Tech Overlook

the financial industry is banking on AI to better serve customers

MvdB: Interesting. It sounds like they aren’t aiming to become banks, then, but are looking to own the customer journey and end up as competitors for part of the business.

SM: That’s correct. We’re seeing the whole insurance business travelling towards a direction where interaction with consumers becomes the key focus. The more you interact with the customer, the closer they become accustomed to your brand.

MvdB: There are a lot of companies waiting for the technology revolution, but in my opinion, it’s already here. I see lots of examples, including artificial intelligence. What are your thoughts on the perception of digital transformation in the finance industry?

SM: In banking, I’ve noticed that it’s much easier to make better decisions when investing smaller amounts of money. Similarly, you have better performance and agility as a small business with a startup mentality. It’s the same with financial institutions. They have a legacy that needs to be maintained, renewed and sometimes politics and corporate culture make it very hard, almost impossible, to be agile – and that includes adopting new technology to help them transform.

We’ve seen large financial institutions show that it’s possible to manage their legacy operations and daily business, while at the same time, almost separately, fostering a more agile startup mentality for transformation. New business ventures mean that this startup mentality must be separated which, of course, also means that more money has to be spent.

Man hand using online banking and icon on tablet screen device in coffee shop. Technology Ecommerce Commercial. Online payment digital and shopping on network connection. All on tablet screen are design up.

MvdB: It’s interesting to hear how other large institutions are reflecting and managing their transformation, particularly with regards to harbouring different mentalities for different areas of the business. At Microsoft, we’re still in the middle of our transformation process, and while we’re not there yet, we’re making progress and learning all the time.

SM: I honestly think that Microsoft has done a fantastic job at transforming itself with its cloud and many other services – and that’s reflected by professionals and the market in general. It’s amazing to see how you struck lightning twice. You re-invented the business and grew, when you could have chosen to remain stagnant.

MvdB: Having been here for many years, I’ve witnessed our shift from a ‘know it all’ culture to one that encourages a growth mindset, and it boils down to culture and mentality. I think we’re in the middle of a learning experience and learning mentality, where all of these small things start to matter. Do you think these two things are becoming more of a core factor of transformation, beyond simply introducing new technology?

SM: Yes absolutely. At startups, we see a culture where, if there is a problem, people sit down, and solve it. Compare this to some large corporation’s politics and red tape, and you can see how the wrong culture can discourage people, regardless of what technology is available. People like to see that their input makes a difference, and that’s much harder in huge organisations.

MvdB: If you’re operating 100,000+ people globally it’s certainly a challenge, but at the same time, you need to be sure that you spark that startup mentality in people. I think this is where the culture element in the leadership becomes a super-critical factor in changing an organisation.

SM: It comes from the top.

MvdB: Absolutely. This is true for us as well. If you take Satya as an example, he is living what he wants this company to be.

If we focus on the technological side of transformation, specifically data – do you feel that data is the most important currency today in commerce?

SM: Yes, it is. But there’s so much data, so much noise. It’s not just the data, but more about how you use that data. Everyone, including big banks, has data, but it’s the thinking behind it that counts – using data scientists, algorithms, machine learning AI and more – to get something out of it. That’s where AI, machine learning, and the people behind the algorithms, come in.

MvdB: I agree. I’m asking this question because I think there’s a lot of misperception about data being the new oil for this century and it’s a great tagline on paper, but the question, of course, is that data alone, is just data, and that’s what it will be forever.

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