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Banks continue to struggle with AI robotics

by Goddy Ofose
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Artificial Intelligence, often called AIs, is one of the most recent technological innovation that has continued to gain increased ascendance and presently in frequent use in several economic sectors. AIs has permeated business and social life across most modern societies, Nigeria inclusive over the past decade. Deployment of AI technics has become increasingly manifest both in public and private sector establishments and more especially in the banking sector where, aptly, it has been described as “Banks Robotics”.

By definition of the subject, Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to the ability of a computer devises or a robot, controlled by a computer to perform several tasks that are usually carried out by humans. Such office functions, more often than not, do require human intelligence and discernment. In actual fact and real real sense of it, AIs can be described as intelligence demonstrated by machines, as opposed to natural intelligence displayed by animals, including humans.

In recent years and up till lately, Nigerian banks have stepped up their investment portfolios through acquiring modern robotics, a latest trending innovation believed to serve multiple business purposes. For instance, Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in finance has been defined as the use of robotic applications to augment (or replace) human efforts in the financial sector. RPA helps banks and accounting departments to automate repetitive manual processes, thereby, allowing the employees to focus on more critical tasks and the firm to gain a competitive advantage.

Majority of Nigerian banks are tapping into this tech innovation with Union Bank, among others being one of the earliest banks to venture into the usage of robotics technology in achieving customer care. The bank, in an avant-garde move that sets it apart from its counterparts in the Nigerian banking industry, announced the deployment of the innovative Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technology in its operation.  The new technology was officially launched at an interactive session that took place at the Bank’s Stallion Plaza Head office in Lagos with technology experts, pressmen, customers and the Bank’s Management and employees in attendance.

First Bank, similarly announced the launch of its automated branch, which it called the FirstBank Digital Experience Centre. The bank in a statement said the centre is provided to put customers at an advantage in carrying out various activities on their own without interacting with anyone.

“The branch is a reinvention of digital banking solutions in the country as customers are exposed to a seamless world-class banking experience. The self-service branch is built with a wide range of phased modern banking facilities which include humanoid robots equipped with Video Banking and Artificial Intelligence (AI), taking on the role of friendly branch staff; Teller Cash Recyclers (TCRs); Self-Service kiosks for non-financial transactions such as account update; Fast Track (Contactless) ATMs; Interactive Smart Screen to ensure effective and comprehensive consultation with bank sales staff via remote video connection”

Also, following suit, Zenith Bank Plc, introduced an Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered Chatbot on WhatsApp, code named ZiVA (Zenith Intelligent Virtual Assistant), which enables customers to perform financial transactions and enjoy real-time customer service from their mobile phones. Customers can enrol by simply adding the bank’s verified WhatsApp mobile number on their mobile devices, agree to the legal terms of use and then initiate a conversation. This product provides the convenience for the bank’s customers to interact and transact on a 24 hours basis on the encrypted WhatsApp platform.

And for United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc, the business focus has always been key- customer satisfaction. It was on its continuous quest not to drop the ball that the dream of tapping into the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI) was born.

Three years ago, the bank launched its AI Chat Bot, known as LEO, a tech innovation it claimed have simplified the banking process for its millions of customers across the globe, while strengthening conversations.

As at the last count, virtually all the banks operating in the Nigerian banking environment has introduced one form of robotics AI innovative devise or another in a keen competitive spirit to out each other in the quest to deliver customer satisfaction.

Although generally, people may have conflicting concerns regarding the AI phenomenon, truth is that, it is difficult to deny that it opens up huge opportunity for businesses via the use of technology. This is especially true when talking in economic terms, where this field (AIs) has become interestingly welcomed and well appreciated by private companies and government establishments.

However, still referencing the banking sector where robotics are already a dominant feature, the pertinent questions to ask is, of what use or, of what good effect are AIs to bank customers when it appears, in actual fact, that customers would rarely get good help until they visit the banking halls. Are AIs actually serving the customers interest, or rather, they installed to serve interest of   business owners.

Customer care may not necessarily be one of the direct benefits that are derivable from AIs. It may be seen that AIs are helpful to the customers only in the sense that through robotics innovation, unnecessary delays and office place bottlenecks are taken off the track of business to allow for a quick and easy access by customer bank services.

Opinions are widely varied from perspective of different customers who aired their views on the subject with The Industry. The expressed their views on the subject of AIs and Bank’s Robotics highlighting their experiences as to whether or not the innovations are to customer’s advantage.

A brand specialist and public relations practitioner, Lekan Ishola queried the rationale behind banks investment on robotics when in actual fact the economy is tailoring towards a cashless policy. He believes that it is out rightly unwise decision for banks in Nigeria to invest expansively on robotics, unless it is targeted at achieving what he termed, the basics of marketing which is, giving what the customer wants at a cost that is of advantage to the brand.

“As a brand person, you know that innovative tools and technology are all used in the context of an environment. It’s one thing to want to make a statement, it’s another thing to want to provide a service, and when we come back to the basics of marketing, the basics of marketing is that you provide for the customer what the customer wants. It’s all about satisfying the customer, and so the questions to ask is, do Nigerian customers want robotics?  

He further viewed, “So why would a bank in Nigeria then invest in robotics when we are pursuing a cashless policy, robotics are supposed to perform the job of the teller.

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