The new frontier in customer relationships?

Technological innovation has transformed the ways banks interact with customers. From the first ATMs in the 1970s to today’s mobile apps, new technologies have boosted productivity and improved service. They have also raised misgivings and questions around privacy, security, jobs and the place of machines in the customer relationship. What do the latest developments in artificial intelligence (AI) mean for banks, their customers and employees? Industry expert Mikhail Naumov shares his views.

EEGX5A Munich, Germany. 18th Jan, 2015. MUNICH/GERMANY - JANUARY 18: Portrait of Mikhail Naumov (Digital Genius) during the DLD15 (Digital-Life-Design) Conference at the HVB Forum on January 18, 2015 in Munich, Germany. DLD is a global network of innovation, digitization, science and culture, which connects business, creative and social leaders, opinion formers and influencers for crossover conversation and inspiration.(Photo: picture alliance/Robert Schlesinger)/dpa/Alamy Live News

Mikhail Naumov

president and chief strategy officer of DigitalGenius

How would you define
artificial intelligence today?

There is a significant imbalance between today’s AI and its portrayal in the media. One can define artificial intelligence as training computer programs to think, perform actions and in some cases reason without human intervention. The field is full of marketing buzz, so to get a clear understanding of what’s possible today, it’s useful to look at the research underway at Google Deep Mind and the work of the Facebook AI Research team.

“Augment the capacity of customer-service operations.”

How do you see artificial intelligence
being adopted in banking?

The first area that springs to mind is in customer service. Customers have become more comfortable with live-chatting or texting their service needs—a perfect AI environment. After “training” algorithms with vast volumes of historical customer-service logs, a properly developed and trained AI system will be able to significantly augment the capacity of customer-service operations. However, there are always going to be service issues that a machine cannot solve. A practical AI solution will combine the best of human and machine intelligence into one seamless platform to create a comfortable and resilient customer-service experience.


Older technology such as ATMs displaced tellers. Do we need to fear for our jobs?


Machine intelligence or AI is poised to impact jobs but in a meaningful way. Instead of performing routine tasks, banking specialists will have more time to perform “human-level intelligence” work. It is no secret that a portion of work done today by tellers, customer advisers or credit analysts is repetitive and better handled by an algorithm. Therefore, by letting the machine do what it does best, the human adviser will have more time to cultivate more meaningful customer relationships. The role of advisers will evolve as more and more of their time is freed up by a machine. They will have their own AI tools to help them do their job more accurately and efficiently.

“AI must be proven to work confidentially, reliably and securely.”

What might slow the deployment of
artificial intelligence in banks?

One thing that might theoretically slow down AI implementation is compliance. Banks have very serious regulators who are very strict on enforcing rules. It’s critically important that any AI deployed in banking complies with regulations; these are in place to protect customers. Even with all the hype going around in the AI space lately, banks are rightly conservative in adopting the technology. If AI is proven to work confidentially, reliably and securely in, say, banks’ customer-service organisations, then banks will be willing to push a little deeper until they finally reach the comfort zone needed to roll out more extensive solutions.

“Become the gold standard in financial services.”

In the bank of the future, how will artificial intelligence impact the customer experience?

Finances are a very private part of a person’s life, so speaking with your bank is largely a personal interaction. AI solutions can handle routine questions, but customers will want to contact an adviser who is best placed to manage complex tasks. In the future, a customer adviser empowered with the right AI tools will become the “gold standard” in financial services.

Mikhail Naumov is president and chief strategy officer of DigitalGenius, a company with offices in New York, San Francisco and London that brings practical applications of artificial intelligence to the customer-service operations of global companies.

Find out what Google and Facebook are doing in the area of AI.