Artificial Intelligence

How 80-year-old UOB uses AI to anticipate customer behavior

  • United Overseas Bank is rolling out cognitive banking in new markets.
  • Through Personetics, UOB's goal is to anticipate its customers' behavior.

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How 80-year-old UOB uses AI to anticipate customer behavior

When senior executives at Singapore’s United Overseas Bank began thinking about expansion beyond their native Singapore, they were faced with a conundrum. One the one hand, the third largest bank in SE Asia could try to replicate the successful, traditional banking franchise it operates in countries like Malaysia. But, building expensive brick and mortar branches could actually backfire in a market with an estimated 97 percent digital banking penetration in some regions.

“We know that we can’t do that elsewhere,” said Dr. Dennis Khoo, UOB’s managing director and regional head of digital banking, referring to its existing business.

UOB decided something needed to change — it would go digital in new markets. And in a geography where digital banking is considered table stakes, UOB wanted to compete by being smarter and more adaptive to its future customer needs.

Seeing the future before it happens

UOB took the approach of launching a banking solution that helps its customers create better financial habits. And to do that, the system would need to understand customer behavior. “We want to anticipate our customers’ needs before they happen,” said Khoo.

After hearing David Sosna, CEO of Personetics, present at a local conference, UOB knew it had found the technology pillar to its strategy. Through Personetics’ cognitive analytic capabilities, UOB could generate deeper insights from its huge volume of transaction data to help identify individual transaction patterns that can make the customer experience more engaging.

“We were invited to speak at a conference hosted by a management consulting company for their clients,” said Personetics’ Sosna. “We presented our technology and at end of the presentation, UOB approached us to say this is exactly what they were looking for.”

Data first, insights second

UOB’s goal in its digital transformation is to provide customers with real-time personalized guidance to nudge them to make better financial decisions and along the way, improve the way they manage their money. The first step in this process is being able to anticipate future financial behavior.

For example, when a customer forgets to pay a bill, she doesn’t generally realize her mistake until a merchant complains. With Personetics, UOB can proactively alert the customer to make her payment. The same holds true for anticipating and prompting the customer when his balance may be insufficient to cover upcoming payments, detecting unusual account activity, and highlighting opportunities to save more or spend wisely.

The idea is to use pattern recognition — identify things that match and don’t match — and to make these findings actionable for customers.

“If we can anticipate, we will fulfil our mission,” said Khoo.

AI to strengthen customer relationships, service new customers

In the countries UOB is already strong, it plans to rollout cognitive banking solutions to more deeply engage its existing customer base. When UOB plugs Personetics technology into its banking platform, it can immediately start producing insights. “It can immediately engage quite well because we have so much information that we can use for pattern recognition,” said Khoo.

For rollouts in countries where UOB doesn’t have a footprint, the bank plans to use its cognitive banking capabilities to attract new customers. The system can’t provide a lot of insight before there is significant data, but as it builds up, UOB will use this technology to produce a differentiated banking experience. This may resonate especially well with millennials, who the bank believes are underserved in most markets.

Choosing a digital conversation software vendor

Digital conversation software, like the kind UOB is integrating into it core banking platform, is a nascent and emerging technology category. Khoo said UOB chose to work with Personetics because the company understands the complexities of banks, their architecture, and how to fit into the banking tech stack. To make its decision, the bank went on a world tour to meet with clients of the software firm in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

The decision to implement Personetics was ultimately easy for Khoo, who doesn’t really see any formidable competitors. For UOB, it all boils down to implementing technology and strategies to best anticipate and service its customers.

“The future of banking will focus on how well banks can engage customers,” said Khoo. “Most banks cross sell to engage. We want to engage to cross sell.”

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