Oni: Artificial Intelligence Will Drive Seamless Banking

The Chief Digital Officer (CDO) of Sterling Bank Plc, Mr. Olayinka Oni, in this interview speaks about the rationale behind the recent launching of the OneBank App by the bank, the impact of technology in contemporary banking, among others. Oluchi Chibuzor brings the excerpts:

What informed the decision to create the OneBank app?
We figured that customers approach banks for four key things – when they have a need to do payments and lending transactions or when they need to do investments and in need of financial advisory services. Meanwhile, there are all kinds of apps for payments and some specialised ones for lending and investment.

So, the notion of OneBank was to abstract everything a customer needs to do in physical interaction with a bank into a digital platform. The OneBank App is our digital bank to ensure that everything a customer needs to do in physical engagement with us can be done on a digital platform with ease.

How easy has it been onboarding customers on the new app?
I think providence was on our side that the new app was ready just when people had to sit at home and also could not visit any location because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were able to provide banking services for them digitally. Those who wanted to open a full banking account or a wallet were able to do so through OneBank. Similarly, those who wanted to lend money were able to do so through Specta because we have integrated Specta, our digital online lending platform, into the OneBank App. Those who have idle funds and looking for where to invest them were also able to buy annuity investment in Doubble. It was timely that the OneBank App became available at a time when all physical interactions were not possible.

Can customers raise and solve service-related issues via their devices using OneBank without visiting any of the bank’s branches?
When the product launched, it came fully integrated into our chatbot, Kiki, where customers have access to frequently asked questions and can ask probing questions on any problem they have. They can also have access to our backend customer service channel so that if the questions they are asking require a physical connection, they would be seamlessly transferred from the chatbot to a physical agent who can talk to them at the backend. The next update to the App would take this a notch higher, with us providing real-time In-App chat capabilities where the customers would be able to interact with a physical agent; for those that prefer a human emotional feel as against chatting with a robot.

Does OneBank offer real-time data synchronisation that enables customers to perform transactions without re-entering data if they switch channel to internet banking, for instance?
Transparently, when we launched the first iteration, we wanted it to be a customer acquisition platform because we did not want to cannibalise existing platforms. However, because we also noticed that a couple of our existing customers liked the proposition, what we were able to provide for them when they logged into OneBank was that once we recognised that they are existing customers we automatically moved their account and card details across as well as their beneficiaries’ details so that they will not have to add it all over again.

However, what we are going to do going forward (in the next update), is to allow existing customers to migrate from existing platforms with as close to a one-click as possible.

What advantage will OneBank users have over other banking app users with the recent escalation of cyber-threats occasioned by COVID-19?
We will continue to monitor the trend and do everything possible to fully secure our customers. When we saw the trend and what was going on in the industry, we first disabled OTP authentication on the app and allowed a customer to only authenticate with card details, which is a lot more secured. From the data/insight we had immediately we did that, we realised that the onslaught of attacks nose-dived.
We have also enabled some form of device DNA protection for our customers. This is to ensure that no one can use another person’s profile to on-board because we will immediately tell such a person that you already have an account and why are you trying to create another account. If the person persists, we will tell him that he already has that profile in another device and so why is he using a strange device to create a new one. We are also exploring to migrate from OTP SMS for account creation to deploy some other form authentication. To further protect our customers, from the very beginning, we deployed a very robust fraud analytical tool that leverages artificial intelligence and Machine Learning that makes us detect fraudulent transactions and thereby deny access to such transaction that seems to be suspicious. We continue daily to strengthen the app from a security standpoint and ensure that fraudsters are not able to take advantage of our customers.

Given the primacy of technology in today’s world, how can banks improve the security of digital payment platforms?
Security, by its very nature, is like an onion which has several layers. So, several things have to come together to make our security architecture very strong. One of the weakest links in security is people and a lot of that has to do with user education. So, we will continue to step up user education to ensure that customers can differentiate when their bank talks to them as opposed to when a fraudulent person is trying to pretend to be the bank. We will continue to invest in technology, particularly technology around artificial intelligence and machine learning because we know that they are more proactive in ensuring that customers are protected. Security is multi-dimensional. We will continue to ensure that we are one step ahead of fraudsters and continue to provide our customers comfort to continue to deal with us.

Product innovation has always played an important role in banking. Apart from OneBank, what other new products/services have been digitally transformed by Sterling Bank in order to become more responsive to customers’ needs?
Some of the things that made Sterling Bank to be close to its customers are intimacy and personalisation. We have always projected ourselves as a one-customer bank and what we do by leveraging technology and innovation are to ensure we can solve the problems that our customers have so that we can create memorable and unique experiences for them.

Is artificial intelligence truly the future of banking? If that is the case, what will banking look like five years from now?
More than anything else, customers want simplicity/ease of use, convenience, personalisation and seamless experience. I think the domain of technology that will affect retail banking the most has to do with anything that speaks to data, analytics and artificial intelligence because these are what will get you to the point of being able to know a customer for who he is as opposed to another customer among millions of customers.
This will enable you to tailor your experience and also ensure that you are dealing with a customer at an individual level. I think the field of artificial intelligence will also drive robotic process automation that will enhance frictionless banking to the point of almost taking out every form of human hand-off and intervention in the banking process so that we can get seamless straight-through processing and end-to-end that is customised, personalised and tailored for each customer.

What new innovations and products should customers expect from Sterling Bank as a leader in product innovation?
We will continue to deepen what we are trying to do with OneBank that allows us to transition everything we do physically into the digital. You will also see that very soon, we will have all kinds of variants of blockchain technology to solve several challenges; starting with the work we are trying to do with commodity trading and injecting liquidity into the agricultural sector.

You will also see a lot of work we have done with Specta from lending to individuals move to business banking with a lot more focus on SMEs because they remain the oil to galvanize economic growth. We will solve problems for SMEs that goes beyond financial to other things causing friction to scale for SMEs. There will also be a lot more expression around strategy in our HEART’s sector, especially with a focus on health and education and what we can do in those sectors digitally.

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