Finovate day 2 – Rise of the machines 


As I glanced round the auditorium on day 2 of Finovate, one thing struck me. White, male 40 something. This wasn’t me getting hit because I’d made a bad joke it was the make up of the audience. Women were low in number and a represenative sample of the diverse cultures that make up this fair isle even more scarcely represented. Similarly, the presenters largely fell into the 20-50, white male category. 

I fear that if the people making the tech don’t represent society, the results won’t represent their needs any better. There may be no evidence to support this one way or another, but it’s certainly a stark point to consider. 

Artificial Intelligence, machine learning call it what you will but intelligent algorithms cropped up in many of the presentations. Predictive analytics to help the end consumer manage their money, investment management strategies, fraud prevention and virtual assistants to name a few. 

If any of us are under the delusion that machines cannot replace humans in jobs we once thought reserved for us – complex decision making, cusotmer service, for example – think again. We are arguably facing a new industrial revolution that could have the same impact as the introduction of steam power two hundred years ago. 

When  Turing defined a test for intelligence in 1950 he framed it in terms of being able to create a computer that was indistinguishable from a person. Many of todays technologies perform tasks way beyond any human, not just in computational scale as they have always done,  but also in terms of analytical complexity. 

I can say to my phone “Please transfer some money to my son” and it will ask me “how much”, or tell it I have had my wallet  stolen in Rome (in fact their should be a speed dial for this) and in a few minutes, the system will have asked me if I’m ok, told me it’s sorry for what happened, understand where I am, have cancelled my cards and shippped new ones. 

These technologies are starting to fulfil my wish for tools that make my life better, not just my banks cheaper and there were some nice examples of technologies looking forward at predicted financial activity and warning me if I didn’t have enough money and suggesting how I can better organise my limited resources. 

Marketing has traditionally been the least automated of business functions – maybe not for much longer. I have wondered for a couple of years how it will evolve as communications become more personalised, more data is available to drive individualisation, but we are still limited to POH’s (plain old humans) writing marketing material. I saw a demo of technology generating copy – specifically subject lines for emails, automatically, based on limited inforation about the topic. It generated multiple variants, from which it’s only a small step to deploy these and begin to learn what works best and refine it in real-time.

Conversely, another area of technology that saw a of outings on the stage was virtual meetings – connecting customers to real humans by video along with on-screen documentation to help applying for a mortgage or finalising a loan. A few years ago this just wouldn’t have been practical. High speed internet and developing web browser capabilites make feature rich interactive experiences easy to create and deploy.
I could purchase a few tools from Finovate and I’d have  an advanced, mobile enabled bank, with voice driven interaction, intelligent personal finance and investment management with a robot marketing department. None of the legacy technology, scalability or people issues faced by high street brands. Only one problem, there is probably a swathe of paper forms to fill in to get a banking license… where’s my pen. 

For me as a customer, there are just too many decisions, I could spend my entire day, every day, optimising my pension, investments, utilities, car insurace, credit cards. What I really need is a virtual assistant that will deal with all the bots, IVRs and web forms from the companies I deal with and just sort it.  

Maybe in 5 years time we won’t care how many women, men, ethnic minorties or any other division of society  there will be at Finovate – my AI will be watching your AI present and making decisions whether to invest, purchase or pass onto the next one whilst I sip my  mojito from the balcony of the hotel . 

Thanks to all the presenters last week for making it a great couple of days and insipiring me to think harder about how we use all the great technology that is being invented. 


Regulation & Communication

I read a really interesting book recently – “the undercover economist” by Tim Harford. In one chapter it discussed the concept of free markets and explained why regulation was generally a bad thing in any market. Seeing OffGen’s recent announcement to include QR codes on energy bills I can’t help but feel they’ve got into the detail and this level of control will ultimately stiffle innovation and competition.

The regulator (IMHO) should be protecting consumers requirements and the energy companies should be coming up with innovative, differentiated ways to meet these requirements in addition to adding their own unique value.

So, I thought I’d try and step up from the functional definition (put a QR code on a bill) and try and undertsand the real requirements.

There are three sets of stakeholders – The utility company, the regulator and the consumer.

The regulators requirements can broadly be stated as “treat the consumer fairly” – i.e. don’t do anything you wouldn’t like done to yourself and communicate effectively to ensure the consumer undertsands the service you are providing.

The companies requirements are equally straightforward, maximise my cost/income ratio, have a long term relationship where we can sell you other products and services and we want you to advocate our business to your friends.

So what are the consumers’ reuqirements?

First I want to understand what I’ve used and how much its costing  I want to do this whenever I like not just when you send me a bill.

Second I want to know if I could get more for my money

Third if you change something, I want to understand that change only to the point that I can say “I don’t need to worry about it”.

I received my gas an electric bill recently and my direct debit on gas was increasing from £76 to £96 per month and on electric  from £46 per month to £70. Those are big increases by anyones standards. My energy bill has just gone up by over £400 a year. The particular provider I use has won awards for the clarity of my bill, so I thought I’d find the “why” on subsequent pages.

The price changes were stated in BIG BOLD FONT along with the statement that said your energy usage has changed to the payment needs to go up.

Now, there are at least fourvariables here:

1. How much energy I use

2. The price of that energy

3. External factors, such as the weather

4. Whether previous readings were estimated or actual.

In order to meet my second requirement (if you change something, explain it so I don’t need to worry about it) is not met by the information on the bill – nor is it met by putting a QR code onto the bill that takes me to a comparison site.

What I need to see is my usage in the context of price changes and the environment, so look at changing both the way i use energy (maybe) and the provider if appropriate.

That segways nicely into another of my favorite topics, multi-channel engagement. I tend to avoid the word “Omni-channel” as I think it implies that you do the same thing across every channel, whereas, for me , multi-channel customer experience tells me that I can expect an engagement that uses lots of channels that complement each other.

Print is a useful medium. It has reflective properties that make it easier to read than a transmissive tablet screen. I can make notes on the piece on it that will persist regardless of how many years in the future i choose to retrieve them.

Web & Tablets are good at interactivity and exploration allowing me to look at things from different points of view.

Mobile is great for checking something quickly or carrying out a simple transaction.

.. Connecting these envrionments toegther creates a genuine multi-channel experience, so I can point my phone at my bill to pay it. Jump from the bill to the web to explore my usage and compare it with similar households and from my mobile I should be able to view and regulate my daily usage.. and Ideally tag all my devices so I can control them from same said mobile.

Some of this is being done today, but we are still away off from a truly connected experience across the full range of channels.

In summary, my opinion is that regulators should stick firmly to broad directional themes, otherwise it risks destroying the market – you only have to look at the impact of the target culture on the NHS to see how this can go wrong. Now we’ve all moved on a bit and talk about patient outcomes, leaving hospitals free to make sensible decisions on how care is best delivered.

This leaves providers free to innovate and differentiate themselves. Providers should then focus on how they can create the best customer experience using each channel for what it does best and using technohology to connect them together.