With a new addition to the technological advancement, chatbots are gradually taking over customer service centres of companies in the financial industry, ZAKA ABD-KHALIQ writes.

The industrialisation era which the world witnessed in the 19th century, coupled with technological discoveries of the 20th century redesigned the architecture of the world.

Natural habitats and things gave way for industries and artificial machines to work for man as natural creatures and lifestyle went into extinction.

While this evolution made living comfortable, it also makes task easier and simplifies processes that looks too difficult to accomplish within a short time before.

No doubt, the handwriting of technology is all over the financial service sector space, with manpower gradually paving way for technology to take over some functions, that are before now, anchored by man.

The de-crowding of the banking hall through the introduction of mobile and internet banking platforms paves way for other technologies to invade the banking industry and disrupt not only banking, but the entire financial system.

The increasing sophistication of mobile technology has helped people exchange details, authenticate and conduct transactions seamlessly as information is literally available at fingertips, eliminating the need for human support.

With all major innovators, including technology giants putting their weight behind technology that provides human-like conversation experiences, the relevance of humans is gradually diminishing in the financial space.

And now that competition is becoming stiffer among competing brands, experts said, the fight to take the lion share of the market is prompting companies to continuously prioritise good customer service delivery.

To keep old clients and persuade prospective customers, companies, especially, banks have further enrich their customer relationship by substituting personnel at their customer service points with chatbots.

Chatbot And Its Uses

A chatbot is a platform designed to understand, learn and converse like a human and answer ad-hoc queries in real time.

Chatbots have attracted the attention of firms across industries and are being viewed as a sustainable means to create differentiation in an increasingly crowded landscape.

According to Mobile & African Tech Enthusiast, Mr. Yinka Awoyinfa, Chatbots, also known as bots, are gradually being used not only to provide customer service but for more insightful use; from customer support for businesses to romance and everyday life.

By performing both simple and structurally repetitive tasks, he said, chatbots sort of provide a personalised experience for the user.

According to one of PwC Consumer Intelligence Series, 14 per cent of the sampled 2,500 US consumers see digital assistants as an adviser and that figure is expected to grow to 17 per cent in the future.

With chatbots, he stressed that users don’t need to install a new application on their mobile devices or personal computer, as all they need is their favourite messaging app, which they already use all the time.

“Also, because chatbots are mostly text-based, they have the capability to attend to more than one customer at a time and at a fast pace without mixing things up and around-the-clock,” he noted.

Chatbots, he said, are always in a good mood, unlike humans that can be overwhelmed by workload or personal issues which in turn affects customer satisfaction, hence, having an edge over humans.

According to CEO of Acquire, Mr. Laduram Vishnoi, there are many benefits of Chatbots as businesses have saved a lot of money while increasing more sales and conversion rate with the help of Chatbot. With the advancements of Artificial Intelligence(AI) and machine learning, he said, Chatbots are becoming more and more intelligent, and the future of Chatbots seems bright.

Companies Using Chatbots Platform

A Technology expert, Mr. Ojimaojo Udale-Ameh said, even if Africa may not be part of the projection that 85 per cent of all customer interactions would be handled without a human agent by 2020, the continent is already on the path of using bots to attend to customers/users.

Listing companies that are now using chatbots to reach out to customers across Nigeria and beyond, he said, Kiakia is using Mr K, a virtual assistant, to give an interactive user experience in accessing loans as Mr K also assists users in resolving a couple of issues on the platform, thereby, taking away the need of putting a call through for every complaint.

He added that NairaBot, another chatbot, gives the prevailing foreign exchange rates at any given time, as ‘you just enter a command and it responds according to your request in seconds’, while with Kudi, one can purchase mobile airtime, transfer money and pay for TV bills via chat using Messenger, Skype, Telegram or a web browser. NebulaPay, he stressed, allows someone to pay bills and transfer funds from the Facebook messenger.

In the same vein, United Bank for Africa (UBA) recently launched UBA Leo, an AI-powered Facebook Messenger bot, to allow users perform banking transactions.

Speaking at the launch of Leo, the group head, Online Banking at UBA, Mr. Austine Abolusoro, who conducted a step by step demonstration on the working of Leo, reiterated that Leo is not just a chat machine, but an artificial intelligence personality meant to address any type of banking concerns raised by customers.

Leo, he said, is ready and waiting to help with most transactions and to deliver any form of banking services, adding that it is operating a lifestyle banking platform on Facebook Messenger to assist with customer transactions while chatting with your friends and business partners. “The security with this platform is that for every transaction, an OTP (One Time Password) is generated to the phone number that is registered on your account,” he pointed out.

The group managing director, UBA, Mr. Kennedy Uzoka, said the launch of Leo is part of initiatives aimed at putting the bank’s customers first with UBA continuously developing strategies aimed at easing transactions for its numerous users, while ensuring utmost safety of their transactions.

Moreover, Custodian Investment Plc, the parent company of Custodian and Allied Insurance Limited has introduced an online platform called Max Chatbox, which would allow customers to buy insurance policies and process claims in the sector.

According to the company’s Head of Retail Division, Oladele Akinsanya, the move was to deepen insurance penetration in the country, explaining that the product will drive awareness, improves insurance solution, optimises and delivers improved services in a bid to earn the trust of policyholders. Max Chatbox, he said, is a social media-driven, as products can be purchased, policy renewed, while claims can be paid and claims status checked online by interacting with Max on Facebook, Instagram or Telegram.

Similarly, Diamond Bank also launched its Artificial Intelligence(AI) Chatbot known as ‘Ada’ in a bid to provide customers with enhanced service delivery.

The Chatbot named ‘Ada’ uses AI technology to provide a human-like interaction and personalized experience for Diamond Bank customers. As Ada learns from past interactions, Diamond can offer more relevant and timely solutions that are really simple for customers to use.

Speaking on this, CEO of Diamond Bank, Uzoma Dozie, said: “I believe data and technology have the power to transform Nigeria’s economy, so, Ada will allow us to further digitalize the mobile banking process and create an increasingly customized mobile banking experience for our millions of customers, Ada also presents another opportunity to deepen financially literacy and build trust and transparency in our ecosystem.”

GTBank, through its GTWorldapplication which offers customers access to more than 90 percent of the Bank’s services on their smartphones, guarantees further security through biometric authentication and ensures convenience through the Quick feature, which enables a user to perform transactions without signing in, among others.

The Future

Accenture through its report titled : “Banking Technology Vision 2017”, which studied how AI will affect banks in the coming years, carried out a survey of over 600 of the world’s leading bankers during, where they were asked about AI and how it will impact banks’ internal and external operations.

The report disclosed that four out of five of the bankers surveyed predicted that the new technology will become the primary way banks interact with their customers.

The bankers noted that it will significantly change customer service in banks, adding that, they expect AI technologies, such as chatbots, to become increasingly essential for banks in the next few years.

When asked to identify the top three advantages that banks may derive from the adoption of AI, the respondents most often cited, ‘to gain data analysis and insights’ (60per cent), ‘increase productivity’ (59per cent) and ‘cost benefit savings’ (54per cent).

According to senior managing director, Accenture, Consumers’ diverse needs and priorities are forcing financial services firms to redefine how they interact with them to determine the best products and services to meet individuals’ needs.

AI-enabled tools, he said, can help banks identify consumer preferences and empower their workforces to react with insight and emotional intelligence, which is essential for the development of meaningful consumer relationships.

The challenge, he pointed out, will be how quickly banks can implement these new technologies, many of which are not compatible with their existing IT infrastructure.

The managing director, Diamond Bank, Uzoma Dozie, said, the fact that a large segment of the population is underbanked or unbanked is creating opportunities for technologies, such as, chatbots to increase financial inclusion and literacy in a rapid way. Data-led technology can plug this gap, and expand financial inclusion on a rapid scale, he stressed.

While market observers expect more workers in the customer service segment of companies to begin to lose jobs as these bots gradually take over from humans, they believe this invention will create further multiple jobs in the ICT sector. They urged Nigerians, especially, the unemployed ones, to be proactive and beginning to develop themselves along this line to reap from the gains of this innovation when it finally takes over the entire service sector of the economy.