The Customer Effect

RBC is using video conferencing to bring the human touch back to banking

  • The Royal Bank of Canada is piloting MyAdvisor, a feature that allows customers to connect to a financial adviser through video conference.
  • MyAdvisor could be a sign of an emerging consensus that digital banking may always require some form of human connection.
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RBC is using video conferencing to bring the human touch back to banking

With talk of intelligent machines making the banking experience less personal, at least one major institution is taking a turn in the other direction by letting customers video conference with real people.

The Royal Bank of Canada, Canada’s largest bank, launched its MyAdvisor pilot this week — a feature that lets customers schedule video conferences with financial advisors. The bank said it’s making the move because talking to a real person still matters for their customers. “Clients told us that when it comes to investing, trust is key,” said Michael Walker, vp and head of mutual funds distribution and financial planning at RBC. “For most clients, they build trust with human beings first — not just technology.”

For now, MyAdvisor will be invite-only to a group of 500 customers in Ontario, but the bank plans to roll out the service across Canada by July. RBC is currently focusing on investment advice, but Walker said it plans to roll out video conferencing for other services as well. During a video conference, the customer and investment adviser can review the customer’s portfolio together and assess progress towards financial goals — mimicking an in-branch experience.

Analysts say RBC’s virtual real human advice service is optimal for the more complicated interactions, particularly when a concrete answer isn’t available.

“The robo-advice stuff may be great for entry-level consumers that have more simple needs, but for more a more complex investing picture, it’s difficult to get that programmed in — the complexity of human needs and wants require more of a human interaction connection,” said Ron Shevlin, director of research at Cornerstone Advisors.

RBC said the feature is not intended to take away from its efforts to use machine learning to improve the banking experience.

In the United States, video conferencing is currently available within branches, with Bank of America’s ’employee-less branch’ pilot earlier this year being the most recent example. But the capacity to do that remotely has been slow to catch on, in part because of money and infrastructure requirements.

“RBC has the resources to make this happen — this is not an inexpensive proposition because of the bandwidth and technological infrastructure required; they’re making a big investment and big bet that the customers are going to want it,” said Shevlin.

RBC’s use of technology to connect with real people may be a sign of an emerging consensus that the future of banking will be more about choices rather than a barreling towards automation.

“Often when the topic of digital and machine learning or artificial intelligence comes up, it’s in the context of a binary debate, either one or the other — humans or automated — the reality is that this bank and others serve very diverse audiences whose behavior and preferences are rapidly changing,” said Bob Meara, senior analyst at Celent.

Despite the advances in automated customer service capability, the human touch may be difficult to replace.

“The question isn’t so much ‘whether AI can do it all?’ but ‘do we want it to do it all?” said Martin Häring, chief marketing officer of banking software company Misys. “The emergence of ‘human’ advisors via video is not a backlash to bots, instead it enables banks to add the human touch to complex decision making processes.”

Photo credit: RBC

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