The news item, tucked in as it was in one innocuous corner of the newspaper, just a couple of days back, had gone largely unnoticed. Hemmed in between stories of corruption in high places and promises of El Dorado’s of every kind, it proclaimed how one of the major private sector banks had introduced on that day, “software robotics to power its banking operations.” Bland, inoffensive and tepid, it did not make the waves, but it will be wrong if we ignore it, for, it is a harbinger of things to come – things that will certainly turn our Banking and Financial Services sector in its head. For, artificial intelligence led automation may well be the next game changer in the industry segment and is in fact all set to usher in a change that will be nothing but tectonic in its impact.
Robotic Process Automation systems are capable of processing and generation unthinkable amounts of information and are capable of automating entire processes and workflows with built-in capabilities of learning and adapting as they proceed. Collecting, analyzing and taking value decisions based on the data available in its domain may be the entry point of these “machines”, as they seek to reduce the burden of menial and repetitive jobs, thereby making a qualitative difference in the efficiency levels of the organisations employing them. However, once deployed, the move to the secondary and tertiary sectors will be rapid as these systems prove their efficacies and are preferred over humans for the performance of low value-added services.
Take credit cards for example. With the huge transactional data that is already in the possession of the banks, Artificially Intelligent systems can discern trends that will not be easily apparent to the human eyes. The more data they are allowed to process, the better will become their ability of search and detect – which will ultimately lead them not only to red flag fraudulent transactions, but even predict them before they actually take place. With the necessary wherewithal, and this technology too is well within the ambit of deployment, they can even reach out and ensure punitive actions. And mind you, this data is not just about cold printed sheets with undecipherable figures, but also video and voice, and every other conceivable pieces of information, in every possible format.
Then there is Autonomics – where the machine observes how a trained human responds to a certain issue to take it to its natural resolution and mimics his decision making process. The machine can perform the job of a human at a fraction of the cost, that too, on a 24 X 7 basis and without the attending risks of human errors.
Machine Vision or Computer Vision technologies will also be increasingly playing greater roles in banking automation in the future. Face Recognition is the simplest way this technology is being put to use and indications are already there that their use will explode in the near future. Micro printed security codes, fluorescent bars, watermarks – the machines will not only add to the layers of security by mimicking our brains but will do one up on us, every time, unfailingly and with military precision.
However, the main area of intelligent automation where the machines will make humans run for their monies in the BFSI sector will be around Natural Language Processing (NLP). In plain speak, we are talking about machines that are able to comprehend the exact meaning of what we say and respond to it in a manner a normal, albeit highly trained individual, would. That is to say, it is all about you walking up to a counter in your bank and talk to the computer (or whatever “mans” that desk) the way you would talk to an executive now and get your work done. And yes, these machines will not need tea breaks, or expect their palms to be greased, or throw their “attitude” and will obviate the need to down shutters during lunch time.
That brings us down to some very basic questions – what will it all mean to country like India where the so-called manpower is “cheap”? Will the industry take the bitter pill in the short term to embrace AI that has the potential of revolutionizing it in the medium to the long terms? Will we, the people – customers used to callous treatment and being taken for granted by the service-providers demand such services as our right? If so, will we be willing to share a part of the cost? Will the Government, failed as it has to provide full employment, provide the necessary infrastructural support to roll out such services on a pan-India basis? Will the Unions that had opposed even computerization in the first place allow the machines to walk in and virtually make them redundant? Will we be able to make the transition from talking to a human being to being served by a machine?
Only time will tell, but then again, we do wait through the entire voice recorded assistance process to reach to the end where they say “ dial zero to talk to a customer care executive”, don’t we? That too, knowing well that by pressing zero we will inevitably be greeted by a “aap kataar main hain”!
The technology is there. Question is are we ready for it? More importantly, in these eastern parts of the country, where banking penetration is shamefully low, will such advanced technologies make the difference that they are capable of making, if adopted in the right manner?
The piece was originally written for the Financial Express BFSI@Kolkata
Aman Bubna is studying Corporate Communications in BESC a leading Kolkata based institution. He is passionate about banking and technology, especially keen to unravel the ways in which technology is impacting our daily lives. Aman is fascinated about the possibilities that future has to offer – the way our daily chores can be automated, with Artificial Intelligence chipping in to make life a lot less repetitive and far more effective, even efficient. How our banking systems, mired in the muck of yesterday will gear up to embrace this technology of the morrow is something that he is keenly watching unfold. “these are indeed exciting times” says Aman, “and, am i glad to be here now, watching from the sidelines as it were, even as banking and economic history is being made.”