The last few years have been challenging for financial services organisations. Cost-cutting measures are in full force as banks try to counter the economic slowdown and fears of an upcoming recession.
In fact, 61 per cent of banks say that cost reduction has increased as a strategic priority and 83 per cent say they are refocusing their cost optimisation efforts, according to KPMG’s 2021 New Cost Imperatives in Banking report.
For many, this cost-cutting has meant branch closures. In the USA, for example, banks have shut more than 4,000 branches since March 2020 – double the pre-pandemic rates of closure. Meanwhile, data from the Financial Conduct Authority shows that a record 267 UK bank and building society branches were closed permanently in a single three-month period in 2021.
Despite all this, demand for in-person services hasn’t gone away. “Contact centres are experiencing record call demand, with fewer workers handling this increase,” said Bill Borden, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for Worldwide Financial Services in a post on LinkedIn. “Employees are being expected to deliver high-quality interactions while also handling high-volume, routine transactions.”
It's a lot to manage, but banks are increasingly recognising that, with the right technology, they can drive new efficiencies more effectively, while empowering their employees to deliver better customer experiences at the same time. According to the KPMG study, digitisation is the number one lever for cost reduction across all regions at 59 per cent, followed by reducing headcount and legacy IT transformation.
“We see the biggest gains are to be made in process automation and end to-end digitisation in the middle- and back-office where there often remains a high reliance on inefficient manual processes,” KPMG’s report states. “This also provides a route to headcount optimisation – reducing labour-intensive, paper-based processes and freeing up staff to focus on more client-centric activities. It is a hallmark of the digitally enabled organisations that banks are seeking to create as they replace and modernise their legacy IT platforms.”
Microsoft’s September 2022 Work Trend Index research backs this up. The financial services industry respondents – who represent employees in banking, insurance, fintech, private equity and related sectors that largely did not work from home during the pandemic – said they see the value of new technology and are eager to learn, but they often lack the right tools.
“The research uncovered challenges nearly every business is facing right now and revealed ways that technology may be able to break up productivity log jam, alleviate stressors that affect job satisfaction, and empower financial services frontline workers, who already view learning new technology as a way to further their careers,” said Borden.
What’s reassuring is that two-thirds of the financial services frontline workers surveyed said they are excited about the opportunities technology is bringing to their industry. Meanwhile, 78 per cent said they feel they have been equipped with the right tools to do their jobs effectively. But almost 60 per cent say they expect to struggle with new technology at work. “The financial services industry has an opportunity to empower the front lines by adopting solutions that boost productivity with automation, enabled by artificial intelligence and machine learning,” said Borden. “Automating mundane tasks gives workers time back for high-touch, qualitative responsibilities that can improve job satisfaction – and for getting more familiar with new technology.”
This is where Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services comes into its own, bringing together capabilities from Microsoft Dynamics 365, Microsoft 365 and the Microsoft Azure cloud. Using the platform, banks can speed up and streamline time-consuming tasks such as loan applications and insurance claims, answer common customer queries, schedule appointments, log customer interactions and analyse transactions and customer history. This creates new opportunities for banks to transform service delivery, while also improving upselling and decision-making.
Updated features within the Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services offering include ‘Customer Intelligence’, which brings together important, relevant and accurate customer information from multiple sources via Dynamics 365 Customer Insights. This empowers frontline workers to engage with customers based on relevant insights that help them quickly understand the customer.
Meanwhile, a new Intelligent Appointments feature provides customers and financial institutions with a convenient meeting scheduling experience on the customer’s preferred channel.
“Customers appreciate 24/7 access to their data as well as the ability to communicate and schedule time with advisors,” said Matthew Kerner, vice president of Microsoft Cloud for Industry, in an October 2022 blog post published on Microsoft.com. “Intelligent appointments provide customers with a self-service experience to book time with an advisor. Financial institutions can offer flexibility by allowing the customer to choose how and when they want to meet with their financial service provider.”
Kerner said the scheduling experience easily and quickly matches the availability, relevance and skills of the customer’s financial needs advisor. “Scheduled meetings are automatically synchronised to participants’ calendars,” he explained. “Customers are also informed about appointments through SMS and email to streamline the process and ensure relevant materials are prepared ahead of time.”
The Microsoft Cloud for Financial Services platform also comes with a new onboarding application which enables financial institutions to more easily enrol new customers. “It allows for customised data collection tasks per business scenario and defines the application document journey,” said Kerner. “Visual user interface components consolidate and help users visualise the onboarding process. With access to primary applicant details, additional parties’ details, and application task summaries, financial advisors can more effectively engage with customers. Additionally, the document verification process can be accelerated and automated by incorporating document intelligence AI analysis to verify all onboarding application documents.”
Borden said that introducing technology like this – which aligns with the way employees work, rather than changing it – pays off in improved employee and customer experiences. “Eight in 10 employees think the tools in use at their company have made communicating with end customers more productive,” he said.
There are some great examples of how this is working. National Australia Bank (NAB), for instance, signed a five-year multi-cloud partnership with Microsoft in 2020 to boost its resilience, speed and innovation. The bank also uses Microsoft 365 services, including Microsoft Teams, to enhance productivity and collaboration across its workforce.
By leveraging all that Microsoft has to offer, the bank has developed and deployed a chatbot for employees that is helping to eliminate the inconsistencies in how its 35,000-strong workforce dealt with customer requests.
“We had to get everyone on the same page and provide them with a consistent path and answer to any question they were asking,” said Raj Ghuliani, head of technology for workplace support services at NAB, in a feature for Microsoft.com.
Staff members can access the NAB Bot using the Teams app on their computers or mobile phones. The bot is also available as a web interface with access restricted to NAB employees.
The NAB Bot leverages a knowledge repository of employees’ most frequently asked questions. It also enables the bank to easily transfer employees to a live chat with its 24/7 support team.
Since the NAB Bot went live in November 2021, employees have used it more than 53,000 times and given it an average employee rating of four-and-a-half out of five.
“From a usage and performance perspective, the chatbot has certainly exceeded our expectations,” said Ghuliani. “What’s really pleasing to see is that more than 50 per cent of all interactions with the NAB Bot have been from our customer-facing colleagues, because we want to make a difference for our customers.”
The strong uptake of the chatbot has also enabled NAB to achieve what many financial services firms today are struggling with. It’s saved a massive AUS$1.2 million ($805,000) in support team costs but has also become more efficient and improved productivity at the same time. “The reduced cost has helped us achieve more productivity from our own technology staff, and their skill sets are increasing as well,” said Ghulian. It’s a win: win scenario.
Improving both employee and customer experiences
“At Synergy Technical, we aim to enable organisations to secure and optimise business operations while providing their workforces with the most efficient and productive toolsets to service their customers,” said Dan Finn, vice president of sales at Synergy Technical. “Our financial services customers are focusing equally on efficient service and delivery and great experiences and satisfaction – for both employees and their customers. We work with these customers to analyse current IT operations and map future business goals to technology. As a result, we’ve helped clients leverage Microsoft technologies to better secure their hybrid workforces and drive internal productivity so that they can improve both employee and customer experiences while remaining competitive in the marketplace.”
This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.