BankingBusinesses looked for human relationship during crisis, despite AI benefits

Businesses looked for human relationship during crisis, despite AI benefits

Societe Generale and TD Group say tech has unlocked high data quality, but human element remained vital

Technology has helped major banks acclimatise to disruptive forces of late, but limitations have been exposed particularly when it comes to advising clients during major uncertainty, according to speakers on a Sibos panel this week.

“The awakening of what you can do with data that is not financial data started and accelerated through the pandemic,” said Claire Calmejane, group chief innovation officer at Societe Generale.

“From there, your data quality starts to improve and you have the infrastructure in the cloud technology and for us, we’ve already passed 18 percent of our application in the cloud with six percent of usage in the public cloud so we’re quite in a good position from an infrastructure perspective to scale some of the AI services.”

Despite offering better data quality, Calmejane says that technology could not always be applicable when offering advice to businesses impacted by the crisis. Queries such as ones related to cash balance, she argues, could not be solved by a robot as clients’ requests focused around the economic landscape and complex cases.

“People are looking for a human relationship. With AI, you need data – and you need good data quality fields – but not everything can be solved through AI, especially in times of a pandemic.

AI serves more to equip the broker. For example, if we execute a deal –you can use AI on the origination for your lawyer documentation and juridic documentation. That is something that everyone is looking for. Now, the future of AI is more towards hyper skill,” she added.

Greg Keeley, chief innovation officer at TD Bank Group, says AI will mostly solve scalable issues.

“As we embrace the power of technology, we need to reflect not just on the adoption, but on the acceptance. The acceptance is critical, and we feel strongly at TD that we work with experts to understand AI and how we are going to use that,” he said.

TD focuses on three areas when it comes to implementing tech, according to Keeley. One is explainability – to address the inherent limitations of technology as it relates to AI and models. Secondly, bias, in which the group makes sure it has the concept of transparency, fairness and accountability fully incorporated in an AI-first world. Finally, TD focuses on diversity, in which it aims at promoting diversity and inclusion across every level of the AI landscape.

At Soc Gen, Calmejane says the bank has shown an increased focus on ethical AI as well.

“Innovation is paramount to get out of the pandemic. Innovation is mostly led through digital. Digital is not a destination – digital is a mean to achieve our biggest purpose that requires more transparency, changing the part of the infrastructure – the way financial services work.

“This transformation, it’s not about technology, it’s about people,” she added.

Overall, the global reach of each bank enabled them to rapidly switch to remote working, particularly as business continuity plans fell short.

“We had a business continuity plan – the business continuity plan was to work in one environment and to have a back-up facility in case of one incident. Of course, that was thrown out of the window as we recognised the impact of protecting our colleagues and the need to go virtual,” said Keeley.

“Being a global institution, we saw was happening in Singapore. Because of that, we created behaviours such as we immediately stopped all change in banks so that we could focus on stability in the infrastructure and creating the capacity. We worked with the hardware-software license into rapidly bring forward the capability to not only make our customers being able to reach and engage in the channels that they wanted to, but also for our customers to operate into remote working.”

At Soc Gen, working with Asian businesses also enabled the bank to understand the extent and impact of the crisis before it hit Europe.

However, Calmejane says the most challenging area has been in supporting the SME population as small businesses could not fully operate and heavily relied on government support to survive. For the outlook, she believes a greater focus should be given to this group of businesses, in which banks can enhance their expertise and role in supporting individuals and the economy.

When reflecting on recent announcements made by central banks – such as the ECB’s appetite for a digital euro – Calmejane believes the digital will be at the core of the recovery plan.

“It’s super impressive. We are thinking about this future – we are building innovation. That’s going to be at the heart of the rebound and economy of tomorrow,” she added.

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