The impact of technology on the future of digital banking

The banking sector faces a significant challenge in embracing digital transformation. Picture: Independent Newspapers.

The banking sector faces a significant challenge in embracing digital transformation. Picture: Independent Newspapers.

Published Dec 6, 2023


By: Fatima Lockhat

The banking sector faces a significant challenge in embracing digital transformation, as it is crucial to align with the contemporary expectations of customers, who demand swift, efficient, and user-friendly services. Outdated strategies no longer suffice for today’s consumers. To maintain competitiveness, banks must leave behind conventional methods and wholeheartedly engage in the digital transformation journey.

Digital transformation in African banking is propelled by factors like financial inclusion, fintech disruption, supportive regulations, customer demands for convenience, cost savings through automation, enhanced risk management, and the facilitation of cross-border transactions, all aimed at making banking services more accessible and efficient for a broader population.

An important facet of the digital transformation reshaping the banking sector is the enhanced understanding of customers through in-depth insights. Banks are empowered by advanced data analytics and technology to explore customers’ behaviour, preferences, and requirements on a deeper level. This capability is facilitated by the collection and analysis of extensive customer data, encompassing aspects ranging from transaction histories to online activities and communication preferences.

Through this wealth of information, banks can provide a level of personalisation that was previously unimaginable. They can tailor their services and interactions to meet the individual needs of customers, creating a more engaging and satisfying banking experience. For instance, banks can offer custom-tailored financial products and services that align with a particular customer’s unique financial goals.

These insights also empower banks to design highly targeted marketing campaigns. They can reach out to customers with relevant offers and solutions, which not only increases the likelihood of conversion but also minimises the potential for customer frustration due to irrelevant advertising. The result is higher customer satisfaction and loyalty.

When customers feel understood, appreciated, and served with offerings that precisely meet their needs, they are more likely to remain loyal to the bank, advocate for its services, and continue to engage in a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship. Enhanced customer insights, driven by digital transformation, have become a cornerstone of modern banking strategies, offering a win-win situation for both banks and their customers.

Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies have emerged as the keystone of the digital banking transformation. These technologies empower banks to provide personalised services, streamline operations, and enhance risk management. For instance, chatbots powered by AI have become integral to customer service, offering 24/7 support and resolving queries promptly. This not only improves customer satisfaction but also significantly reduces operational costs. AI and ML are used to detect fraud and anomalies in real time. By examining vast datasets, algorithms can identify suspicious activities and prevent fraudulent transactions, enhancing the security of digital banking. Additionally, AI-driven credit scoring models help in assessing the creditworthiness of borrowers more accurately, reducing the risks associated with lending.

A good example would be JPMorgan Chase’s Contract COIN which automates document review for a certain class of contracts, (COiN) platform utilises machine learning to analyse legal documents. It has reduced the time required to review 12,000 annual commercial credit agreements from 360,000 hours to seconds, improving efficiency and reducing errors. The company first dispatched the program to review thousands of its own credit contracts. The software employs image recognition to identify patterns in these agreements. The bank reports that the algorithm classifies clauses into one of about one hundred and fifty different “attributes” of credit contracts. For example, it may note certain patterns based on clause wording or location in the agreement.

Blockchain technology fosters protected and transparent transactions between parties, eliminating the need for a trusted intermediary. It stands to revolutionise the banking sector by bolstering security, improving efficiency, and reducing expenses. With blockchain, individuals can conduct cross-border financial transfers without intermediaries, fees, or delays, which expands access for unbanked and underbanked populations. Additionally, blockchain facilitates peer-to-peer lending and crowdfunding platforms, enabling direct borrowing and lending based on trust and reputation. It streamlines international payments, cutting costs and processing times while reducing the risk of fraud and currency fluctuations.

Blockchain also introduces smart contracts, self-executing agreements triggered by predefined conditions. These contracts automate various banking processes like loan origination, verification, servicing, and repayment. They also open up new business models, such as asset tokenization, where digital tokens represent assets traded on blockchain platforms. For banking compliance and regulation, blockchain serves as a single, trustworthy source, enhancing transparency and auditability. Banks can securely share and verify customer data, transaction records, and regulatory reports. Furthermore, blockchain aids in compliance with anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) regulations through identity verification and transaction monitoring tools.

Enhancing cybersecurity is an advantage, as blockchain guards against unauthorised access, tampering, and hacking. Data is encrypted and stored in a distributed network, bolstering resilience against cyberattacks. Consensus mechanisms and digital signatures ensure the validity and authenticity of transactions.

Ripple's On-Demand Liquidity (ODL) service uses blockchain technology to enable instant cross-border payments, leveraging digital assets to transfer funds efficiently. This has the potential to disrupt the traditional correspondent banking system.

Digital banking provides numerous benefits, including convenient 24/7 access from any location with an internet connection, extending financial services to underserved areas, reducing costs for both customers and banks, streamlining transactions, enhancing security through encryption and multi-factor authentication, fostering innovation in services and products, offering personalised financial solutions, reducing environmental impact by cutting paper and energy use, facilitating faster and cost-effective international transactions, and delivering mobile banking convenience for on-the-go account management. Overall, digital banking offers an efficient and user-friendly financial experience with diverse advantages, but it is not without some challenges. These challenges include concerns about data security and privacy, as increased digital transactions make banks and their customers more susceptible to cyberattacks and data breaches. The digital divide remains a significant issue, as not everyone has equal access to digital devices and the internet, hindering financial inclusion. The rapid pace of technological change requires continuous adaptation and investment, which can be costly for banks. Then there are regulatory and compliance challenges, as financial institutions must navigate complex and evolving legal frameworks to ensure they meet industry standards and safeguard customer interests. Lastly, customer education is essential to ensure users understand how to safely navigate digital banking platforms and make informed financial decisions. These challenges underscore the importance of striking a balance between innovation and security in the digital banking landscape.

The banking industry has witnessed success stories of digital transformation initiatives, with institutions leveraging these technologies to offer more personalised services and expand their reach. The pros of digital transformation, including convenience, efficiency, and innovation, are counterbalanced by concerns about security, access, and regulatory compliance. Finding the right equilibrium between innovation and security remains an ongoing priority for the banking sector. As technology continues to evolve and customer expectations change, the path to digital transformation will undoubtedly lead to further exciting developments and challenges in the banking industry.

* Lockhat is the Academic and research officer at Regent Business School.