FST Media Event

FST Media’s 2016 Future of Banking & Financial Services Event

Written for Cincom.com on December 7, 2016

The banking and financial services sector, long seen as stodgy and conservative, is experiencing disruption from multiple sources as 2016 draws to a close. Innovation and changing demographics will have profound effects upon this market now and well into the foreseeable future. Most recently, Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI) have started making waves as well. These topics were the subject of much discussion and consideration during the annual gathering in Sydney, Australia of bankers and financial services providers this past November.

Customer experience and relevance remain core to the institutions’ technology initiatives. Sam McCready from BankWest tells us of the dangers of getting technology just for the sake of technology.

Human contact is still central to interactions, but only for those most important “life events”.  Convenience, accessibility and immediacy all trump the “human touch” in the eyes of consumers. Consumers who are used to 24-hour online shopping, booking air travel and locating the nearest pizzeria via their smartphones will not be impressed by a facelift of their local bank’s branch office. They are more likely to expect something resembling an internet café or Apple store than a traditional bank.

It is well accepted now that customers interact across many channels, and being able to seamlessly hop from one to another is a given, albeit still a challenge in many cases. Mobile is just an enabler – a platform to deliver a strategy to the customers – not the end game, argues Sam McCready.

As of 2015, the millennials have become the largest demographic group worldwide and the number-one source of income, spending and wealth creation.  The year 2015 also saw the emergence of the mobile device as the primary platform used by consumers to engage in financial services with more than 50% of the interactions with banks done through a mobile device. With those devices as their current weapon of choice, Rocky Scopelliti from Telstra shared with us that trust, relationship and technology make up the new trinity for connecting with millennials.  The concept of “always on” is also demonstrated by David Boyle of NAB in their commitment to zero downtime, and the bank’s focus on customer centricity and fast response times seen with the recent launch of their new banking app.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia has been leading the pack in terms of innovation with their banking app. The results demonstrate the impact of their efforts: Number one in customer satisfaction with 5.8 million active customers, over 1.4 million transactions per month and some 5.1 million logins per day.  Peter Steel asserts that close to a quarter of their sales were across channels. Dorus van den Biezenbos, Director, Financial Services at EY, tells us that 82% of consumers first go online to do their research, but 59% will still want to talk to someone.

Security and the fight against cybercrime could be finding help with the increasing use of biometrics, such as voice biometrics. Again, the focus is on the customers’ experiences – simplifying the identification process without compromising security, especially when we consider that one in two calls to a call centre is fraudulent.

The new kids on the block, Blockchain and AI, are also receiving a great deal of attention and mindshare.

There is an evident recognition and drive towards simplification from industry players. Millennials have made it clear they find “finance” aspects too complicated and convoluted. The industry has been showing ongoing commitments to simplify products, services and processes (e.g., onboarding and claims). However, there are still challenges associated with regulatory compliance. Kevin Davis, Professor of Finance at the University of Melbourne and a Panel Member of Murray’s Financial System Inquiry, lays it out clearly. To get regulatory changes, we also need the regulator to change. Both regulators and innovators suffer from deficiencies in information.

Digital, apps and Fintech have certainly contributed to simplification, but as an emerging technology, Artificial Intelligence is clearly going to be one of the game changers. Robots and machines are increasingly part of our daily lives. Dr. Catriona Wallace, founder and CEO of Flamingo, explains the rising role of the chat bots and the difference between focused and general intelligence bots like Siri or Cortana. Conversational commerce is the new thing. Today, AI can play a significant role in dealing with the routine and allowing the freeing up of people to deal with the important things.

One equally notably change is the industry’s attitude towards Fintechs and start-ups. The last few years have demonstrated that regulations and barriers to entry cannot stop the wave of change. While the big banks have created their own innovation labs, many, along with other players, have looked for ways to engage and partner with start-ups. This should certainly assist Fintechs in taking ideas into production. However, the jury is still out as to how fruitful and successful this increase in cross-pollination will truly be, given the cultural differences amongst other hurdles. Fintechs in Australia nonetheless have a difficult and challenging environment to deal with – the lack of funding generally driving them to move overseas.

Not all of the innovation is outward-facing. Blockchain offers great utility to financial institutions that literally depend on accurately and permanently timestamping every movement of every cent throughout a 24-hour day and seven-day week.

We are certainly deep into an evolutionary period. Financial institutions, although late to the innovation party are now answering the bell. They are becoming less about finance and more about embracing a broader service experience. The drive towards mass personalisation has added a layer of complexity by overloading consumers with too many choices and options making the decision process harder and often ending in buyers’ paralysis. AI can mitigate this by empowering guided-selling technology thus simplifying complex and tedious tasks.

The opportunities are huge. Investment package evaluation, loan product comparisons, insurance option comparisons and overall financial portfolio development and other areas offer ways that complexity can be made less intimidating to the individual consumer via AI and allied technologies.


Top Technologies & Digital Strategies Impacting Finance

Written for Cincom.com on June 21, 2017

As technology continues to advance, not all members of the financial community are adopting at the same rate. After visiting the Adviser Innovation Summit and AIIA luncheon with David Whiteing from CBA, she details the key technologies & digital strategies that are both exciting the financial community & concerning them…

Over the last 7 years or so, I have noticed an exponential increase in the pivotal role of technology in the financial services sector. Yet, there are pockets amongst financial advisers (that could be described as “fundamentalists”) who are resisting this technological tsunami.

For example, 59% of advisers who have a website are not updating it regularly and only 5% have added a Live Chat option, even though this is a must, especially to engage with millennials.  Social Media was also reportedly underutilised and only 25% of advisers were currently using Virtual Meetings.

The reality of customer communication in Australia now is that advisers need to be omni channel, this means they need electronic follow ups, correspondence, automation, website traffic monitoring and alerts.

Robo Advice

There has been a lot of talking and writing about Robo Advice, maybe too much; as Matt Heine from Netwealth explained there is a lack of understanding as to what Robo really is and does.

Robo is about augmenting, NOT replacing.

Personally, I’ve always looked at it as another distribution channel and “relationship incubator. Robo advice, means having a way to engage with a client in a low friction and low cost manner. Combined with suitable technology to support highly personalised needs analysisguided selling, amongst others; Robo advice can provide the means to deepen and broaden the relationship with the client over time.

While only 3% of the advisers are using Robo now, as many as 26% are planning to add it to their business model. We are familiar with some aspects of Artificial Intelligence (AI) such as virtual assistants like Siri, Cortana and Alexa; but AI is also known to be very good at investing. Combining constraints, and self learning algorithms and predictors AI is now showing the ability to return 4 times better than human benchmarks.

Virtual Reality

The moonshot discussion of the Adviser Innovation Summit was about Virtual Reality (VR). Wealth management is notoriously linked to uninspiring spreadsheets that offer a poor medium in client engagement to discuss financial aspirations, plans and options. VR however can offer a much more immersive alternative of representing all that data, visualising it and understanding it.

It is predicted that by 2025, 85% of the advisers’ customers will be connected all the time, not just with mobile phones but also via devices such as wearables and other IoT around the home. Financial planning firms are now being compared and measured against the likes of Amazon, Uber and Tesla. People expect a frictionless and uninterrupted experience. For the 21stCentury adviser this is the realisation that it is about Man with machine rather than Man vs. Machine.

Customer Experience Centric Business

The undisputable role of technology was also reflected in David Whiteing, Commonwealth Bank’s CIO speech at the AIIA event. The engagement and customer experience has been increasing exponentially to the point that the bank is now an experience centric business. While the core function of financial services institutions are machine to machine transactions; what matters to the businesses are the

1 million conversations per week that occur with their customers.

Another customer driven aspect is the pressure to be at the low end of the cost curve, this means using more open sources and cloud based technology.  David Whiteing went as far as telling the audience that if our plans don’t scare us then they are not bold enough. Velocity is also critical, and improving resilience and reliability of apps with frequent updates is important. Ultimately however, it has to be something the customer wants and use. The biggest challenge can be to make customers aware of those new features.

Ethics & Data

What could be the biggest challenge ahead for financial services is not technological, it’s the ethical approach to data in particular that sourced by wearables and IoT.

As Matt Heine pointed out, underwriting is going to be influenced by genomics and insurance claims will refer to the claimant’s activities recorded on their devices. More and more devices and apps are being developed and consumers are adopting at fantastic rates however, the ethical conversation has not come to a head just yet. The topic is brought up however we are distracted by the next shiny pieces of technology and an ethical standard is yet to be put in stone.


First published on cincom.com on Mar 11, 2015

Internet of Things – Friend or Foe?

Definition – Internet of Things

There is a lot of chatter about the Internet of Things (IoT) and it is often waved as the latest best technological advance and game changer for the insurance sector. The concept actually goes back to the early 80’s when a couple of computer science students at Carnegie Mellon University solved a serious problem: being able to check if the local Coke vending machine had been refilled and if the bottles cold yet.

The Internet of Things technology boils down to four key capabilities:

  • Allow a piece of hardware to capture data without human intervention using sensors
  • Give that piece of hardware a unique ID (IP address) so it can be identified and tracked
  • Connect that hardware onto the internet
  • Allow for data exchange


Today, most of us are familiar with consumer products such as wearables devices (Microsoft band, Fitbit, jawbone, etc.), but the Internet of Things also includes heart-monitoring implants and cars with built-in sensors monitoring engine performance and other safety aspects such as tyre pressure. It also includes larger scale scenarios such as sensors monitoring the environment such as soil for irrigation, or movement for early detection of earthquakes and tsunamis across large areas − all without the need of manpower.

Other examples of applications include:

  • Media and advertising to connect with consumers via smart devices and push the most fitting content at the best time and best location
  • Infrastructure management
  • Manufacturing
  • Energy management
  • Healthcare
  • Home automation
  • Transportation
  • Urban “smart city”

All of these devices collect valuable data and autonomously feed that data to other devices using the internet as well as receive information remotely.

The number of applications is most likely to grow as well as opportunities. Driverless vehicles are a reality with manufacturers forecasting commercial availability as early as 2017. Many already predict that car insurance premiums would be significantly reduced as accidents will become a rarity.

Building and content insurance could also benefit from IoT with sensors monitoring appliances, security cameras, smoke detectors or lights being turned on/off remotely. All of these could reduce risk and cost to the insurers and ultimately, reduce premium costs to consumers.

On the surface, it really does sound like a game changer.


However, some sceptics are already waving the red flag.

If you thought Big Data was big, you haven’t seen anything yet; with all those devices recording and sending data 24×7, it’s only going to get bigger. There is already no shortage of data available to insurers, but are they already making the most of it? Do they have the capabilities and capacity to absorb more? In other words, are they ready?

Is there a risk that all of that granular information about each one of us, on a second-by-second basis, about everything we do, how and where we go and when is going to create segregations and penalisation amongst us? Is my life-insurance premium this month going to skyrocket because I have been too busy or lazy to do my daily 10,000 steps? Will people with better genes and who are naturally healthy with less effort get access to better policies and greater benefits than those of us who don’t? Will having our lives and bodies monitored 24×7 become part of the “duty to disclosure”? Or will this instead, create an opportunity for new insurance companies to cater to those of us who are not perfect. Just like there are “low doc” loan providers, will there be “low-data-collection” insurers?


In the end, one thing is certain, we cannot stop the Internet of Things tsunami. But what we must do is get ready for it and learn to embrace and harness it. There are clearly some terrific benefits at many levels and across many aspects of life and health. However, there are also risks.

We all need to become a lot more technology savvy especially in areas of cyber security; we all need to learn to spot a phishing email, a dodgy website, and what is a safe site to download a program or game from and what is not. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) are constant attacks on banks, insurance, government, gaming and entertainment websites, causing significant losses, cost and frustrations. DDoS makes use of infected PCs and devices all around the world unknown to their owners. Whatever the motivation of a hacker, their capacity to cripple the rest of us is proven. But with more and more devices connected, the danger is even greater. Protecting our devices from unauthorised access and hacking is not just about protecting our own data, bank accounts or identity; cyber security is a social responsibility.

Omni-Channel Strategy

Looking to Adopt an Omni-Channel Strategy? Here Are the Top Considerations to Be Aware of

Written for Cincom.com on September 12, 2017

At the core of the customer experience is understanding the needs and wants of customers and the ability to consistently delight them at the right time – regardless of channel.

Like many industries, consumers’ expectations of brands are ever-changing targets in insurance. They are influenced by everyday digitisation and easy-to-use devices brought to us by tech giants such as Apple and Amazon, as well as their own unique consumer lifecycles. One pivotal aspect of customer experience and influencing a consumer lifecycle is engagement, and here lies a significant hurdle for insurers. Insurance is typically a low-touchpoint industry and a tremendous barrier to the crucial engagement that’s required to create an ideal customer experience. Getting over this hurdle requires innovation, creativity and the right technology.

Life-insurance products and general-insurance products are distinctively different, and health insurance is a beast in its own right. From a provider’s perspective, that means very different challenges and ways to engage with consumers. However, one thing they all have in common is the low touchpoint. In most cases, there is only contact with the insured at buying time, claims, renewals and occasionally when changes need to made to an existing policy. This means that there are very few opportunities for the insurance companies to get to know their policyholders and engage with them.

The low-touchpoint nature of insurance means that there is a significant reliance on data collected from claims and other big-data sources to understand consumers’ needs, map their lifecycles, create new products and provide a better customer experience. Selling insurance is selling a promise, and in the case of life insurance for example, one that might have to be fulfiled decades down the road. Therefore, trust is also a big factor. For example, Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) insurance, maintained over a couple of decades, can amount to approximately $60,000 in paid premiums. Consumers need to trust that the insurer will still be around to pay a claim should the need arise.

The term omni-channel originated in the context of a seamlessly integrated retail experience across multiple channels, such as online stores, apps, telephone and brick-and-mortar shops. Clearly, there is a close relationship between the sales channels and the technological platform. The seamless aspect is essential to a flawless customer experience, despite the significant interoperability challenges. The ability to engage with customers across multiple platforms increases friction and opportunities to capture further relevant data.

The consumer buying process is also very different. To many people, insurance is boring, and buying policies is often dictated by affordability. Health insurers are very much at the mercy of comparison sites, which essentially are brokers in their own rights, and only compare and sell the products from participating health insurers. Gradually, we are seeing similar comparison sites for general insurance such as for vehicles. This effectively creates a race to the bottom, where premium cost is the key measure of comparison. This is actually quite dangerous, because it often results in under-insurance (either by choice or unknowingly), while customers should be comparing products based on benefits and coverage in the event of having to make a claim. It is clear that with both health and general insurance there is no consumer loyalty – switching is as easy as swiping the screen on an app.

Health and general insurance have essentially become commodities, where ill-informed consumers can fall into the trap of purchasing the wrong policy or underinsuring themselves. An omni-channel engagement that simplifies the process of comparing similar products and their benefits (not just cost) would not only help consumers to better inform themselves but also make educated choices and decisions beyond simple price comparisons. Being a “trusted advisor” and reliable source of information, such as advice in risk reduction or incident prevention, could also facilitate building up brand loyalty.

Life-insurance products, including TPD and income protection, have further complications. For many people, these are bundled into their superannuation, and in most cases, they have no idea as to whether or not they are the best-suited products for their individual circumstances. Plus, it’s better than having no insurance at all.  However, this might change soon since regulators are wanting such insurance products to be decoupled from superannuation. This will mean that customers will need to become more knowledgeable about the products and more conscious in the decision-making process.

In fact, the regulatory change may create a great opportunity for providers of TPD and income protection to engage with their prospects and create meaningful customer relationships.

Life-insurance products are complex, and they elude most people. Clearly, consumers need to be “educated” on the nuances and given the tools to make the best selections. While some will still rely on the sound advice of a financial adviser on this matter, many do not have access to that advice. Leveraging their different sales channels as well as communication platforms, insurers have the opportunity to proactively drive that “education” aspect and build a bridge with consumers. For example, using web-based presentation tools, an insurer could host a live presentation with Q&A on regulatory changes and implications. While an app might not be as useful to a life insurer as it is for a general insurer, an authentication app could streamline lost-password resolution, call-centre authentication and justify downloading the app.

In regards to insurance policies that are sold via financial advisers, the churn here might not be as intense as it is in general and health insurance. However, some insurers noted that brokers’ upfront commissions have been used as an incentive to frequently switch clients to different policies, despite the risks and effort associated with this.

Here again, the regulator-imposed changes on commissions are having an impact. One of those consequences is that for many financial advisers, some clients have become too costly to manage, and insurers now need to have a suitable channel to look after those policyholders. This is further compounded by the fact that quite often people are still unclear about the policy they have bought and don’t fully understand all of its aspects. If this isn’t addressed in a timely manner, it is likely that the policyholder’s perceived value may not be strong enough, resulting in a buyer’s regret and a cancellation.

Channel challenges don’t stop there. As discussed earlier, consumers’ expectations are influenced by the likes of Amazon, Apple, Uber and Airbnb. We are connected 24×7 thanks to our smartphones and increasing number of IoT devices. However, buying insurance, especially life-insurance products, is a lot more complex. Product Disclosure Statements (PDSs) are lengthy and hard to understand, which is why a number of providers have ongoing initiatives regarding the simplification of that buying process. Automated underwriting is gradually making its way in, and the use of big data also provides further insight into consumer lifecycles and their changing needs.

Insurers rapidly have to come up with innovative ways to engage with their customers more frequently, educate them and sell the value of their policies no matter the life stage. Consumers are a moving target and a fast-moving one too. Insurers should be working hard at keeping customers well within their sight while implementing innovative and agile ways to engage across all of their relevant channels.

However, here’s a word of caution. While leveraging an omni-channel engagement approach is clearly beneficial, each individual channel needs to make sense and be relevant. Jumping on the “me too” bandwagon and offering a multitude of channels to customers to match or be ahead of the competition can have disastrous consequences. The chosen technology-driven channels need to add value to the consumer as well as to the relationship. Furthermore, the correct technology needs to be in place to support the channel-hopping nature of the consumers’ behaviour.

Insurers are at a turning point. External influences and regulatory changes have opened opportunities to engage more closely to consumers, and great customer experience can lead to brand loyalty and advocacy. However,  achieving this requires consistency in the delivery. Leveraging omni-channel sales models as well as omni-engagement platforms has significant benefits in delivering outstanding customer experience; however, caution must be exercised since a channel or platform must remain relevant to the customers.