Bots in Banking: Tech Talk With Lloyds Banking Group

We got chatting to the transformation team at Lloyds Banking Group about which technologies are having the biggest impact on financial services, how voice technology is changing the face of contact centres as well as how chatbots, AI and robotics are helping to shape banks of the future and improve the customer journey.

Please could you introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about your roles and experience at Lloyds Banking Group?

Lucy: My name is Lucy Parton and I’m the head of transformation in Connect. I’ve been at Lloyds Banking Group for about 13 years and I currently look after some of our technology investments within a telephone banking environment.

Lee: I’m Lee Jones and I’m head of Connect in Newport so I look after the site here at Tredegar Park, where we have around a thousand colleagues. It is traditionally the telephony business but we have secure messaging and we are doing remote advice. I’ve been in the bank 29 years – a very long time, a lot has changed!

James: I’m James Harrison, head of Remote Advice and Robotics for Community Banking. I look at how we deploy video banking in our branches, the telephony business and how we use robotics to make our colleagues’ lives easier and better serve customers.

How have you embraced and experimented with technology in the financial sector?

Lee: So, I have been in management for 15 years and, therefore, seen a lot. Back when I joined in 1990, we had no computers, believe it or not. All our interactions with customers were recorded manually through cards. Our tills were pieces of paper with cash. Some of the most significant changes in the past ten years, including the immediate deposit machines. There is a myth that new technology is recent. One of the biggest challenges we have faced is that old cliché of technology means fewer jobs and managing colleagues’ mindsets about it very important. However, I have yet to see technology hindering our customers and making our services more efficient. There has been a natural evolution over the last few years, which have probably been our busiest in terms of technological development.

We are recording from your Newport Call Centre which has 970 employees onsite, can you tell us a little bit more about this call centre?

Lee: Our colleagues look after our traditional banking calls. We are an inbound contact centre so no outbound calls. These are customers that need us and it can range from balance enquiries, transferring money, sending payments to friends to more complex problems like international money transfers. We are particularly proud of our team that look after bereavement and our Macmillan Cancer Support partnership we have. We have seen a lot more complexity in our call demands, especially over the last few years.

What would you say your strengths and weaknesses are? How are emerging technologies helping with some of those weaknesses?

Lee: The people are definitely a strength. I think the one thing, through all the years of change, that has stayed constant is customers saying that they want people. Irrespective of the automation we introduce as part of the process, they still want to see and speak to human beings.

Lee: I wouldn’t say we have weaknesses, the only thing is that the pace of change is a challenge we face but it is not a weakness. There is just so much going on! What we launch today is usually yesterday’s news, so it is keeping ahead of the game.

Lloyds Banking Group is the UK’s largest digital bank, investing 3 billion in technologies and staff to improve digital services. Lucy, could you tell us more about how that is going to be spent?

Lucy: We have already started a lot of that work. It has been predominantly about improving the provisions of the mobile app. We have a fantastic mobile office, where customers have in their pocket everything they generally need to do. The feature we have been investing quite heavily in is related to Lee’s point. It is where the customer does need to speak to a colleague through the app and making the transition as seamless as possible, whether it is speaking over the phone or the latest offering which is secure messaging that we introduced over the last six months. We found messaging gives customers a really easy way of interacting with our colleagues and it is on their agenda so they can contact us when it suits them – a little bit like Whatsapp. We have found that a really worthwhile investment.

It is also important to follow trends. What customers wanted to do five years ago with their bank is different to what they want now. We have to keep up with customer demand and make sure they have the information they want at their fingertips. It could be they want to know the location where a transaction was or more information about the merchant as some of the names which merchants give us can be confusing. The more information we have at our fingertips to give customers the better really. That’s what the investment is all about, it’s about giving customers what they need.

James, how you see chatbot technology impacting the financial sector?

James: The most important point is one that both Lee and Lucy have raised: anything we build with chatbots, or automation in general, is geared towards makes customers’ lives easier. Thinking about some of the things we are doing in the robotics space, like automating certain processes where colleagues need to take data from one system and move it to another all day every day in our back-office functions. Using simple robotics will make our colleagues’ lives easier and we will be delivering a better standard to customers by reducing the risk of human error.

What we are doing at the minute with robotics is the simpler end of the spectrum but, as you move across the spectrum of AI, there will be more things we can do with machine learning to change how we look at forecasting call demands in a long-term rather than using Excel or other systems. Lee’s point about the human point is just as important as the efficiency savings. We have invested heavily as a bank in video banking- the idea that someone can Face-time from the comfort of their own home on a tablet or phone to one of our colleagues who can support them with buying their own home or in Lee’s great contact centre here that they can Face-time in and register a bereavement. Giving customers what they want through the channel they want is really powerful.

A report released in 2018 shows that you have 24 million digitally active customers and 10 million of those customers are on mobile. How do you engage with these customers currently and how do you plan on engaging with them over the next decade?

James: I could talk about that from the video-banking perspective. This is something we trialled a few years ago – how we could use video to have conversations with customers. Now, in 2019, we are rolling this technology out to hundreds and hundreds of branches. You can go into at least half of the Lloyds Banking Group branches and there will be an iPad all set up where you can sit down and within a couple of minutes talk to someone about your need. You can also do that from home up to 9/10pm at night on Saturday or even on Sunday. That availability to help customers is great. We predominantly have mortgages on video banking, but we are expanding our service to provide help with bereavement and power of attorney.

One of the best examples for why we provide this service comes from the north of Scotland. We have put the technology in branches in some of the islands, which has allowed customers to talk to people in our hubs. It would cost the customers a £300 return ferry to go into Fort William on the Scottish mainland to see a mortgage advisor. However, through investing in video technology in that location, they can just go to the branch and get advice via a video call.

Lucy, how has your digital transformation project evolved since it started in 2014? How do you stay ahead of the curve?

Lucy: It is really hard, especially being such a big bank and even being in the financial sector means that we won’t always be the first to try new technologies. What we do is survey the market to understand what is happening in other areas- learning from Uber, Whatsapp, and other big technology explosions – to understand customer needs and demands. 

A good example of something we started right at the beginning of the digital transformation project is voice ID, allowing our customers to authenticate their account via voice technology. Doing this means that they do not have to remember a password or anything confusing. We looked at the market, saw it was being used by other companies and introduced it. It has been really successful- we now have over 10 million verifications done through voice ID and it has become the most prominent verification tokens we use. Customers have adopted it because it was happening in the wider industry as well, so they had the confidence in the technology. As I mentioned, because we are in financial services, it is important that customers feel comfortable and confident since we are protecting their money. The technologies we choose are secure and safe.

What would you say are the most significant challenges in the financial sector overall?

Lee: I would probably say a couple of things. People want things on the go now, so we need to be flexible and provide that. Customers want to interact with us in a multitude of different ways. We still have the biggest branch network in the UK, for example. That will always be the heart of our customer strategy. Customers also want to engage with the bank on the go, in shops, on an app - keeping up with that pace is challenging. 

The other challenge is financial difficulty- it is tough out there at the moment. That’s where our customers need us the most. What can we do to help customers with financial pressures? Some of things we are doing with our app are to help people manage budgets better to stop them getting into financial problems.

Then there are the complex needs, like bereavement and power of attorney, helping customers at an emotionally vulnerable time get out of that awful situation.

James: I think the competition is different- it is not traditional banks, but what people experience when they phone HM Revenue and Customs or use Amazon’s mobile app. These are two very different interactions, but they are the comparators for what customers expect from ringing a call centre or digital technology. The ubiquity of technology a good thing for consumers because the standards have to be higher. The quality of our financial products and service products will have to keep increasing to serve customers how we want to serve them, especially with the rise of challenger banks like Monzo or Metro. We have to run faster to stay in the game.

Lucy: I agree.

James, how do you see AI robotics impacting the banking industry?

James: I think at the moment in UK financial services we are at the start of using AI robotics and machine learning. I do not think there are any providers we can see today, based on knowledge of the industry, where it is being used in a full way. I think what we are trying to do at Lloyds Banking Group today is use robotics to automate simple things. As Lucy said, we observe then invest in technology.

I think it is a great opportunity to help customers make their lives easier, but it also aids colleagues. In one of previous jobs, we did an AI trial with colleagues and it meant the work they had to do was more fulfilling because they had to learn a new writing language for programming. This provided a more accurate output which meant they could also do their job better.

What we need to do on this AI journey is make sure we bring colleagues with us. The skills we need as we get to the advanced end of AI are different and present opportunities but are also a source of nerves for colleagues.

According to Hubspot, 56% of people would rather message than call customer services and 53% of people are more likely to shop with a business they can message. Lee, how do you see voice technology, chatbots, AI etc. transforming call centres?

Lee: It is really exciting to see the direction of travel and how our customers react. Early indications are that customers love messaging us through the app. They can have push notifications and go about their day. From an operational perspective, it is also easier because everything is smoothed out- there are no peaks and troughs. From a colleague perspective, they love it, not only having the variety but also having more informal conversations with customers rather than “banky”.

Lucy: It makes it so much easier, I can get a notification and reply on my lunch break then go about the rest of my day and see the response after work. It makes it less of a pain for them to contact us, it is something that is hopefully less impactful on their day.

Lee: Voice biometrics is excellent since it tackles the most annoying aspect of calls for customers: verification. I think we have had a record number of customers sign up for that in a short amount of time. That helps us become more efficient- it used to take many minutes and be a very painful process.

Lucy: It also helps the customers in what can be an anxiety-inducing process.

James: It can be difficult for colleagues too because they see all these customers waiting. Voice biometrics is a win for everyone. The thing we need to be better at in banking is using the precise technological term and explaining what terms mean so that colleagues are informed about the journey and less nervous.

Lucy, what is on the cards for digital transformation at Lloyds Banking Group within the next five to ten years?

Lucy: I would love to know the answer to that – it is such a big question! I think we want to play in the app space, making it more efficient with biometrics. We will see what Apple and other big players do and see where consumer demand goes. I am personally interested in voice technology- what’s next in terms of speech recognition like Alexa and Siri. I think there is something we can do in that space. We will be led by our customers in which technologies with implement and improve over the next five to ten years.

What technologies are you most excited about?

Lee: Messaging for me because it is so new. We are weeks in. The potential it has is vast to change how we interact with customers. Who knows where the future will bring because we might do virtual reality at some point?!

Lucy: It is still voice technology for me, seeing my kids using Alexa not having to type any words or spell anything perfectly to search then my 80 year old Dad can do the same. That technology transcends age.

James: It is definitely voice technology for me as well. Voice may even overtake messaging – I was in Europe recently and people were doing more talking on Whatsapp than messaging. I do not know whether that will become commonplace in the UK. However, if you think about it in terms of daily life, I ordered an Uber to the station via Alexa this morning. The ease of voice technology is only going to accelerate and it will become the norm over the next few years for turning on lights and radiators.

What will the future of banks look like?

Lucy: I think we have just summarised it- probably talking into a microchip in your hand about what you want to do.

James: I think contact centres, like the one we are in today will continue to evolve. Simple things will be done via messaging and call centres will be become spaces for video calls to support people with loans, mortgages, businesses or bereavement. We will have more face-to-face interactions than we have had in a long time through video instead of being person. The role of branches will change as there will be customers who come there and use the video technology to meet their needs. The branch will be increasingly the place for in-person interaction and solving complex needs or problems.

Lee: I think we certainly see more change coming our way and our branch network will be key to that. The point about contact centres is definitely valid. They will become centres of excellence where we can specialise in certain customer journeys which will be fantastic. We will continue to embrace what’s new around the corner. The brand has a long legacy, and these are probably the most exciting years for us so bring it on!

What tools or apps could you not live without?

Lucy: Instagram, I love the ‘Gram – more so than Facebook these days! It is definitely my number one app.

Lee: Facetime for me, it is the only way my daughter will correspond now. She loves its spontaneity. I have to say my banking app because I do use it every single day, transferring money, checking my balance or my everyday offers and everything else.

James: The app I find most useful is BTSport because we only have one TV in the house so when I want to watch Champions League I can now watch it on my iPad in the last year, which has been great.