhanced record-keeping in the form of electronic receipts and mobile wallet statements. Users can also see at a glance where prospective purchases fit within an overall expenses policy.
Finally, the combined technologies of a smartphone camera, microphone and thumb sensor give mobiles a layer of security that other devices and methods do not. This can ensure both authentication for genuine users and safety in the event of theft (see below).
One of the biggest barriers to benefiting from enhanced business spending analysis has been the scattered nature of financial data across organisations. Departments typically own their own budgets and frequently document spend using a variety of techniques, ranging from bespoke systems to paper ledgers.
Pushing all spend through a single payments dashboard, gives universal visibility of all transactional information. As a result, the data can be much more easily digested by AI systems. Organisations often complain they are drowning in data. But the reality is, for AI to really work, it needs huge volumes of data to create ‘intelligent’ outcomes.
Clients aren’t suffering from ‘too much’ data. They’re suffering from ‘badly organised’ data.
Once an AI system is up and running, it can identify trends that no human would have the time or expertise to find. For example, inefficient spending patterns can be highlighted, which finance or procurement can then optimise, perhaps by bulk buying or changing supplier.
AI can even predict events that are likely to impact financial performance – the impact of a rise in interest rates, adverse weather predictions or production shortages in ancillary services. When organisations can be alerted to potential problems, they have time to put contingencies in place.
Commercial banks that use AI are able to cement their relationships with clients. It is added-value services such as spend analysis or risk identification that raise banking services above the level of a commodity, improving brand consideration and customer loyalty.
An extension of AI, chatbots are rapidly changing the face of customer service. Combining the respective strengths of advanced search and human interactions, chatbots can help customers resolve even quite complex questions.
Although entirely automated, they can guide customers through queries using the personalised data the company holds. Customers can find bespoke solutions based on their own data, while systems are able to make ‘intelligent’ inferences from customer requests and data that a simple search cannot.
Using natural language processing (NLP), chatbots can interact either via a computer keyboard or, as is increasingly important today, using voice. Voice assistants are starting to dominate both in-home and in-car environments, so being able to interact using voice is essential.
With the advantage of 24/7 availability and intelligent access to customer information, automated customer service is in high demand by commercial banking clients in an always-on economy. Customers expect 24/7 service from their personal bank; they see no reason for ‘office hours’ from their commercial banking partner either.
One of the greatest concerns for finance officers is security. The checks and balances in place internally to govern authorised spend pose one problem. The dominance of BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – IT strategies is another.
With a large proportion of any given workforce using a personal smartphone for business, finance officers need to be assured that company information and spending capability is limited strictly to authorised users. Any theft or breach could have catastrophic consequences.
Improvements in biometric security can reassure finance executives on two fronts. Firstly, and depending on their role, employees have varying levels of access to finance and information. Integrating a biometric element to accessing funds ensures that the right person is accessing the right system for the right reason.
Secondly, biometric technologies improve the security of device themselves. Combining the use of a camera (for photographic identification), microphone (for voice modulation) and thumb print (a unique user identifier) makes it very difficult for thieves to access sensitive data.
Enterprises large and small are faced with the two-pronged challenge of increased regulation around data and financial security, as well as sophisticated criminal factions targeting their systems round the clock. Commercial banks that can deliver no-nonsense ways to meet their regulatory obligations and enhance confidence in their operations will find themselves in a preferred partner position.
Making use of improved security and the availability of mobile, ePayables are increasingly important for smooth financial management.
Employees are familiar with using contactless payments in their everyday lives. Convenient and fast, they deliver added value in downloading accurate records of payment direct to mobile devices.
Migrating employees to ePayments isn’t just a matter of convenience, though. It is a case of savvy financial management. Encouraging the use of corporate credit cards as the main purchasing mechanism helps manage working capital.
Cash payments that would need to be immediately reimbursed to the employee are now deferred through 30 or even 60 day payment terms, with no negative impact on the employee. Traceability of spend through automatic recording improves record-keeping and creates time management efficiencies – so no more hunting through crumpled receipts!
Technology in itself is not an answer. It is simply a tool that delivers better customer experience. Commercial banks should take their cues from the retail sector to identify which tools give the biggest lift in experience and think how they can be integrated within the commercial environment. Not all will be relevant while some, mobile payments and banking for example, are long overdue.