Bank bots, move over: BNP Paribas is putting human advice before robots

BNP Paribas is rolling out a new digital investment tool — one where the advice is written entirely by humans.

It’s a departure from most of the new digital advice offerings that have emerged in the last couple of years; it’s not a robo-adviser — it’s not even a robot-human hybrid. It’s just a core service for the French banking giant’s high-net-worth clients brought to the mobile device. It might seem a little behind the times, but banks generally don’t apply new technologies to old services overnight, and that sort of caution is particularly applicable to BNP.

The new offering from BNP, called myAdvisory, offers message-based financial advice through the bank’s mobile app, based on clients’ portfolio and risk preferences, financial recommendations as frequently as the client allows and a chat-based trading platform. BNP is at the beginning of a slow rollout, beginning with the clients who provided the feedback on which it built the offering.

The bank has a system that monitors market activity and alerts a team of advisers when something happens that might have a significant on a client’s account, said Salvador Vidal, global head of products and services marketing for BNP’s wealth management unit. Those advisers then send that information to a team of relationship managers, who then message the affected clients, deliver that information and ask: Do you want to follow this advice?

“We’re monitoring and learning from the [customer] usage what kind of channel they prefer, when they prefer it. … We have a very open approach to that,” Vidal said. “We don’t want to take steps and force an offering on clients who don’t want it. We’re committed to co-creating products for clients, giving them those tools and, as they use those tools, making them evolve to fit their needs.”

That’s why while legacy banks and startups alike are rolling out artificial-intelligence-powered robots that dole out algorithmically created investment advice or AI-powered chatbots. BNP is just giving clients anytime-anywhere access to a human adviser. It doesn’t currently offer a robo service but has not ruled out future plans to do so.

Just as the mobile device truly disrupted the client experience in basic banking and gave customers “the mobile banking experience,” wealth management services should be following that path, said April Rudin, chief executive of wealth management marketing firm The Rudin Group.

“This is mobile wealth management, and I think that doesn’t exist,” she said. “Most wealth management and financial services firms don’t mimic and break out the client experiences like a luxury brand does. This is really an upset to the client experience and demonstrates that BNP has changed the experience instead of changing the products or services they offer.”

Citi actually revealed a mobile-first retail banking experience in December for its Citigold credit card members (clients with qualifying balances of at least $200,000) that includes access to investment with a click-to-call button for immediate access to their financial advisers. It’s not a messaging-based service like BNP’s though.

But the focus is the same: high-net-worth clients are global, mobile and want to talk to an adviser when they want to. Some want a self-service model – a robo-adviser – but probably not for their entire portfolio, and existing wealth management firms are so paper-oriented they can feel a little clumsy or antiquated compared to the smooth, fast digital experiences customers are used to today. That’s the experience BNP is trying to change.

“One thing we share with the luxury industry is the clients; we have the same clients. We’re aiming to transform the experience we give them so they understand we are what we are, which is also a luxury brand. That’s the reason why we launched this whole solution.”

Innovating by creating a movement: How Credit Suisse prepares for its technology future

Innovation is hard, but it’s particularly hard in finance where existing revenue streams are large and have a long history of being that way.

So how’s a technology leader supposed to sell innovation if change is disruptive and can cannibalize existing business models? What are the tools at the disposal of digital executives to get the budgets and resources they need for successful projects?

Anne Johnson is head of data at Credit Suisse’s international wealth management division. A techie at heart, Johnson also has a management consulting background at Bain. Her responsibilities include translating technical requirements of the IT division and fusing them with the business priorities of upper management in the business.

She spoke to attendees at the Tradestreaming Money Conference held in November in New York City.

Create a storyline

Selling innovation at Credit Suisse

Pitching a technology idea within a large financial institution isn’t much different than going out and trying to raise external capital for a startup idea. It requires a tight storyline to persuade those sitting on the opposite side of the table to believe in a shared vision and pony up money and resources to make it happen. So, start with the script.

Johnson advises being very clear about the reasons behind why a project should get funded. Is it because the technology is cool? Is it fear — fear that the competition is coming to eat your lunch? Or is it something more threatening? Is the business going to become unsustainable in the coming decade?

“Google doesn’t have a bank, yet, but it’s very successful building engagement,” Johnson said. “Will they come after my clients one day? Is my client going to get into a self driving car and request it to go see a new financial advisor?”

Computers are the greatest tools of our time with limitless potential, but senior management must see the connection between a large technology project and lowering costs and improving revenues before they allocate investment towards projects. Make sure the bottom line is part of the storyline.

After the pitch addresses the why of a project, determine the what. This is what’s going to get built and when — the meat of the plan. Johnson layers her project plans, combining a long term vision that gets her colleagues excited about her plan with short-term milestones that ensure her team starts delivering from the start.

“You can have a multiyear vision on blockchain but you need to deliver something tomorrow that reduces costs and increases revenues,” she explained. “I don’t want years to pass before I deliver something.”

Lastly, a storyline has to include how a tech leader plans to execute her plan. Johnson says that frequently senior management will respond positively to a pitch but ask the question ‘but can you build this’? This shows that the upper echelon doesn’t trust its IT group. So, the how part of the storyline must include building trust at all levels of the organization.

Getting buy-in

After a tight pitch is developed, it needs approval. You could get lucky meeting the CEO in the elevator, pitch him, and he agrees to fund everything, bypassing the entire approval process. That’s unlikely to happen. More likely, though, is that digital leaders will have to spend time selling their projects internally. But senior managers have the tendency to focus on the short term and push off making bigger, longer cycle decisions like technology projects.

To get over this hurdle and get support for projects, Johnson recommends building what she calls a movement. She cites her own experience owning data responsibilities across the organization. The challenge was that others also owned pieces of data and she needed them to play ball. So, she created a movement by launching what she called the data community at Credit Suisse, getting people to buy-in to the greater plan.

“Now I can nominate people to be the machine learning lead of the community,” she said. “This is how you herd people. On innovative projects, you can isolate yourself away from the company or get the whole company to move with you.”

Building momentum

Once a plan is fixed, and the funding and resources allocated, the project team needs to start delivering. “Once you get all resources, you need to deliver,” Johnson said. There needs to be a cadence and pace to consistent delivery, so that momentum builds in the execution phase of the project.

Creating a short delivery cycle tied to milestones has an added benefit: it opens communication channels internally. When delivery and communication starts happening on a regular basis, it develops a momentum that builds upon itself.

“It’s not easy, but large financial firms can be innovative,” she said.