Head, Business Transformation, Stanbic IBTC Bank Limied, Mr. Wole Adesiyan, spoke with Emma Okonji on the importance of robotics, Artificial Intelligence, in enhancing future banking operations in Nigeria and in improving the overall customer experience in the banking sector. Excerpts:
Fintechs are steadily encroaching into conventional banking and using AI as backbone. Should this be a source of concern to banks?
Any bank that has plans for continued relevance will invest in Artificial Intelligence, Big Data and Machine Learning to ensure that the customers of today and the future are catered to. There is no room for banking as usual anymore, it is important to change the game while you still can. So, should fintechs be a source of concern to banks? No. Instead, Banks should learn from these fintechs and create avenues for partnership where necessary.
In today’s banking industry, some of the key issues are around customer service, risk management, efficiency and regulatory compliance. How are these issues addressed with the use of robotics in your operations?
AI has increasingly refined and elevated the ability of machines to study data in order to detect patterns that then allow our systems to organise information, identify relationships, make predictions and detect anomalies. Robotics and AI have also helped to enormously improve the quality of service to customers and also our backend operations; from providing information on demand to customers to ensuring a significant reduction in manual intervention as well as eliminating errors which the robots are able to identify effortlessly.
Data analytics has become an important component of growth and sustainability for any business. This is particularly so for the financial services industry which is a repository of huge data that can be analysed for valuable insights to boost service delivery. How well the robots you are deploying are configured to identify opportunities for new businesses or modification of existing processes for better service delivery?
At the core of our strategy, is the need to transform data into deep and well-defined insights. Insights that provide fresh perspective on the business environment, identifying what’s working and fix what isn’t and innovate in ways that make the lives of our consumers exciting. So leveraging the power of big data and analytics, we are able to turn large amounts of data into actionable knowledge which in turn empowers us to leverage new opportunities that present themselves via this process. Currently the Bluebots are configured to monitor and execute certain functions, and as with technology, we would be constantly upgrading their abilities to take on more functions.
Robots and such other devices are known to reduce the need for human interface and by extension affect the employment of people. One survey stated that financial institutions worldwide would save $1 trillion in projected cost savings from adoption of AI. Have you taken this factor into account?
Definitely, we believe in preparing for the future without ignoring our environment and the culture of our people. Here in Nigeria, the average individual still desires human interaction when dealing with anything as sensitive as money. Maintaining a hybrid bank structure will keep us ahead of the curve. We also encourage our colleagues through learning and development to prepare for a future that includes Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Process Automation. If a machine can do your job, prepare for a better one, this is my candid advice.
Stanbic IBTC recently deployed robotics for its banking services, which is the first of its kind in the Nigerian banking industry. What factors triggered the bank’s interest in the adoption of robots for banking operations?
We wanted something new, we wanted speed, we wanted efficiency and accuracy, hence we introduced the use of robots in our banking operations. Also, constantly raising the bar is a key value for us at Stanbic IBTC and leading the implementation of all the possible applications of Artificial Intelligence in Nigeria was a good way to raise the bar.
How long have the robots been in operation?
The robots have been in operation for about three months now.
Can you tell us about the first set of robots you have deployed and the operations they are powering? What exactly are they doing?
Beyond the creation of our go-to girl, SAMI, for front office engagements, the BlueBots were designed and deployed to reduce human or manual intervention, eliminate errors and reduce cost of processing in our reconciliation processes. Reconciliation turnaround time has been reduced to one minute 30 seconds. Other functions include anti-money laundering check – a regulatory requirement for account opening; credit risk management system check – also a regulatory requirement for availing credit to borrowing clients; cheque confirmation – dissemination of cheque data to specific business units to make confirmation faster, reduce returned cheques due to dishonored cheque report and improve client experience; and treasury bills/bonds fee processing – to manage fee posting for booked treasury bills/bonds to eliminate errors that may lead to income reversal from income account.
Will the deployment of robots to drive banking services at Stanbic IBTC Bank be limited to Lagos alone. What plans do you have to cover other locations?
The BlueBots manage middle and back office activities, which are not limited to a geographical location. The aim is to ensure the robots are deployed across all possible workable locations across Nigeria which would improve our service quality to all our customers, regardless of the location from which they are banking with us.
The development and deployment of robots does not come cheap. Can you provide information into the cost implications in the short, medium and long term?
This is the key win for our deployments. Beyond the investments in our people, these robots have come at zero cost to the organisation. We owe this success to the ingenuity and creativity of our colleagues. Don’t get me wrong, this is not to say we are not investing in state-of-the-art information and communications technologies or technological innovations, which of course we are constantly doing and heavily too. We remain one of the most innovative and forward thinking financial services organisations in the country and Africa at large.
Did Stanbic IBTC partner other technology companies in executing this project?
No partnership with any technology company. This was a project developed and deployed strictly by an in-house team with support from Standard Bank South Africa.
What feedback can you share with the general public on the value of robots in your banking service?
The introduction of robots is proving to be a game changer in our operations by bringing improved operational efficiencies, shorter resolution times, enhanced data security and improved data handling.
We may as well say that the robots are powering part of your backend operations right now. When do we hope to see robots or other devices powered by artificial intelligence welcoming customers to Stanbic IBTC branches, and even serving as tellers?
Stanbic IBTC is the bank of the future and the bank of the future is now and I can assure you that this is closer than you think.
How are the robots protected against external interference by humans and other factors that may hinder their performance or breach the security?
Ensuring the security and integrity of our system is at the core of every solution and application that we deploy in offering impeccable services to our valued customers at Stanbic IBTC Bank. Therefore, we pride ourselves on the high level security that is provided by our in-house teams to the applications and solutions developed and deployed.
The deployment of the robots, signals the continuation of new wave of disruptive digitization and innovation being applied by Stanbic IBTC, taking into account the launching of a fully digital self-service branch, chatbot, innovation lab, virtual banking and personal teller machines. What next are we expecting from your stable?
Innovation to redefine and improve how we serve our customers, is what drives us. We can only say this to our stakeholders – fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride.
Since all the banks ride on Information Technology (IT) to drive their operations, what competitive edge does Stanbic IBTC Bank has over others that are also using technology to drive their banking operations?
Our customers are key and none of the successes we have recorded today would have been possible without our customers. From the C-Suite across the entire organisation, we receive high levels of support and involvement in the development and deployment of solutions.