ArcheAge Unchained – 2 Weeks Review

ArcheAge Unchained was released only two weeks ago on October 15th and then on 18th on Steam.

I went back and read my article posted on Oct 1 and so much has happened over those past two weeks.

For starters, Gamigo had only planned to open 3 servers per regions:

  • NA: Tyrenos, Wynn and Denistrious
  • EU: Alexander, Halnaak and Belstrom

As I write today we now have 6 servers on NA and 5 on EU. While this reflects the interest of the gaming community towards the game and is a healthy measure, it also brings some red flags to me, more on that later.

Depending on who you read or listen to on YouTube and Twitch, you’ll hear that the launch was a smooth and successful one or that it was terrible. I let you be the judge of that but here was my experience and on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d give it a 4:

1st red flag: Name Reservation

Gamigo offered Founders the ability to reserve a spot and name on a server of choice on Saturday 12th October (this was delayed by a week).

Being Australia based, that 10am PDT on 12th was 4am on 13th for me; and as a true committed Aussie gamer I got up early so I could reserve my name and spot on our chosen server: Wynn.

Within 20 minute of the servers opening up, I was horrified to see some races and then West faction locks being activated. The consequences: two of our friends who were still stuck in a very long queue (into the thousands) were not able to create their characters on the same server as us. About 1 hour later the whole server was in lock down. Shortly later so were Tyrenos and then Denistrious.

2nd Red flag: Servers locked

This made no sense to me. Why? Because all the people who were there were Founders. Gamigo knew exactly how many accounts that represents. With up to 2 characters per account they should have know those servers were going to fill up fast. They should have opened at least 4 servers per region.

The only thing they would not be able to measure, was how many characters created on a server were there as place holders vs. genuine players. Some guilds had instructed their members to create one character on Tyrenos and one on Wynn for example. Others were to create a character in each faction (one being an alt). Faction balance is very important in an Open World PvP game. Gamigo knows that and attempted to ensure balance. As it turns out, that same effort contributed to the faction imbalance currently experienced on Wynn and other servers.

Instead of adding 4th servers before the official launch, Gamigo chose to re-open the doors at the same time on the Sunday and Monday. Once again, those doors shut within 10 min while people were stuck in queues, including our friends. By then rage and outrage was building up across Reddit, Discord and Twitter. How could they miss the mark so much?

When we got to launch day, October 15th (4am ob 16th for me), most of us started to experience what was going to become our daily frustration: Queues.

I experienced queues closed to 4000 every day. What has been the most frustrating has also been the frequent server connections loss. No warning, no error message. You have to stare at the number in the queue to see if it is still ticking down or not. If not, I have to exist and start all over again. Gamigo promised us grace period that would allow people to rejoin the queue rather than be thrown at the back. Sadly, that has not been implemented yet. Even when it does (hopefully soon!), there is no certainty this will help much because of the lack of warning when losing that server connection.

The impact of these queues has been beyond frustrating. It can take me 9 hours to get in game. During which time I need to be careful not to create any kind of lag on my PC and risk another disconnect.

3rd Red Flag: The ArchePass

To remove the P2W model, the ArchePass provides the means to earn Diligence coins. These coins can then be spent in the in game store to buy critical items such as labor recharge and inventory space. So it is clear that the ArchePass is at the core of AA Unchained.

We didn’t get the opportunity to fully test it during the 2 weeks on PTS. The issue that had transpired at the time was to have to re-purchase the dailies when switching between ArchePasses. The irony is that this cost might have limited the number of people who exploited the ArchePass’ weak design. These people re-rolled the World Boss daily quest by switching ArchePass and were earning 50 gold per quest, up to 800 gold a day! Ultimately, this earned them a ban (more on that below). Maybe the ArchePass shouldn’t have had any gold rewards in the first place!

The ArchePass came with such limited pool of dailies that it would hand out the same quests over and over, including the World Boss one. Even those people that did not technically exploit made a lot of money from this as well as acquired Labour Rechargers and Diligence Coins. Good on them but the damage is done because most people did not. This results in significant faction imbalance and a two tier economy. We have now more people top gear score because they had the gold and labour to do it. They also have the Gilda coins to get the warships and can now do Abyssal and Ghost ships, which are big money makers and will further deepen the gap.

In the meantime, people who didn’t know about this ArchePass flaws have been growing Cedar trees and crops on their farms. They’ve been mining and doing a few trade runs and making 50g a day and their gear score is half that of the top players.

4th red flag: The Bans

Due to community outcry about how the ArchePass was being “used” by some guilds and faction, Gamigo assessed the situation. On 22nd October they issued a hotfix to reduce the World Boss quest reward from 50g to 10g. They also announced that 200 accounts were being banned, including some high profile streamers. The problem is that a few hours later an unknown (yet seemingly large) number of those bans were lifted because Gamigo admitted they couldn’t ban people who did not actually intentionally flipped between ArchePasses to re-roll the World Boss quest. While I agree it isn’t fair to ban people for game design flaws, doing a ban and then back pedalling on it, results in a huge loss in confidence and credibility.

Then on 24th October, Gamigo decided to disable the ArchePass for an undetermined period. The community is divided on this decision. Some say that without the ArchePass people now won’t have a chance to close the gap. Others want it removed until it is returned into a better, fairer and balanced format. The ArchePass dailies also had turned into a time consuming demanding activity that took away the sandbox aspect of the game.

Where are we at now?

Yesterday, Gamigo announced that they will offer a one time claim per account of 300 diligence coins. They also announced Maintenance across all servers, today 30th. They are also wisely considering granting that 300 Diligence Coin overtime rather than as a lump sum.

The queues are about half of what they were a week ago, but the server time out is frequent and discouraging. A few people have re-rolled on lower populated servers and quite possibly a few have given up. Today’s patch should improve queue grace handling while grace period is still being tested and not fully implemented.

ArcheAge is still the best MMO I have played. The graphics are stunning. The look of the different regions is diverse and breathtaking in some cases. The immersion is awesome and the combat mechanics and effects are the best I have experienced. Yet, the shape of the ArchePass when it is returned will most likely define the fate of ArcheAge Unchained.

How Gamigo sets expectations and manages a rather aggressive community will be critical. In all fairness, their handling of the issues has been professional and quite transparent. They recognised their errors and are committed to fixing them. Khrolan, the Executive Producer, has taken ownership and has been hands on during the whole process.

If you want to give ArcheAge a shot, make sure you go to the most recent server, join a guild and learn the ropes with them. Otherwise wait a few more weeks or months to see how things shape up. This is a game where knowledge is power. There are a lot of resources available on YouTube and Discord channels but beware as some are out of date or inaccurate.

Feel free to join me during one of my streams on: http://twitch.tv/FrenchGirlGaming and ask questions.

Disclaimer: I am not an employee of Gamigo, Trionworlds, XLGames or related to any employees. This article is not sponsored by anyone. This is the results of my own research and own opinions.

ArcheAge Unchained – Is it worth it?

Archeage is an open world PvP MMORPG developed by XLGame in Korea and originally distributed in NA/EU by Trionworlds exactly 5 yrs ago.

While the game, and especially Trionworlds, generated a lot of controversies and polarised its community, it still remains in my own opinion, one of the most beautiful, versatile and addictive MMO around. If you did play ArcheAge at some point, whether that was at launch or more recently, then you would know exactly what I mean.

The hype for ArcheAge Unchained is out there and the fear of missing out is growing. You might be asking yourself:

Should I try ArcheAge Unchained?

What is ArcheAge unchained?

According to Gamigo (who acquired Trionworlds in 2018) this is the version of ArcheAge the gaming community has been waiting for. Note however, that the original ArcheAge still remains active on Legacy servers in its present F2P format. Unchained however, with its totally different commercialisation model, will be run like a totally separate game. Unchained is not another Fresh Start server. It will be released on Oct 15th with the same new 6.0 content (Shadows Revealed) as on legacy. This includes the new Swiftblade melee skillset, new Naval Combat Arena and access to all zones. It will also be released on the new 64 bits client and with updated graphics for many zones.

So what’s better?

First and foremost, the primary intent is the removal of the Pay to Win (P2W) aspects that caused so much damage to the game from day one. Unchained is Buy to Play (B2P) model.

  • No more Apex (these are still available on legacy). The controversy with Apex was that they can be bought for $10 and sold in game for gold, which means it was a “legalised” gold selling option.
  • No more Free to Play accounts. No subscriptions. Just a one off purchase. Current Founders packs start at $25.99. F2P accounts provide a lot of opportunities for gold farmers and sellers so now the bar is a lot higher.
  • No Loot Boxes or RNG Boxes
  • No Labor potions available for credits
  • No P2W items, most if not all of the MarketPlace items are cosmetics and bind on pick-up.
  • Less Alt-age. Unchained has put a cap of 3 accounts per person, only one client running per PC, so multi boxing is pretty much gone. I am cautious with that statement because we know that where there is a will there is a mean. There is only so much Gamingo and XLGame can do to prevent people from owning more than 3 accounts and from running several clients across several PC. However, with an entry level of $25.99 and the risk of account(s) getting banned…

Better protection vs. hacks and cheats not even mods like FoV are allowed. Gamingo announced they were armed and not scared to use it. The Community will be watching this space closely, because hacks and cheats are still used on Legacy and will quickly unbalance the economy and players on the servers.

As someone who made a career in software sales, my first question is: so how will Gamingo make their money? And I do want them to make money so they can keep the game going for a long time.

  • Game sales: as mentioned the current pre-order Founders packs start at $25.99 with a Gold Pack at $49.99 and Archeum pack at $79.99. Of course as the servers fill up and mature it would be more difficult for new players to join in.

Currently Gamingo as confirmed 3 Servers for each region (EU and NA) with potential 4th to be confirmed:

  • NA: Tyrenos, Wynn and Denistrious
  • EU: Alexander, Halnaak and Belstrom

So I suspect in a few months time, based on community interest they might add additional servers and get some extra revenue that way.

  • ArchePass. The ArchePass is a seasonal battlepass type system that opens up to the players a dozen of dailies with a variety of rewards. There is a free basic/intro level ArchePass available to everyone for 1 copper in game currency, but with a slower progression pace. It has an optional higher reward path that cost 10 gold.
    Then there is a “premium” ArchePass that cost 5 gold to buy but its higher reward path cost $10 to upgrade ( or 1500 credits), per season and per ArchePass . As I write this, it seems to last around 90 days. There are 3 types of “premium” ArchePass to cater for different play style (PvE, PvP and what I would call lifestyle such as spending labor on crafting). So if you wanted to complete all 3 tracks you have roughly 31 days per track, which is quite a commitment.
  • Cosmetics. ArcheAge has some of the nicest as well as “raunchy” outfits available in an MMO. They also have a huge stack of pets, mounts, gliders and housing decorations. I’ve always seen people eager to get the latest outfits, mounts and pets; some are extremely creative and talented at decorating their houses.

The commercialisation model appears to be sound and ethical. The game is celebrating its 5th anniversary so it isn’t new, but the 64 bits client is giving it a facelift. This is a MMORPG that has a lot to offer still.  My only warning to new and old players is that it will most likely be commitment hungry. There won’t be any option to swipe and pay your way into progress or quality of life items. So, to go back to the big question:

Should I try ArcheAge Unchained?

My answer: YES

If you want a preview on PTS, join me during one of my streams on http://Twitch.tv/FrenchGirlGaming and feel free to ask questions.

  • Oct 1-7 : Founders access PTS begins 10am PDT
  • Oct 5: Founders name reservation and character creation begins
  • Oct 7-13: General access to PTS
  • Oct 15: Official release of ArcheAge Unchained including major content update “shadow Revealed”

Disclaimer: I am not an employee of Gamigo, Trionworlds or related to any employees. This article is not sponsored by anyone. This is the results of my own research and own opinions.

Robo-Advice

Robo-advisor – the frenemy lurking

Written for Cincom.com website on October 12, 2015

I have been watching the rise of the robo-advisers for about 18 months or so. Only over the last 3 months have I seen that word come up in articles and conversations in Australia.

Yet, in places such as the UK and US, a number of start-up robo-advisors have made a dent in the industry and are starting to put some pressure. The incumbent response is generally that of either dismissal and denial. A few rare ones e.g. Charles Swabs, see this as a new market opportunity and have embraced the concept. They cleverly created their own robo-adviser and fenced it just enough so it doesn’t cannibalise their traditional market. This is where I personally see the opportunities lie.

I attended the advisors Innovation conference; this was my first and I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the agenda, however, I could tell that the advisors community is hungry for some tech in order to keep up with customers’ demands and expectations as well as lower their cost and modernise their operations.

The registration to the event was so popular that the organisers had to relocate it to a larger venue. During that day, robo-advisors were mentioned frequently by speakers as well as the audience.

However, I observed a general consensus from the audience: generally speaking, robo-advisers were not seen as a thread but more as a fad as most advisers would say they focus on high net worth individuals, therefore a different market. This was despite the repeated efforts from presenters to raise not only awareness but create a sense of urgency that the wolves had passed the gate and were now heading in fast.

While I appreciate that there is a multi-tiered market and the appeal of focusing on high net worth individuals, I also believe there are significant opportunities in the medium and low end of the market for those who have found a way to provide quality advice at low cost.

Are robo-advisors really a threat and enemy?

I take the pragmatic view when looking at robo-advisors and see them as a frenemy. The reality is that they are here, available, and their numbers will grow. I also believe that they can bring to the consumers access to investments capabilities at a low cost, convenient (web based, so anywhere any time), and with little engagement or effort and will appeal to a number of people, and not just the gen Y or millennials. Robo-advisors could be the answer for that medium and low end of the market.

In Australia specifically, it’s fair to say that consumers have lost faith in the financial advice area. Too many horror stories of people losing most of their savings have been heard. The consumers are finally realising that if the advice is free then it’s quite likely that the advice might be biased, yet, we in our naive minds, we still expect to get personalised, unbiased advice for free. How are advisers expected to make a living then if not from the commissions of the products they sell?

So here may lay the source of the problem some thought, hence the report recommending significant changes in advisors remunerations.

In the midst of those battles and debates, no wonder robo-advisors are becoming an attractive alternative not only as a business model (low cost sales) but also to the consumers: low or no fees, simple process, few options clearly laid out. All done online and without having to interact with another human-being.

I am also of the belief that a robo-advisor should be one of the option a financial advisor firm should offer; why? Because of the customer’s journey and lifecycle. I look at a robo-advisor as an incubator to a long term relationship between the client and the advisor. While someone might start online with a small investment at low or no cost; overtime that person’s need will change based on different life events at which point they will most likely need to reach out to someone for some face to face advice. Wouldn’t that be easier if they could start with an online chat and then book an appointment with the same firm who’s managed their investment for a while now?

Robo-advisors are essentially one form of sales channel suitable to some specific persona; with the use of suitable technology and analytics to detect the triggers, the client’s journey can take them from one engagement model to another seamlessly, whenever the time is right.

The challenge might be in selecting the suitable technology. Any “pre-fabricated” robo-advisor platform would most likely only provide similar outcomes and customer experience no matter what the brand is; which would make the ability to differentiate somewhat difficult.

To differentiate, the platform has to have significant breadth and depth of capabilities to allow the organisation to “program” its DNA and “secret sauce”; yet, it must be user-friendly enough to allow the business users to change and tune that “secret sauce” as the market demands evolve constantly. This is where I foresee the downfall of a number of robo-advisors platforms. It is quite likely that a lot of the “smarts” are deeply ingrained in the application and would require programmers to make changes. The other limitation, for those operating independently from main stream financial advisors, is that they only focus on a few persona and won’t have the means to cater for the needs of people when those change over their life cycle. This most likely will make the use of those robo advisors as a tactical decision by consumers.

There is no doubt that times are changing fast in the financial advisors sector and that disruptions are only just starting. The pro-active ones will embrace it early and leverage technology to their advantage, even if only for a short while; but the smarter ones will pick carefully the right technology partners to architect together a unique platform that will not only give them the agility and velocity needed to meet an increasingly fast and demanding consumer but also one that leverage their own industry expertise to guide their clients throughout their life journey. Those I believe will be the clear winners.

Sales Effectiveness

Meeting Sales Quota: Sales Effectiveness & Technology

Written for Cincom.com on November 9, 2015

Sales Quota

No matter what industry you operate in or what your role is, it is pretty clear that we live in a fast pace world where customer experience is primordial and mass customisation / personalisation is a given. If you happen to be involved with the sales of products and services and are at the cold face with the customers then you would also know how much “sales” has actually changed. The biggest driver behind that change has been the Internet, not only its existence but most importantly, its availability and mobility through the use of smart devices.

20+ years ago, when I started my sales career in B2B software sales, we would generate our leads through series of mailers and cold calls, advertising in in-flight magazines and attending big trade shows. We would send expensive brochure packs, and host breakfast briefings to educate our target market. Our days were filled with activities related to understanding issues and working out solutions. We would listen to their pains, tactical and consequential and we would formulate a solution aligning our products and services perfectly so our path was the best one to solving their problems and meeting their KPIs.

We were solution selling. We were the golden boys and girls of sales. We had the knowledge and knowledge was power.

As a consumer, I would also turn to a financial advisor to help me pick the right insurance products and superannuation plan because he was the expert, he had the knowledge. And for pretty much everything, that’s how commerce functioned; we would turn to experts in the field to get the advice, recommendations, or even just being pointed in the right direction.

The new world

The internet and Wi-Fi have turned that model on its head. Now, I can go online and get a few quotes for income protection insurance for example and compare them side by side. I can Google search a model of washing machine and compare prices online, while standing next to a same one in a store.

Knowledge is truly at our fingertips, anytime, anywhere.

As a sales person today, our target market educates us; and for many of us, it’s a hard lesson to learn.

A study of more than 1,400 B2B cross industry customers by CEB Global, revealed that 57% of a typical purchase decision is made before a customer even talks to a supplier.

The reality is that customers don’t need us the way they used to.

The rules of engagements have been changed, not by us, but by the customers. Customers are informed; they have access to information and can formulate possible solutions and shortlist possible providers on their own.

The expectations on sales people on the other hand haven’t. Organisations still need to return shareholder value, and they need a sales team that performs and achieve its targets.

What’s sales effectiveness?

If you are not too familiar with sales then you need to know that essentially sales is a process, each step is an opportunity to succeed or fail to move to the next step.

Sales effectiveness is about a sales team ability to successfully align their sales process to the customers buying process and to win each stage and ultimately earn the business within an acceptable timeframe and at an acceptable cost of sales.

There are some very important elements in this definition:

  • Sales team
  • Sales process
  • Buying process
  • Alignment
  • Stages
  • Acceptable timeframe
  • Acceptable cost

This means that the sales effectiveness is not solely the results of the action of the sales team, but in fact of the whole organisation. It combines methodologies, processes and soft skills in management. Most particularly of course, it focuses on sales but also on marketing, because marketing generate those warm leads that fill up the sales funnel.

Sales effectiveness strive to increase the organisations revenues through customer acquisitions, increased sales volumes through existing and new product, and but cross and up selling to existing clients.

Sales under the new paradigm and the Sales Quota

There is no doubt that the new rules of engagements described above are representing a significant challenge to businesses and especially to sales professionals. New methodologies (such as Challenger) are gaining ground. New processes and touch points that leverage technology and new services are also coming into play, e.g. social selling, using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc… and this applies to B2B as well as B2C models. People talk about Sales 2.0 and inbound marketing. CRM platforms have grown multidimensionally to encompass activities related to marketing, services and social media.

However, some aspects of sales and their impact on the Sales Quota haven’t changed. Customers are still looking for value for money and low risks and they still need to understand what they are buying. If you want to impact your Sales Quota you should listen to what they want.

So with all the emphasis on the new toys such as social selling, etc. it is easy to get sucked into the hype vortex and forget the obvious.

With a customer far much more well informed and who has formulated a solution it is even more important for a sales person to have a deep understanding of that customer’s needs, and in a B2B situation, the industry trends and challenges, and be able to present alternative solutions that will give better returns and long term shareholder value for example.

In financial services situation for example, the amount of product choices and options is enormous. For consumers, it has become information overload. The responsibility of selecting the right product and options is now on the customer and even with access to information on the web, it is no easy task to compare like with like and make the right choices.

Providing an accurate quote, proposal or statement of advice in a timely manner should be a given, yet, again because of the multitude of options and variations, errors are easily made. Such errors can have devastating consequences, e.g. in a case of under insurance.

But there is hope!

The sales process hasn’t totally change in its entirety

Over the recent years, there has been a significant growth in the use of technology in sales. From lead gen, to eCommerce and CRM. One piece of technology, referred to as CPQ (i.e. Configure – Price – Quote) has been experiencing significant growth and gaining momentum.

As its name indicates, CPQ software focuses on those critical and often complex steps of the sales process, where a customer needs have to be identified and matched with a suitable product(s), and product features and then priced accordingly. It also includes that final step where the quote is formalised and presented into a suitable manner for the customer, whether that is on a webpage (in a self-service mode), a call centre sales agent screen, or a printed Statement of Advice for example.

CPQ technology was born in the late 1980s and first introduced in the manufacturing sector, but over recent years forward thinking organisations have adopted the technology as part of their sales process.

The benefits of CPQ technology directly impacts an organisation’s bottom line with significant improvements such as 100% quotes accuracy, 50% increase in the number of quotes produced, 27% reduction in length of the sales cycle, 17% increase in leads conversion rates, 3.9% renewal rates and overall better Customer Experience according to the Aberdeen Group (May 2014).

In their September 2014 report the Aberdeen Group found that:

  • Best in class firms turn 30% more quote into sales and
  • CPQ users increase customer retention by 3.9% annually

However, not all CPQ technologies are the same. Many product configurators can handle guided selling scenarios, needs analysis and the ability to produce a quote, but they fall short when faced with complexities such as compliances, multiple layers of business rules and mixed distribution channels.

Complex manufacturing has pushed technology providers to develop significant capabilities into their CPQ tools, and the best are built upon a robust rules and knowledge engine.

Nonetheless, it is that ability to simplify the complex and handle multiple layers of rules such as compliance, distribution channels and tapping into various backend systems (including analytics) that can empower a financial services institution to create new, innovative and personalised products and bundles that are unique to the individual, and become best in class for sales effectiveness and customer experience.

Mass Customisation

The Empowered Buyer – How Personalisation Makes the Sale

Written for Cincom.com on August 31, 2016

If you live in Australia, you know all about the special deals that car dealers offer at the end of the financial year (EOFY); and if you were in the market for a new car like me, June would have been your most expensive month!

After your home, the family car is most likely your biggest financial commitment, no matter how you finance that purchase. So picking the best vehicle that meets your needs and budget as well as factoring in the cost of ownership for the long term and the resale value is a significant undertaking. Buying a new car is also an emotional decision that involves more complex feelings such as status symbols, pre-conceived ideas, likes and dislikes – some acquired over many years as well as inherited from our parents – and, of course, options from family and friends. Who would have thought that buying a vehicle for getting us from point A to point B (mostly from home to work and back) could be so complex!

The challenge doesn’t stop there. Gone are the days of the Ford Model T’s “any colour as long as it’s black”; this is the era of mass-personalisation. Personalising your new car is also more than just picking the colour. Car manufacturers, like vendors in most industries, are well aware of the price-conscious buyers, so several features have been made optional. These features are not just cosmetic ones either; they range from engine or wheel sizes to safety features, sun/moon roofs, leather seats, etc.

Knowing that we start doing our homework online to help us with that decision, car manufacturers have invested in websites with a highly visual and graphical interface to help us in our selection process. We can even now get an online quote/estimate for the on-the-road cost as well as the mandatory call to action: book a test drive from the nearest dealer.

Being the detailed and analytical person that I am, I was determined that my decision process was going to be an educated one, and any influences and opinions from my father and friends could be debated using documented hard facts and solid information.

My first approach was quite similar to what I would do to select an insurance product: I looked for comparison sites to compare different makes and model features side by side. I was a bit disappointed by what I found, which was generally a clunky user interface and a lack of selection criteria. In other words, you need to know the makes, models and grades of cars you want to compare. The problem is, there are so many different cars! How do I come up with a short list?

That left me having to go through several manufacturers’ websites. I ended up making a short list of car manufacturers based on conversations with my mechanic, my father, friends and by simply looking at what I see on the road that “looked nice.” It wasn’t quite the start that I was expecting to have, but nonetheless, I had my short list of six car manufacturers.

However, things got a bit more complicated when I had to identify the actual models and grade(s) that could potentially fit the bill. Ultimately, I had to extract the information that was relevant to me and manually enter it into a spreadsheet so I could compare. One advantage of that tedious method was that I was also able to add other valuable information from other sources such as the cost of comprehensive insurance, registration and maintenance cost to get a feel for ongoing running costs.

At the end of the day, I ended up with two tabs – one that compared the shortlist of six different cars on a minimum set of key criteria then a detailed tab to compare the top two.

What I found interesting was how each manufacturer allows consumers such as me to identify their ideal car. This is where things also started to get complicated and frustrating since some options are not available across all base models or grades. Car manufacturers have created a hierarchy that goes something like: Make -> Model -> Grade -> Car. So to start with, I had to pick the right grade to get exposed to the features that I wanted. That sometimes caused problems, because I wouldn’t always know what the features would be until I had made that grade selection, and backtracking to select another grade often meant starting from scratch (sigh).

Another point of frustration was when I tried to compare side by side two different grades from the same model. One manufacturer had a convoluted method that required me to select a totally different model in which I had no interest, and then replace it with the one I wanted (sigh again).

None seemed to offer the ability to save my configuration so that I could return to it at a later date. This meant that I had to reconfigure vehicles dozens of times over and over again, which is an expensive purchase since a decision wasn’t going to be made in just a few clicks!

Lastly, what was also disappointing was that my online requests for booking a test drive fell into black holes. There were either no or very late follow-ups, and they were totally disconnected from my actual visits to showrooms.

So my advice to car manufacturers is this:

First, you’re doing great work with the visual appeal of your websites – the embedded videos and images look awesome.

However, remember that we consumers are channel hoppers

we sometimes start on a PC/laptop, but we also use tablets, smart phones and different browsers too.  So it needs to work and be responsive across all of those platforms. Then, of course, we are going to visit the dealer and go for a test drive. If I book a test drive online, I should get a call back within 24 hours at the most, and when I visit the dealer, they should know already who I am and what I want to test drive.

When it comes to configuration, given the growing number of options and variations, whatever technology you are using now isn’t cutting the mustard … sorry. It started well and gave me the expectation that I could “build my car” easily, but it failed very quickly. Your “configurator” didn’t allow me to start the selection process where I wanted with the features that matter to me. There wasn’t even the option to rank some feature categories such as safety or fuel consumption to narrow down the choices, and it didn’t allow me to go back and forth as I changed my mind or changed priorities (and I do that a lot). I didn’t get any guidance in the process, and the fact that after spending a few minutes configuring my car, there was no option to save it was also disengaging.

The good news is, there is affordable technology that does all of the above and more; it’s called Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ), and the best ones are integrated into your CRM.  It’s a game changer when it comes to empowering consumers to personalise a product, services or bundles of the two. How do I know that? Because I happen to work for one of the leading CPQ vendors on the market.

And for those who are wondering what car I ended up buying, I got the Mazda 6. It came out on top of my selection criteria and even has a bonus “zoom zoom” button!

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.

FinTech

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.

IoT

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

Friend?

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.

Foe?

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?

Conclusion

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.

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