By Paul Smyth, Head of Digital Accessibility, Barclays
I'm looking forward to the TechShare Pro 23 November event where we'll be hearing from leading organisations about the emerging challenges and possibilities presented by tomorrow's technologies, including AI, robotics and machine learning. When I apply an accessibility lens to these new buzz words, there's certainly multiple use cases where these technologies could excel. Robotics can help automate household chores and in doing so support independent living for the elderly. Artificial Intelligence (AI) coupled with machine learning is helping to tackle more complex tasks, such as seeing (machine vision), hearing (speech-to-text) and understanding (natural language interfaces). As people's senses may deteriorate over their longer lives, the improved sensors being built into the collection of always-on, always-connected IOT (Internet of Things) devices around us will help in enhancing and augmenting our human capabilities.
But how will banking be impacted in this brave new world? The industry is ripe for a revolution of simpler, safer and smarter tech, powered by predictive AI and presented in a personalised way that works for everyone.
Mobile Banking has ballooned in popularity, in part because of the cluttered and complicated banking websites of yesteryear. Now on a smaller smartphone screen, banks are forced to distil down and display only the core information that the customer wants and less of the generic marketing blurb that the bank would want. This relentless customer focus is simplifying both interface, language used and ways of interacting. For instance, AI and chat-bots are helping customers wade through bank sites and make sense of the information that they want through conversational interfaces rather than reading lengthy FAQs. Machine vision is helping customers deposit paper cheques with a more convenient snapshot of their smartphone and it's helping banks to continue to process cheques as they become increasingly obsolete. Biometrics is even making the security step far simpler, using your finger-print to access your mobile banking app or simply your voice-print to access telephone banking.
A great example of how technology is providing greater choice for enabling people to bank where, when and how they want is contactless payments. This convenient payment method in shops is now becoming the norm for interacting with cash machines. My forgetful friend can tap their smartphone instead of their debit card to transact and my grandma who has arthritis can tap her debit card on the ATM rather than struggling to pull it into and out of the kiosk. As someone with a visual impairment, I can choose to interact with my accessible smartphone rather than the kiosk when requesting cash withdrawals, again highlighting the benefits of offering multiple ways to do the same things.
With AI, digital assistants are becoming cleverer too - not just texting you towards the end of the month once you've gone over-drawn, but instead warning you mid-month based on your past behaviours and suggesting some course corrections. Even monthly budgeting will become easier as AI can better understand and visually present your in-goings and out-goings in a typical month, highlighting how much you're spending on over-priced coffee or perhaps flagging if your energy bills look a little high and if there's a better deal. In the future, loyalty schemes will become child's play too, taking the pain out of earning or burning potential loyalty points. Let's face it - everyone would benefit from their own financial advisor bot, informing you on the best way to manage your money with the most appropriate loans or accessing the most effective savings rates - providing informed insights and automating administrative tasks.
In 2018, new bank legislation in the form of the Payments Services Directive will shake things up. This'll force traditional banks to share account and transaction information with trusted third parties, enabling customers to aggregate their various bank accounts across multiple institutions in a single view. In time it'll provide the means for customers to easily compare bank products for the best deals or more easily make payments. It's exciting to think about those new banking portals that'll be born that offer the most accessible and usable experiences, whether that be through Amazon Echo or the next big breakthrough technology.
Will AI work for everyone?
Many on-lookers raise the question of whether we can build AI and Machine Learning that is ethical but I think the bigger question is whether we can build these new technologies to be empathetic and adaptable to cope with the diversity of human users encountering them. We know that 'data is king' and that many new machine learning tools are launched and algorithms refined as digital savvy, early adopters use these systems in anger. The algorithms are tweaked to work out the most efficient predictions based on the least amount of data required, essentially averaging up expected user behaviours and chopping out outliers and anomalies. Whilst this may be the first step on the journey, interested parties need to remind technologists that it's the boundary between where tech meets human that is critical to get right and whilst tech has more 'smarts' built into it, these need to include being aware of and accommodating to the wide range of needs, abilities and preferences that humans have.
The future is bright and new tech promises a lot but we need to continue to lobby and remind technologists that it needs to serve all of us, including the edge cases and outliers. At Barclays we want to leverage technology to enable and empower all people to work, bank and reach their full potential. We can only achieve this by actively involving and listening to all potential users, including those with disabilities.